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The Sum of All Pitches: Travel Give-aways Judged.

Not all that is golden...or plastic....is gold.

Not worth the plastic it was printed on.

What of the product the company was selling? Was the company legitimate? Is anything they sell worth anything to anybody? Is it a scam? Researching the company and details reveals several things. First, in the strictest legal definition the company and its product are not a scam. It is the very precise way everything is presented and how the contracts are written that keep this company from straying into legal trouble. For some people who can afford to buy and deal with the limitations and complications that seem systemic to this sort of product it can be a favorable arrangement. However for many people these situations can be problematic commitments of money which they are never able to gain the promised travel.

The most telling thing to my mind was that the walls of the office are coated in pictures of people when they buy the memberships. Yet there are none of people at any of the travel options the membership provide. Indeed, we were told repeatedly that we could not and would not be able to review a sampling of the travel options. I can find nobody online blogging about their latest travel club trip. And in truth I can find virtually nobody who will openly admit they have such a membership. Likewise, in reading about those who bought and later attempted to get out of their contracts, virtually nobody does.

Are there alternatives to these clubs that provide the sort of travel options and value but without the financial strain and obligation? Absolutely. The entire premise of this companies product was that it gathered endless options for travel at prices only possible for the reasons they explain to you. Yet most travel agencies and agents can book through wholesale companies and through industry promotions that give you every means to travel when you want and the way you want too.

My own advice? Avoid these booths like the plague. You should not have to pay money just to hear a sales presentation. You should not have to sit through a sales presentation to receive an actual “prize.” No prize should be so rigged as to seem intended to be more hassle than it is worth. You should never have to commit so much money for a membership for products or services you cannot review in detail.

Do I have a horse in this race? Certainly, but so do you. These companies have a choice to present things professionally and without pressure or masking the insanity of their self-serving contracts and financial systems. Shop carefully, ask questions.

Have you dealt with timeshare pitches? Share with us in the Travelers Dominion forums!

Through the Looking Glass, Darkly - the Pressure Begins.

Don't forget to show your work......

Math and not for the faint of heart.

It is at this point that these presentation turn a bit dark in my view. Once the basic product the company sells was reviewed a series of options to “get even more value” and options that were cheaper for those more modest budgets were presented. First, the core product amounts to over twelve thousand dollars and requires a four figure up-front fee, monthly costs and annual fee. Limitations to the “travel club” ensure members are locked into the deal for at least ten years. Gallingly the company offered to “finance” the up-front fee, which is amusing since they were not actually lending any money. Yet they then charge interest on the amount of the up-front fee not paid initially.

Once the salesperson finally reached the end of his presentation he surveyed the room sizing up people and informed us that due to a limited number of staff working that we could only leave one couple at a time to receive our travel prize. Anybody who actually wanted to buy the product was taken first and quickly ushered out. Only one couple elected to do so. The salesperson slowly selected each couple to leave seemingly based on the level of resistance shown during the presentation. We were taken last.

We were taken to a second salesperson who sought to convince us to buy one of the memberships in a big open room with the other couples seeing to their business near us. This will lasted no less than ten minutes and the presentation given was geared to determine how much we could afford to pay for the up-front fee and to agree to their so-called financing. I told the young salesperson directly we were simply not going to buy and didn’t wish to waste his time. He quietly said he had to go through the entire process of drawing charts and numbers for us or he would get in trouble with his boss. We allowed the young man to finish he said he would get his boss to see to our prize.

Next we were given the third attempt to close a sale by another salesperson in a suit who took us to another office and privately tried to get us to give him a up-front fee we would agree too. I made an attempt to see how low I could push the salesperson without giving him a number, or if he’d eventually cave-in and waive the fee. But once it was clear we won’t buying the sales pitch he left to get a check written for the appointment fee. We were given a pre-printed card with a website and code to redeem the cruise we “won.” Since this company wasn’t really a travel agency they had nothing to do with the prize except to promise it to us. We were given certificates for gift cards as well. But like every aspect of the process, the cruise and certificates were calculated to be virtually worthless.

To actually get the cruise we had won, we would have needed to pay hundreds up-front to a fourth party which has an entirely negative reputation based on research I did afterward. The same was true of the gift card certificates. It is so difficult or expensive to obtain the cruise or gift cards it isn’t worth pursuing. With the cruise specifically the best one can do while paying the bare minimum is more costly than deals you can obtain from actual travel agents and agencies.

Tomorrow, we wrap-up the journey down the rabbit hole reviewing the actual "prizes" and what happens after the presentations.  We also share my feelings on these companies and alternatives to them.

Have you survived one of these epic adventures?  Share with us in our message boards!

Travel Prizes: An Unlikely Give-away.

Not So Subtle Suggestive Marketing

Caveat Emptor. If something seems too go to be true it is. When somebody offers free travel the wise consumer assumes the worst and usually gets it. At a bridal fair my fiance and I took a trip down the rabbit hole that are the travel giveaways. Instead of a giveaway people are lured to pay a deposit to attend a marathon sales pitch for a dubious package of discount travel options costing over twelve thousand dollars, protected by a virtually unbreakable contract. The travel given away is virtually impossible to access, not remotely free and ultimately not even a bargain compared to options available without hours of hassle. I took a trip down the rabbit hole so you won’t have too.

First, the booths. You have seen them. Booths at malls, bridal and county fairs. They offer you a chance to play a game, scratch off a ticket, spin a wheel, tap a button on a computer. Seemingly as often as not you “win.” A delightfully friendly person takes you to a waiting table to discuss what you have won, which is usually a nondescript cruise or trip. In this case the event was a bridal fair at TPC San Antonio with my fiance. I knew there would be a host of travel promotions there and I was not disappointed.

There were four types of travel booths at the bridal fair. One was a legitimate travel agency another an independent agent. The agency was a well known company in the area and was offering a traditional raffle for a honeymoon cruise which was awarded at the end of the days bridal show. The independent agent was promoting her services. However the other two types of booths were the ones you need to be leery of.

The booths “giving away” travel are not travel agencies as a rule. Rather they are marketing companies seeking to use their games to lure you into paying typically $20 per person to attend “appointments” for sixty to ninety minute sales presentations. The booths featured either a classic “spin the wheel” or a game run on a tablet.

My fiance and I tried two booths. The first was “giving” away a cruise, the other a “trip.” I won my game for a trip, my fiance her own for a cruise. Both booths worked identically in every detail. Those we saw not winning the games were given the same spiel we were. The only difference was the introduction leading to the same goal of securing a deposit for an appointment. The staff at the booth will make a very big point to tell you that they are not selling timeshares. You will absolutely NOT receive anything at the time you play. And you will only receive what you are promised, and the $20 per person refunded, if you attend and IF you stay for the entire presentation. Some booths suggested you will get other rewards at the end of the presentation as well but the booths we tried made no mention of that.

The presentation my fiance and I attended was tied to the cruise won at the bridal fair. The location was an office with a different business name than that of the brochure the appointment setter provided at the bridal fair. From the moment we entered the lobby every moment of our time, conversation, and environment was carefully managed. Absolutely everything inside the office is calculated for effect, tightly choreographed and controlled. Starting just inside the front door and coating seemingly every square inch of the office were color photos. In each photo was a smiling couple standing before a colorful background, holding a portfolio. My fiance and I were ushered into a room with several other couple, a white board, and a sign saying to turn off our cell phones.

There were three other couples and a single male attending with us. A sales person began the hour of what I’ll just call “sales washing” the people there. He walked through it deftly with a casual touch that did not trigger unease and never dwelled on any detail long enough to allow those listening to consider them. A wall of numbers were presented on the whiteboard
to support the “value” of the travel club’s cost. From time to time the salesperson would preempt skepticism by offering limitations, such as dealing with taxes, or booking in and out of peak season.

On Wednesday, we continue deeper down the rabbit hole.

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