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By: Caroline Lupini
Note: Before signing up for this service, make sure to read the full article. I have had great experiences with this company in the past, but my most recent experience was not great. I still think this can be a great way to save on flights, but make sure you know what you’re getting yourself in to head of time.
With points and miles, it’s possible to travel a lot more for a lot less. But even with points and miles, chances are good that you’ll still have to pay cash for a flight or hotel at some point in time.
When that time comes, you still shouldn’t settle for paying full price for your travel because you can mystery shop and save up to 50%! Evaluate It by SQM is a Toronto-based mystery shopping company, but they partner with a lot of U.S. companies!
If mystery shopping for discounted travel sounds intriguing to you, it’s really easy to get started. First, you’ll have to apply to be a mystery shopper with SQM. After you’ve been accepted, you can request assignments. If you’re approved for an assignment, you will need to complete an evaluation after finishing the assignment. Finally, you’ll be reimbursed up to 50% for your travel.
Types of Assignments
Evaluate It by SQM partners with a wide range of companies including hotels, resorts, airlines, travel companies, restaurants and attractions. Unfortunately, it’s against the terms to tell you exactly what companies they work with (plus it changes) but you probably won’t be disappointed with the options.
In all likelihood, the plane tickets and hotels will offer the largest savings and will be of the most interest of readers of 10xTravel. Let’s take a deeper look into how an evaluation works for flights and hotels!
How It Works
Once you’ve been approved to be a secret shopper with SQM, you’ll be able to see the available assignments. It’s possible to search both by type of assignment and by location. From there, you’ll be able to apply for assignments that interest you!
There are a few things you should be aware of before you decide to apply for an assignment.
- Only one mystery shopper is allowed per flight or per night at a specific hotel. You should be ready to request your nights or flights as early as possible, because there’s a chance that someone else could have requested the same flight. This is even more important during peak travel times. On a related note, if you’re traveling with other people, they will have to pay full price for their tickets if they want to be on the same flight. If your traveling party is willing to split up onto different flights in order to save 50%, by all means, go for it!
- You won’t earn frequent flyer miles or hotel points. For some, this may be a complete deal breaker. For me, well, I’d rather save 50% on my flights and hotel nights where possible. This could also be a deal breaker for someone with status as you will not receive your elite status benefits.
- After you’ve completed your flight or hotel stay, you’ll have to fill out an evaluation. I’ve found that most flight evaluations take between 30 and 45 minutes to fill out and restaurant evaluations usually take between 20 and 30 minutes. I’ve also gotten a bit faster at the evaluations after doing a couple of them. Of course, your mileage may vary.You should keep in mind this time requirement and how much you’re going to be saving on your flight before you request to do an evaluation. It may not be worth it for a really cheap flight where a 50% savings means only $20, but an expensive flight with a savings of $200 might be well worth your time.
- Read the instructions carefully. This is where I got burned on my most recent mystery shop. I’ll go into some more details below, but in short, SQM made some changes to their process that weren’t very clear or obvious. I didn’t do something quite right and wasn’t reimbursed for my flight.
- Your tickets and hotel nights will have to be booked through SQM. This is how they make sure that they only have one person per flight, that each person is on the right flight and is also the reason you won’t earn miles.Initially, you’ll be charged the full amount for your flight or hotel stay. After your evaluation is completed, you’ll be given a reimbursement according to the terms of the deal you book. Additionally, SQM has a cancellation policy that may be different from the hotel or airline you are booking with, so mystery shopping works best when your plans are pretty set in stone.
My Experience with SQM
I’ve only done a couple of flight bookings with SQM and they were all a couple of years ago. Lately, I’ve been traveling a lot with other people, so it’s made mystery shopping for flights and hotels not make quite as much sense due to logistical reasons.
When I used to book with SQM, I probably did around three or four round-trip flights and was able to save 50% on my bookings. This amounted to at least $600 in savings.
After getting out of the habit of booking with SQM, I also just kind of forgot about it! When I remembered, decided it was a great idea to write a post about it to share the great deal and also remind myself.
Unfortunately, I didn’t a great experience with my most recent trip. I booked my flights, took the flights and filled out the surveys only to find out that I would not be getting reimbursed due to some changes they made in their program that I didn’t notice.
They do have a list of instructions, but based on a quick skim (since I’ve done quite a few shops in the past), I didn’t notice the changes. They send out two emails when they book a ticket, one with some additional reminders, and one with the ticket. In the email with the additional reminders, nothing was mentioned about the changes made. My airline tickets are automatically pulled into my calendar, so I never saw the email with the ticket in it and therefore missed the additional instructions that were listed there.
If I had done a thorough read of the rules, I would have noticed the changes. I had done enough shops with them in the past that I figured I could skim the rules and didn’t notice the changes. That means that I paid a whopping $560 for flights within the U.S. that I wouldn’t have taken had it not been for SQM. After discussing the issues that I ran into with this shop, the people I was in contact with at SQM were not willing to compromise with me and also encouraged me to not write about their service.
Even with this negative experience, I still think it is worth checking out SQM, but I recommend being VERY careful that you follow instructions to a tee. I likely will give SQM another go if I have a flight that makes sense, but I won’t be rushing to do so.
Have you ever mystery shopped for discounted travel?