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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