Update: I received an email from a representative at SQM to include some additional information. I have included that information in quotes in the relevant sections.
Have you ever seen an advertisement for being a secret shopper? I know, I know, they seem like a scam, but the Canadian company, SQM (link), is legit and offers some amazing value for travellers.
In order to get started with SQM, you have to “apply”, which in my experience, is never rejected. Usually within 2 days your application is approved. Once approved, you can sign-up for assignments for flights, trains, buses, and hotels, which are explained below.
You mentioned that we don’t seem to refuse applicants, however, due to the popularity of the work, this has changed, and the system automatically deletes applications that are not completed in full.
Currently, SQM partners with a number of airlines for the 50% off program. They have many destinations, including domestic and international. To book, you do so directly with SQM. They will quote you the current lowest available fare (which, in my experience, is consistent with the carrier’s website). Your credit card will be held for the full amount, and after you fly, you must complete a short survey about the flight (e.g., How was the service? The food?). After successfully completing the survey, you will be charged/reimbursed for 50% of the cost. That simple. Every couple of months, they also have a program that upgrades you to business for 50% of the cost of the economy ticket!
The only real negative is that they only allow one secret shopper per flight, so if you’re travelling as a couple, the second person would have to buy/redeem miles for their ticket. You will not get miles or be allowed to place your frequent flyer number on the reservation – so no lounge access even if Star Gold (except if you’re on the special business class promotions).
This one is pretty simple. For train tickets, in either Economy or Business, simply book your train with SQM at the prevailing rate, and after having completed your survey, you will be reimbursed 50%. You cannot use promo codes, and must apply the prevailing public rate.
The bus program works for a number of bus companies in Canada/USA. This one is simple – book your bus, fill out the survey, and get 50% back. Easy, eh?
For the bus Mystery Shops, depending on how low the fare is, SQM actually tops up the amount to $15.00, so some inspectors make a few bucks in the process.
This one is also pretty simple. Book an eligible hotel, complete a survey, and get a 50% reimbursement. Participating hotels include 5-star hotels!
There you have it folks. Their website is horrendous and slow, but once you learn it, this can be a pretty lucrative program. Make sure you follow their instructions carefully.