Last week we got a postcard in the mail (I should have thought to scan it, but didn’t realize I’d be writing about it until after the fact.) It had a big picture on the front of a Southwest Airlines jet, and the name “Southwest Airlines” emblazoned across it.
The back indicated that we had “been selected” to receive two round-trip airfare tickets to anywhere in the continental USA and two nights’ accomodation at the selected destination. A number to call was provided. In tiny print on the back was the disclaimer that all promotions were offered and redeemed by a third-party and were not endorsed by Southwest.
I’ve done this before, so we said “what the heck.” I called the number, and was a few qualifying questions:
- Was I married?
- Was I between the ages of 28 and 72?
- Was our combined annual income over $60,000 per year?
Obviously, they’re pitching to stable, wealthy individuals. The last one of these I got I told them that my income was not quite high enough, just to see what happened, and they told me that they were so sorry, I didn’t qualify for this promotion, but sent me off on a wild goose chase to claim another booby prize which – in the end – was worth precisely squat.
So we set up an appointment, and yesterday my wife and I spent three hours listening to the pitch. We had both experienced timeshare presentations before (the telephone receptionist swore up and down that “this is in no way a timeshare presentation”) and were used to high-pressure tactics, so we thought it might be entertaining. We had lunch at a great Thai restaurant before going down, so the day would not be a total loss whatever the outcome.
The room was set up for four couples. Everyone was friendly and courteous. The slideshow lasted about an hour. The essence of the pitch was as follows:
- Platinum Unlimited Membership
- Resorts, houses, Condo’s (sic)
- Hotels, B&B’s
- All-inclusive (whatever that means)
- All Inclusive’ (sic)
- Tours/Excursions, Tickets
- Reward credits (Something about bonuses being refunded to us)
- Restaurant Discounts
- Airfare/Car Rental
- Family Plan (other family members can use our plan, like at Costco)
- Guest policy
- 20 year product $2,999
- Lifetime product $4,999
- $149.00 “processing fee”
- $199.00/year annual dues (payable only during years one uses the product)
- Special bonus for “retired people”: $1,999 for the 20 year Platinum plan, but valid only now, Now, NOW! If you want to think about it, the price will be $4,999.00.
- “You’re going to be traveling “anyway,” so you might as well be saving money with this plan.” The concept of “anyway money” is a big part of timeshare pitches, based on the ones I’ve attended. The trouble is, the numbers never add up. What they’re selling you a timeshare for will usually be significantly more than the average family will spend over twenty years “anyway.”
So, assuming you’re not retired and spring for the 20 year plan, which comes close to $7,000 including the annual dues, and assuming Save On Resorts doesn’t fold during that time (they proudly trumpet an A+ rating with the BBB), what do you get for your seven grand?
Basically the services of a wholesale travel aggregator. During the pitch they dragged out four or five hypothetical destinations and showed the difference between a single scenario of pricing and their own website’s results. Usually the pitched savings were at about the 50% level. Nothing was ever said about ancillary fees or taxes or all the myriad costs that crop up during the average pleasure trip.
The pitchmen stressed the fact that when you visit multiple sites to compare airline fares, your IP address is being tracked and fares tend to jump up the more often you visit a website. This is true, but there are ways to avoid this particular scummy trick used by places like Priceline, Orbitz, Travelocity, and the airlines themselves.
They admitted that they could not save any real money on airfares, other than to “guarantee” you the lowest possible available fare “without the hassle” by using their private website. Most of the savings would come through buying their aggregated wholesale property packages. But as everyone knows, they are not the only game in town.
After the pitch, I came home and did a little research. Click through for a blog post from a reporter who attended a similar pitch from a company called “Endless Access,” also a front for Save On Resorts. It doesn’t sound too savory. What’s more, if you have to make a decision on the spot to get the best price, there’s no way to go out there and find the myriad complaints about these firms on places like Ripoff Report or Complaintsboard.com. And there are many.
I’m curious to see what my “reward” for attending the presentation amounts to. I have a certificate to fill out and send in within 30 days (or the offer is void,) purportedly fulfilled by Travel Select Rewards and/or IIG Promotions (looking for complaints about this company is a horror show.) One consumer posted this after a similar experience with Save On:
You get a card in the mail that looks like it is from Southwest Airlines offering free flights. You find out it’s really not. but an offer of free airline tickets + hotel if you listen to a 90 minute presentation from SAVEON RESORTS. They aren’t too hard sell. You go home, submit paperwork for your freebie… a month later get the info on the freebie. Turns out you have to depart only Monday or Tuesday. Your “free” coach fare cannot exceed $200 and taxes and fees you have to pay are about $120 – $220.
The full Terms and Conditions on my redemption offer can be found below in a footnote.
Others have reported that you have to pay all taxes and fees before you even find out what your travel choices are; so I will duly submit my information and return and report. It is interesting to note that IIG requires you to send them a SASE in order to get your certificate (this translates as cheap bastard company.)
The bottom line is that presentations like this are almost always a bad deal for the consumer and a good deal for the company running the pitch. The presentation by Save On was not overly high-pressure, but they employed a good number of sales tactics including cherry-picking data, scarcity (offer valid only today), reciprocity (we’re offering you this great vacation, so you should sign up for our program), and others.
No one needs to pay retail prices if they are willing to do a bit of footwork. When traveling, aggregators can save you money; but there are many available on the web, and you don’t have to pay between $2K and $5K plus a recurring annual fee to use their services.
The Old Wolf has spoken.
Your Travel Select Rewards© (TSR) is redeemable for (1) reward certificate (Offer) outlined herein. Pictures of products on site and certificates are for illustrative purposes only and may be subject to change. Offers are booked/fulfilled in accordance with the terms and conditions of actual certificate selected. Offers are subject to providing alternate travel dates, a valid governmental 10, credit card, advance notice, double occupancy, expiration dates, no group travel, one per household per year, changes without notice, shipping and handling, deposits, governmental taxes and fees, if applicable. Requests for changes to the original travel Offer will result in Offer becoming a discounted trip. See actual certificate selected for complete details. Offer is non transferable and has no cash value. Failure to follow certificate’s terms and conditions, provide payment, deposits, make selection from list and/or correspondence not returned in the designated time frames renders offer void. A voided certificate/offer will not be acknowledged or returned. Fulfilling Agency is not responsible for mail or certificates that are lost, mutilated, or delayed or failure to book offer online. If product or offer becomes unavailable to Fulfilling Agency they have the option to substitute another product or promotional travel offer of equal or greater value.
The information on the TSR Brochure is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation of any of the products or certificates mentioned. Fulfilling Agency agents, assignees, and or delegates act independently of the sponsoring company who issued you the TSR as a thank you. The General Information Provisions and Terms and Conditions of Offer received cannot be changed or amended by any person or company without the written consent of an authorized officer of Fulfilling Agency. No recipient should rely upon representations other than those included in the actual terms and conditions of the certificate selected.
This offer is void where prohibited by law and if not paid for by the primary issuing merchant or distributor who purchased from TSR and issued to recipient. By participating in this trayel reward offer the signatory agrees that TSR will not be held liable for any actual or potential losses, including without limitation, compensation or consequential damages, either in contract or in tort, by either persons or property, arising out of this offer or in connection therewith.
In other words, make a single mistake and you’re screwed. And we don’t care.