Ten useful steps to determine an answer
During my 38-plus years as a journalist, I’ve written dozens of stories about scams and swindles, and interviewed con artists and victims alike. My family says I can tell a telemarketer’s call from across the room and hang up before he (or she) even dares to mispronounce my name. (Telemarketers almost always say “Penalopee” instead of “Penelope,” which is my full first name.)
Yet, for some reason when I heard “Congratulations!” while calling in a payment on my gasoline credit card, I listened to the pitch about what I had supposedly won.
The woman talked very fast about all the “free and exciting” vacation opportunities I was suddenly privy to, using about six sales pitches in each sentence. When she finally paused for her first breath, I gave her my usual, “I write about scams for a newspaper” line that makes most people hang up. But she continued, so I continued to listen.
To simplify what happened next: My gasoline company had made some deals with a cruise line and a hotel chain, probably because the poor economy is keeping a lot of people from traveling.
The first part of her “marvelous free offer” was a three-day cruise to an island in the Bahamas costing “only” a port tax of $59 a person.
Was this offer a two-person offer? I asked.
“Yes, all for a total $118, can you imagine?” she asked, before suddenly launching into another litany of amenities I could add.
I continued to listen without speaking and finally grunted so she would know I was still on the line.
She battered me with tempting questions. Did I want to spend two or three extra days on any of the islands? Did I want to upgrade to an outside stateroom? Would I like to sign up for spa treatments and massages?
I continued to decline, decline, decline, and waited for the spiel to end before asking to be connected to the person I needed to make the payment on my gasoline card.
“You don’t want to take this opportunity for a ‘free’ cruise?” I was asked.
Step number one: Know exactly what the offer is. “Three days. Two people. $118. Right?” I asked.
“Yes, if you just take the inside stateroom,” she countered, “which would be a shame with that beautiful ocean view.”
“I don’t plan to be in the room that much. That’s a $118 total for two people for three days, right?”
She sighed a disappointed “yes.”
I said I would consider it after I made my payment.
None of her “but surely you want to” or “don’t you want to book now” deterred me.
“I need to make my credit card payment now,” I told her.
Click … music … and finally, another voice came on the line.
Step number two: Make sure to whom you are really talking. If I hadn’t dialed the number I always call to make my credit card payment to that company, I’d have hung up immediately, checked out the company making the offer online, and called them back if I was interested.
Step number three: Don’t make an immediate decision, even if someone says something is free. So far, “free” meant $118. Plus travel to the ship, which (I found out in the next conversation) turned out to be in West Palm Beach, via Fort Lauderdale, which is about 250 miles from our home.
I thought about the location of the two cities. Why travel as far south as Fort Lauderdale before going to West Palm Beach to board a ship? Look at a Florida map and you‘ll see that West Palm Beach is a good way north of Fort Lauderdale. This didn’t make sense. I knew I would need a lot more information before I made any decision about this.
Step number four: Check the facts with a reliable source. When I made my credit card payment, I told the gas card employee about the cruise offer and found out that the three companies did indeed have a joint special going on. After a few more questions to which I got favorable answers, I asked to be transferred back to the person giving the travel offers.
Step number five: Ask every question you can think of before saying yes and/or giving out your credit card number. My main question was “why go to Fort Lauderdale to sail from a port in West Palm Beach?”
“To visit a beautiful hotel and beach,” I was told. “A completely free, two-night stay in one of our luxury Fort Lauderdale hotels.”
“Including meals?” I asked, deliberately not mentioning the hotel offer at that time; and was told the stay included a room and three meals a day for two days.
If this call had not been initiated by my dialing my gasoline company to make a monthly credit card payment, I’d have hung up then. Nobody gives away free vacations. Remember, there is no such thing as a “completely” free lunch.
Step number six: Repeat everything you think you’ve heard before committing to what seems like a golden deal.
I wanted to know why the “free” room and meals in Fort Lauderdale weren’t mentioned first. Why wait until after I had shown interest in the cruise?
“You’ll be spending one of your mornings in Fort Lauderdale, looking at some of our properties and listening to presentations given by our travel experts,” I was told.
Ah, they wanted to sell time shares. Strangely, even a cynical longtime journalist like me hadn’t caught on. These people are just that good.
Step number seven: Find out exactly how much it will cost to take advantage of the offer, no matter how good it is. In my case, I knew every vacation involved extra costs: a place for my granddaughter to stay; boarding my dog; gas to and from the destinations; and probably a car rental, too, since my car’s odometer reads more than 158,000 miles, so I really don’t like to get too far away from mechanics I know won’t cheat me.
The telemarketer pushed to sell more amenities, reading quickly from a list of things most people would say are too good to refuse.
I continued to grunt a resounding “no.”
“We’re still at $118, right?” I asked after the woman had finally delivered what she probably figured was her “close.”
I could almost hear the resignation in her sigh as she almost whispered, “yes.”
Step number eight: Repeat the entire transaction; what will you get and what will you pay, both at the moment and in the future, before saying “yes” to anything.
I continued to listen. She continued to talk.
Finally I said “yes” to the five nights and five days of free meals for $118. I figured the extra costs (mentioned above) in my head and knew they amounted to several hundred dollars. The five-day trip would be well worth that — if I continued to say “no” to everything that was about to be offered to me before and during the trip.
Step number nine: Learn the word “no” before you attend a time-share presentation. These people are really, really good. They show you the best rooms. They show you the best vacation spots. They show you how you can actually “make money” by letting others use your time share when nobody is using it. They have an answer for everything you ask. I smile. I listen. I cannot afford to own any more properties than I own now.
I continue to smile, listen and then say “no.”
Step number ten: Have a great time on your “nearly-free” vacations. Just keep saying no.
There were so many opportunities to say “yes” at the hotel and on the ship. Once ship-board, special activities are continuously announced. It would be easy to spend thousands of dollars in five days having spa treatments, day trips, swimming with dolphins and all kinds of other extras.
Meanwhile, on board, we ate wonderful meals, saw great shows, chose from a variety of dance music and — except for some tips and two drinks from one of the numerous bars — continued to say “no.” We were on vacation to relax, and we did just that.
So my answer to the question in the title of this story, “Are time-share talks worth your time?” would be: they certainly are worth mine. Although I’m sure the company that hosted us last time won’t go out of the way to make us a “free” offer again.
But I’m sure hoping someone else will.