Travel Agency ‘Cuts Out The Middleman,’ Bills Its Government For Millions In Fake Flights

Business travelers are suffering now, without being able to pad their incomes with fraudulent expense reports. The travel industry as a whole is suffering more. Travel agents aren’t selling very much travel.

Hopefully none will resort to the sort of temptation that Cheryl Ethan Travel Services is accused of. (HT: RenesPoints)

  • Zimbabwe says that their Ministry of Defense paid the agency US$2.7 million to cover airline tickets for 79 army officers
  • Those tickets were never issued, and the officers never knew about them
  • Instead the agency’s Director of Finance signed off on the invoice, and received a kickback

Air Zimbabwe Boeing 767, by Dmitriy Pichugin via Wikimedia Commons

It took a year for charges to be filed, perhaps the most amazing thing is that the travel agent running the scam stayed in country rather than fleeing with the loot.

About twenty years ago a professional acquaintance suggested that his company eliminate everything except sales and finance. They could still have clients, and bill their clients, they just wouldn’t do anything else. He called it ‘cutting out the middle man.’ Here a travel agency sold travel and billed for travel. It’s the actual travel part they cut out.

Avatar Airlines, by the way, applied for a CARES Act airline payroll grant even though in their own words they “have no flights, no overhead, administrative expense, or fixed costs at the present time.” They also have no planes or operating certificate. Only this time their founder wasn’t prosecuted.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. $2.7 million for 79 flights is a comfortable $34k per flight. Someone on the approving side was being greased.

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