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.
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.
2019 Update: EvaluateIt by SQM no longer works with Air Canada, but they have a variety of other airlines and travel providers they work with that will allow you to get free and discounted flights by mystery shopping.