How to Get 50% Off Flights and Hotels as a Mystery Shopper

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Traveler's Toolbox  

travel money
This could be you (well…your hat, sunglasses, and money). Photo: Sergey Novikov / Shutterstock

You’ve heard the story before; your friend’s cousin’s sister-in-law (who you’ve never met) makes her living as a mystery shopper. Companies pay her a comfortable salary to shop and eat out all day. It sounds too good to be true, so you brush it off thinking that it’s either a one-in-a-million job or an urban myth.

The truth is, there are mystery shopping opportunities out there, some of which offer exceptional culinary and travel benefits — even up to 50 percent off of airfare — although they won’t pay the mortgage.

This article explains everything you need to know about what mystery shopping is, how to become a mystery shopper, and the limitations of mystery shopping for travellers.

That's right. Keep them coming!
That’s right. Keep them coming!

What is Mystery Shopping?

Mystery shopping is a marketing research tool used by many airlines, restaurants, hotels, and other consumer-oriented businesses to understand the experiences that consumers have when dealing their company.

The mystery shopper will visit a business anonymously, sample the services or products, and then submit a report about their experience to management.

This helps management understand how customers are treated and how they can improve their service. Mystery shoppers receive free or discounted services and goods (and are occasionally paid) for their work. In the travel industry, mystery shopping can result in incredible deals the shoppers.

Disclaimer: Not all hotels you stay at will be this amazing.
Disclaimer: Not all hotels you stay at will be this amazing.

SQM: The Canadian Travel Mystery Shopping Company

Sensors Quality Management Inc. (SQM), based in Toronto, links restaurants, hotels and travel companies with mystery shoppers to ensure their customers are receiving the quality service that management expects. In turn, mystery shoppers normally get about 50 percent off of their bill.

If you and your partner want to have romantic restaurant dates more often, mystery shopping is an excellent way to eat out for half price.

Reviews only take about 20 minutes to complete, so it’s not too much work for the discount. Deals on flights, hotels, and numerous of other outlets are available as well.

SQM does not require that shoppers pay an upfront fee  to apply to become a shopper (which some bogus mystery shopping companies do). The sign-up process is simple and, after a few minutes, you can be browsing for assignments.

It's a rough life, traveling for a living.
Mystery shopping can be rough when it spills over into your leisure time.

How to Sign Up To Be a Mystery Shopper

First, log on EvaluateItBySQM.com and fill out their straightforward online application. Anyone can be a mystery shopper, but many applications are rejected because the instructions have not been followed properly or because of excessive spelling and grammar mistakes.

The reason for this attention to detail according to, Ragaa Abdulcadir, the travel program manager at SQM, is because “the application shows us that you will be able to write a good report when completing your assignments.”

As soon as your application has been approved, you can start browsing assignments.

check-in
Smile. Check. Cheap 5-star room. Check. Ok, you pass.

Mystery Shopper Evaluation Requirements

You don’t have to be a novelist to write acceptable evaluations, but you do need to write in complete sentences with proper punctuation and without abbreviations.

Applicants who have been accepted to the program area able to browse evaluation guidelines and read completed evaluation forms to ensure that they will write an acceptable evaluation and receive a discount on every shopping trip.

The evaluation form only takes about 20 minutes to complete. The company stresses the need for shoppers to be thorough and honest in their responses to guarantee that their evaluation is accepted. If the evaluation is not accepted, the shopper will not be reimbursed.

lobby
What leaving work should look like.

Payment and Processing

SQM works hard to make payments hassle-free for their shoppers. Shoppers pay for products or services in full and then submit their report to SQM. After the report is approved by the client company the shopper receives a partial refund for the goods or services purchased. Payment usually takes about five days.

In addition to the normal 50 percent off of flights, accommodations, and meals, SQM offers a number of other incentives to keep shoppers active.

“About a week ago, we had free upgrades to first class for flights to London departing in September. So, shoppers saved a ton paying the economy rate (plus the 50 percent discount) and got to sit in First Class,” Abdulcadir said. “We also ran a sale to a few South American countries for $350 round trip a few months ago.”

Have you seen my office? It's not a corner, but it's not bad.
Have you seen my office? It’s not a corner, but it’s not bad.

The Limitations of Mystery Shopping for Travellers

One of the advantages of mystery shopping is that it can be incorporated into trips for big savings on airfare, hotels, restaurants and shopping.

Now you’re probably thinking, “What’s the catch?”

There really isn’t one. There are, however, a few of limitations.

First, you have to be flexible to take full-advantage of date-specific mystery shopping opportunities such as flights.

Second, it requires time to browse the database and make travel plans around the available gigs.

Last, SQM doesn’t have many restrictions for travellers, but there is one that makes it difficult to travel in pairs or groups: only one person may evaluate any given flight. So, couple’s who want discounts for both parties can’t fly together.

“Sometimes, couples like to go together to take advantage of the discount, so instead we send them on two different flights,” Abdulcadir said. “The only issue with this, is that sometimes it has to be on different days, as the airline might only fly to a particular destination once a day.”

If you and your travel partner are flexible, the money saved can be worth spending one day apart. “Shoppers can fly as many times as they like to any destination, we don’t have any limits,” Abdulcadir said. SQM has very few restrictions, which makes planning assignments convenient for their shoppers.

Mystery shopping isn’t for everyone, but it does offer a little-known opportunity for avid travellers to save big bucks. And those who simply like to shop and eat out but don’t have pockets deep enough to support their habits may find some great deals for just a little extra work as well.

All photos except the lead photo provided by Sensors Quality Management Inc.

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About the Author: Matt Gibson

Matt Gibson is the Let's Roll blog manager. He also writes for the Huffington Post, About.com, and his own adventure travel blog.

Comments:

  • You don’t have to be a novelist to write acceptable evaluations, but you do need to write in complete sentences with proper punctuation and without abbreviations.

    You really should make sure your own grammar and spelling is correct. (to the program ‘area’ able to browse)

  • I have recently retired, and am looking at various activities that may be of interest to me. I do love to travel, eat, and observe the world we live in. I have read many articles recently, most did not contain specific information. I enjoyed this article, as it was articulate, and informative. I will check out SQM, and know that I should not have to pay any monies upfront for a legitimate mystery shopper experience. I have the “time” now, and I want to spend it wisely. I believe I would make an excellent mystery shopper. I live in BC, haven’t done my background on SQM, not sure I would qualify, seems SQM is headquartered in Toronto. Thanks for an enjoyable read!

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