Financial Travel Tip #112: 50% off Airfare With Mystery Shopping

by Nora on April 5, 2014

 

I recently flew from Toronto to Lima (Peru) for a 50% discount, as a mystery shopper. Here is my experience.

 

How to Get Mystery Shopping Airfare

Last year, I signed up as a mystery shopper with EvaluateIt by SQM. This gave me access to see available mystery shopping assignments, which included airfare around the world (based mainly out of Toronto), hotels (mostly in North America), and transportation (currently coach bus fares, with the occasional car rental assignment).

I received an email notification when new assignments or categories came available, so I didn’t have to lurk the site all the time.

Finally, an assignment (with Air Canada) came up that was perfect for me, given my upcoming trip to Peru, so I applied for it. Only one mystery shopper is allowed per flight, so it pays to book mystery shopping airfare as far in advance as possible.

 

For airfare, EvaluateIt by SQM reimburses you 50% of the retail cost of the flight. Thus, if Air Canada is having a seat sale, you get 50% off the sale rate – a pretty spectacular deal.

Once approved, I paid EvaluateIt directly for the tickets (which is the case for only airfare; in all other cases you book the travel arrangement yourself and get reimbursed by EvaluateIt). I had to pay full price for the tickets; you receive the 50% reimbursement only after the mystery shopping assignment is complete and the report submitted.

 

 

Mystery Shopping Airfare: What You Have to Do

Although not totally onerous, I did earn my airfare reimbursement.

Prior to flying, I printed out a 5-page detailed questionnaire. I also saved an electronic copy of my boarding pass, which would eventually be submitted with the report/questionnaire.

The questionnaire required me to evaluate all aspects of my flight experience, including boarding and pre-departure, cabin service, duty free service, cabin crew grooming, food and beverage, cabin environment, irregular situations (like delays), pre landing, and after landing. Each category had 10-20 yes/no questions, and space for a (required) overall rating and detailed explanation of notes pertaining to that category.

Although the actual report is submitted online after the fact, I found it necessary to work off the printed sheets during the flight due to the level of detailed observation required. (And of course, none of the airline staff can see the questionnaire or know that you’re a mystery shopper).

Within three days of taking the flight, I went online and submitted the questionnaire and my boarding pass.

That’s it.

Had I booked a one-way flight, I’d have received the 50% reimbursement from EvaluateIt after submitting the report. But because I booked a return flight, I won’t receive reimbursement until I’ve completed the last leg of the trip and submitted the corresponding report (EvaluateIt allows return flights within 90 days of the outward flight).

 

The Downside: No Frequent Flyer Miles Allowed

As a frequent flyer mile junkie, I take pride in accumulating frequent flyer miles whenever I have to pay for a flight. So it was slightly painful to fly and not be allowed to use my frequent flyer memberships.

But of course, my pain was assuaged with the 50% discount, so I can’t complain (too much).

 

How to Qualify and do a Good Job as a Mystery Shopper

You need to be a detail-oriented person for mystery shopping. The report I filled out was quite involved, and required me to observe and evaluate every aspect of the flight. In some ways it was a bit of a hassle; for example instead of just enjoying my meal, I had to note every aspect of what I was served, the temperature, quality, etc. Although the value received from mystery shopping airfare is huge, there’s no doubt about the fact that mystery shopping is work.

 

Going Deeper With Mystery Shopping

EvaluateIt by SQM is a subsidiary of a larger parent company: SQM, which has a much broader selection of mystery shopping opportunities.

EvaluateIt focuses solely on travel assignments (flights, transportation, and hotels), and works on a reimbursement basis, whereby you get a refund of at least 50% once you submit your mystery shopping report.

But if you want to go deeper with mystery shopping, you can sign up for SQM and get access to mystery shopping assignments that include everything EvaluateIt offers, plus restaurants, oil changes, massages, haircuts, gym memberships, banking, clothing, attractions, parking, and more. Some of these opportunities work on a reimbursement basis (like EvaluateIt) and/or might include a shopper fee – which means you’re actually paid (anything from $5-100) for performing the mystery shopping assignment. The more complicated the assignment, the more you’re paid.

I’ve been lurking these other mystery shopping assignments through SQM for a while;  however I haven’t found anything that fits the bill, nor am I  overly inclined to go out of my way to do one.

 

Would I Fly as a Mystery Shopper Again?

Yes. EvaluateIt by SQM has lots of long-haul mystery shopping airfares including fares from Toronto to Japan, China, Australia, and Europe. To get a 50% discount off these flights is huge value, and even a detailed report is well worth the time spent.

 

The only down side for me is that I usually like to travel on one-way tickets, and Air Canada (EvaluateIt’s main customer) doesn’t have good rates for one-way tickets; it’s much more cost-effective to fly return. But I’m working it out; I’ve got a return ticket from Peru to Toronto for June, and am already thinking of booking a (return?) mystery shopper airfare to Europe for the summer. Then….maybe a return trip to Asia or Australia? Who knows. Let’s see what life deals me.

 

 

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank April 6, 2014 at 1:18 am

How did Air Canada fare? I hear that their international flights are ok, but that’s hard to believe considering the horror that many of their domestic flights can be sometimes!

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Nora Dunn April 6, 2014 at 10:24 am

Frank – It was a pretty nice experience! But I’ll also admit I was in business class, which is rarely a bad thing… 😉

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Shawn Cookson April 10, 2014 at 12:14 am

Sounds like a good deal for a little bit of work, comparatively and some trip strategy. Thanks for sharing.

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Nora Dunn April 10, 2014 at 9:11 am

Hey Shawn – For the amount saved on long-haul airfare, it’s definitely worth the effort!

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Angus Pryor April 25, 2014 at 3:59 am

I do a fair bit of mystery shopping myself but I’ve never seen one for flights, especially international – although I live in Australia which may reduce the opportunities. I got to drive a Porsche recently as a mystery shopper and I was well paid for that one : )

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Nora Dunn April 25, 2014 at 11:04 am

Hi Angus,
Living in Australia, you can take advantage of flights to Canada I believe, with EvaluateIt by SQM. Check it out!
And you drove a Porsche…and got paid? Poor you! 😉

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Angus Pryor April 25, 2014 at 5:44 pm

Thanks Nora. Yes, poor me. Actually I got to drive two porsches in one day and got paid $350 for my trouble. I’ll definitely look into the flights

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Tracie Howe April 30, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Thanks for this article! I signed up and started looking through assignments. I’m based in Seattle, which complicates things, but Vancouver is close enough. I actually do want round trip tickets, but I don’t see anywhere that has the option, or maybe I’m just not noticing something. I’m sure it takes a while to figure out the site. 🙂 Anyway, thanks again!

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Nora Dunn April 30, 2014 at 4:20 pm

Hi Tracie,
The flights as they’re listed on the site are one-way, but chances are you’ll find another listing for the return trip if you look. It does take a wee bit to get used to.
Happy (discounted) traveling! 🙂

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lee May 13, 2014 at 12:29 am

Nora, i have been waiting for your opinion/response to your adventure….this is perfect for the travel i do and next is a min rtw ….thanks to you i shall try for an assignment…thank you so much.

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Nora Dunn May 14, 2014 at 7:14 pm

Awesome, Lee – enjoy your trip and mystery shopping experiences!

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lee May 14, 2014 at 7:20 pm

i wanted to ask, if the company assigns you a coach seat will they allow you to pay the cost of an upgrade to prem economy or even business class?

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Pamela Cronin May 13, 2014 at 6:08 am

Hello Nora
Going to indulge myself this evening and read about your experiences in Peru. Had a superb time myself last year together with Bolivia. Do you have any experience with travel in Uruguay – two months for me later in the year?
Must look into mystery shopping sites in the UK, sounds a good idea.
Love your site.
Pamela x

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Nora Dunn May 14, 2014 at 7:18 pm

Hi Pamela,
Happy reading! I haven’t been to Bolivia or Uruguay, but I hear amazing things about both places. Soon enough….enjoy Uruguay!

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Jamie Giles June 20, 2014 at 9:44 am

Hi Nora,
Would you have any advice for a mystery shopping company who is looking for International shoppers – namely Lima, Peru, right now…?

Jamie Giles
Project & Social Media Coordinator
Mercantile Systems, Inc.
jamieg[at]mercsystems[dot]com

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Nora Dunn June 20, 2014 at 11:06 am

Hi Jamie,
To clarify, are you looking for mystery shoppers IN Lima? Are they travel-related opportunities, or standard mystery shopping gigs?

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Jamie Giles June 20, 2014 at 11:40 am

Hi Nora. I’m looking for someone IN Lima or someone already planning on traveling there in June/July. We have an overnight hotel stay/shop that we need a shopper for. 🙂

-Jamie

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Pamela Cronin June 20, 2014 at 1:41 pm

Hello Nora
Would you please delete my details from your database?
Many thanks for all your past blogs which I have found so interesting.
Best wishes and happy travelling.
Pamela

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Nora Dunn June 21, 2014 at 3:30 pm

Hi Pamela,
I’m assuming you’re referring to my monthly newsletter…..to which I’ve unsubscribed you. Thanks for reading!

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Nancie (@Ladyexpat) July 8, 2014 at 8:55 pm

I think this is fantastic! Now I just have to figure out how I can get back to Canada to take advantage of one of these flights. Air Canada flies a lot out of Seoul, so maybe I can find a return from Seoul to Canada, on their parent website. I’ll be checking it out.

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Nora Dunn July 9, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Hi Nancie – Indeed, not all flights need to originate from Canada….you can fly TO Canada using Evaluate It by SQM as well! Happy Mystery Shopping….

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Lesley July 9, 2014 at 9:49 am

Hi Nora,

I’m so happy to have discovered you!

I’ve been wondering more about your financial picture. You’ve described yourself as having worked in the financial planning world prior to you becoming a “hobo.” Do you have a back-up chunk of change that you dip into periodically when things don’t unfold as hoped? Or are you rather living on whatever you generate via this great site? I know such questions are considered socially inappropriate by many, but such questions burn in the minds of everyone.

Much interest,
Lesley

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Nora Dunn July 9, 2014 at 3:10 pm

Hi Lesley,
Quite the contrary! On my site I divulge all things financial, including how much money I earn (and how I earn it), and also how much money it costs me to travel full-time.
You’ll find the last few years’ stats on this page: http://www.theprofessionalhobo.com/travel-tips-resources/

And to answer your question about savings, yes – I do have a modest savings, but no, I haven’t needed to touch it in my travels. I travel full-time in a financially sustainable way, and you can learn more about how I do that here:
http://www.theprofessionalhobo.com/how-to-travel-full-time-in-a-financially-sustainable-way/

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Benson February 26, 2015 at 10:36 am

Hi Nora/All,

Does anyone know of an equivalent to Evaluate It by SQM for airlines based in Australasia/Middle East?

Cheers,
Benson

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Nora Dunn February 26, 2015 at 12:48 pm

Hi Benson,
Here’s a listing of a bunch of worldwide mystery shopping companies – many of which feature travel opportunities. Maybe you can find something here:
http://www.volition.com/mysteryint.html

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Simka August 28, 2015 at 5:30 am

Hi Guys,
I am based in Europe, do you know of something similar for Airlines based here?
Or even US Airlines flying to Europe?

Thanks!

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Nora Dunn August 29, 2015 at 4:14 pm

Hi Simka,
Here’s a list of worldwide mystery shopping companies – of all kinds. Maybe you can find a travel-based one that offers what you’re looking for!
http://www.volition.com/mysteryint.html

Also, if you’re looking to get from the US to Europe and you’re in L.A, I believe you can get mystery shopping flights through EvaluateIt from L.A. to Canada where you can then connect to Europe. Or if you’re near the border (especially somewhere near Toronto), it might make sense to hop up to Canada to catch a mystery-shopping long-haul flight to Europe.

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Jojo February 2, 2016 at 7:52 pm

Hello Nora! I am looking into doing an airline evaluation for SQM and found your site during my research. Do you have to shop duty free and purchase food/beverages if you normally do not? How long does your evaluation have to be (estimated word count?)

Do you provide them your credit card information to get reimbursed? Or do they pay you through something like Paypal?

Thanks for your help!

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Nora February 3, 2016 at 11:54 am

Hi Jojo,
Great questions! I’ll answer them in order:
1) Do you have to shop duty free and purchase food/beverages if you normally do not? – NO (you can simply skip those questions)
2) How long does your evaluation have to be (estimated word count?) – The evaluation is in the form of a questionnaire…and a pretty lengthy one at that. I believe for my long-haul business class itinerary (which is arguably the most intricate to complete) it was 7 pages of multiple choice questions as well as answers that needed to be filled in. It’s work….but if you calculate your “hourly wage” in terms of your savings on the flight, it’s well worth it!
3) Do you provide them your credit card information to get reimbursed? Or do they pay you through something like Paypal? – You pay for the flights in full first, via credit card. Once you’ve submitted your report, you’ll be reimbursed through the same credit card.
Hope this helps!

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