February 20, 2013 The Pitfalls of Travel Consulting.
I write this blog for fun. It helps me improve my writing and I enjoy sharing my adventures with you all who read my blog. Has it gone too far though? The most controversial activity right now in the blogging universe is referral links. Bloggers promote credit cards which can be churned for points. When someone applies for a credit card via, the blogger gets paid. Sure it is a win for the blogger and possibly the person getting the card, but in the age of financial austerity I don’t think more consumer debt the way go. Also I REFUSE to recommend any financial product generally, because each person’s financial situation is different.
But travel bloggers have started to diversify out of credit cards referrals and enter the world of “travel consulting.”
Travel consulting is a relatively new field where people who are so called experts offer their services to the general public. These people are not travel agents and generally run a fly-by-night operation. They don’t have a physical location, they don’t have E&O insurance, and there is no real recourse against them if something goes wrong.
PointPros is a reward consulting service run by Ben Schlappig out of Seattle. Doing a quick search on Washington State’s DOS website turns up no business license for either Ben or Pointspros.com. I think this means Ben is running an illegal business out Seattle, and risking fines from the State. Though I am by no means an expert on Washington State Business law. The point of having said business license goes beyond paying a fee to the state. The point is to tie the business to a person and to a location so if anything goes wrong, the business can be found. If Ben were to get into a dispute with a client, that client would be unable to find pointpros.com or Ben. In fact the only reason I know Ben is in Seattle is because he mentions that on occasion on his blog.
PointsPros.com is a registered Florida corporation. The Washington Department Of State, does not list Pointspros.com as registered foreign corporation.
Like Ben and other travel consultants, upgrd.com/awards charges 100-150 dollars per booking. Looking at the webpage it just says contact us if you are interest in using the service. As an experiment I did contact them to see if they would be interested in helping me. At no point did I say I wanted them to book something for me or that I agreed to pay them the money. However, that didn’t stop them from immediately putting a reservation on hold and demanding money from me. They started to harass me over e-mail over the course of several days. Finally I got this e-mail:
“Since I have not heard back, I will be sending out a $150 invoice for my research performed.”
I sent back to them that I was not interested and they left me alone. In addition the research they did was actually just a simple search on United.com that took them about 2 minutes to run. While I understand set pricing, a lot of people who use that service are paying obscenely high prices for the privilege.
Now, I don’t have a real beef with these “consultants.” If you are a busy person who travels several hundred thousand miles per year and lacks the times to sort out rewards issues these services may be a good value if they agree to manage your miles for you. However, when you do this you are essentially turning over your miles account to a website. Every airline on the planet says that you are responsible for your account information regardless of what you do with it. If these fly-by-night travel consultants decide to take a trip on your miles, then you are out of luck. The airlines will not reimburse the miles, and you will be left going after a faceless website for compensation.
While there is potential in the area of travel consultants, it is hard for me to recommend a service. I would suggest to anyone thinking about using these services to be very very careful. This is an unregulated area, where there is a huge potential for fraud.