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Letters for free flights called fake

| Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

American Airways and US Airlines are hitting consumers' mailboxes in Pittsburgh and many parts of the country with limited-time offers for free flights anywhere in the continental United States.

Trouble is, such airlines do not exist. The solicitations appear to be an attempt to exploit any public confusion surrounding the pending merger of American Airlines and US Airways.

“It may well be somebody is trying to be opportunistic” over the pending merger of US Airways and American Airlines, said American spokesman Matt Miller.

“We're US Airways, not US Airlines,” said Liz Landua, a spokesman for the airline based in Tempe, Ariz., which offers the most daily flights at Pittsburgh International Airport with 41.

The merger deal announced on Feb. 14 would revive American Airlines out of bankruptcy and make the world's largest carrier. The US Airways name would go away if the combination is approved this summer, as the two partners expect.

Letters under the fake airline banners have circulated since about the time rumors of an American-US Airways tie-up began circulating about a year ago, Landua said.

A typical letter says the recipient will receive two flight vouchers if they call a toll-free number given in the letter. But people manning those phones ask for personal information, such as one's income. They also press callers into joining a “travel network” for a fee, as a condition for receiving the flight vouchers.

“Then, the two round-trip airline tickets have strict requirements that make them difficult to claim,” said Caitlin Vancas, spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau of Western Pennsylvania. It has fielded several complaints from Pittsburgh-area consumers since last summer, she said, but has been unable to get a response from the company or group behind the solicitations.

Dennis Fisher, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Attorney General, declined to say whether the office was investigating or whether it had gotten complaints. But he urged consumers to be cautious.

“Anyone who gets something in the mail and there's no return address needs to start asking questions,” Fisher said. “That's a red flag.”

Thomas Olson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7854 or tolson@tribweb.com.

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