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Promotions may depend on flight paths

Email|Print| Text size + By Bruce Mohl
Globe Staff / April 10, 2005

More and more companies are trying to attract new customers with airline ticket promotions, but the value of the deals seems to depend on where you're flying.

David Bookbinder of Revere received a free companion airline ticket for opening an account last year with Eastern Bank, but when he tried to use it for a flight to Dallas later this month, he found there was nothing free about it.

Under the promotion, a customer must buy one ticket at a set price for travel between one of seven zones in the United States. The second ticket is free, although taxes and fees must be paid.

The cost for Bookbinder and his wife to travel to Dallas on the promotion was $450, not including certain taxes and fees. Bookbinder said, however, that he was able to book two round-trip tickets to Dallas on US Airways for $300.

''It's a huge joke," said Bookbinder. ''Basically, they more than doubled the ticket price, and then advertise it as a bargain."

I'm not sure I would call the promotion a joke, but the savings, or the lack of savings, depends on the destination.

I compared prices in the promotion with those online at Orbitz.com and Sidestep.com. I started in Boston, departing May 4 and returning May 11.

For three of the city/zone combinations, I was able to find two seats on my own for less than what it cost to buy one under the promotion. The biggest savings was $72 on a pair of seats to Dallas. I saved $24 on a trip to Seattle and $16 on a trip to San Francisco, but I had to fly into Oakland to get the lower price on JetBlue Airways.

For trips to Orlando and Philadelphia, I saved just a couple of dollars booking on my own. Two tickets to St. Louis, however, were $156 more than the promotion price of $330; two tickets to Atlanta were $34 more.

The promotions are run by Lifestyle Vacation Incentives LLC, in Delray Beach, Fla. The company counts among its clients many of the top companies in the country.

Dale Fowler, national sales director for Lifestyle, said three of four people who participate in the promotion save money.

''Does it work every time? No, we don't promote it that way," Fowler said.

He said the zone pricing certificates are good for a year and ticket prices often fluctuate over such a long period, which means savings can vary depending on when a trip is booked.

Fowler said zone prices are adjusted annually, and sent me some new prices that were not on the company's website. The new prices were $5 to $15 lower for trips from Boston to the Southeast, the Midwest, Florida, and the Northeast. From Boston to the Southwest, which includes Dallas, the new promotion price was $55 less. Trips to the Northwest held steady at $490, while trips to California increased $5 to $455.

Overall, the new price list narrowed the price discrepancies I had found on flights to Dallas, but had relatively little impact on my other findings.

Fowler said Lifestyle uses big airlines, and doesn't try to compete with discount carriers like Southwest or JetBlue. He said the promotion offers the biggest savings on more obscure travel routes, to places like Fargo, N.D., Memphis, and Little Rock, Ark.

Fowler also said his company is willing to work with any customers who can't find a cost-saving deal that works for them: ''We would welcome the opportunity to communicate with Mr. Bookbinder and fulfill the travel voucher and address any issues he may have with the program."

Bruce Mohl can be reached at mohl@globe.com.

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