snarke (snarke) wrote,

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Secrets of Free Travel from Time Share Sellers

A few years ago I happily tried to win all the cars and whatnot at the Seattle Home Show, not realizing that this was an address/phone number collection system for time shares. Soon the calls came rolling in. The husband and I, lured by the offers of fabulous gifts, even attended a few. Too many, actually, in that we now are having trouble taking all our free trips. Doh!

Anyway, I thought I'd jot down some of my thoughts and experiences in regard to Free Vacations From Time-Share salesmen, because on the one hand, the whole thing sounds too good to be true. "Attend a short presentation, with no obligation to buy, and receive a free vacation in beautiful Florida, including four days in Orlando, three in Ft. Lauderdale, and a three day cruise, plus a free car rental while you're there!"

We've already been on a three day/two night trip to Vegas with airfare, and haven't even started dealing with the weekend in Vancouver, weekend in Leavenworth, or our trip to Cancun. Oh, my.

These things are too good to be true, but they're also not scams. You just have to basically cut the hype in half. For example, a "day" is any portion of time before midnight, not a 24-hour period (or even a 12-hour one). The three-day trip to Vegas had a couple of reservation fees. Hey, what happened to free? The reservation fees were "refunded" as meal vouchers or casino money, so yes, still free. The casino money can be cashed out, the meal vouchers were money we were going to spend anyway, so no problems there.

The trip itself was more realistically a one day/two night trip to Vegas. The inbound flight was going to be in the evening of day one, and the return flight in the morning of day three. Also, the hotel was some distance away from the strip. Finally, "day one" was Tuesday. Period.

Of course it was Tuesday. When I first heard the pitch, I took for granted that free vacations occur off peak. No surprise there. The highly restricted flight times were a bit more annoying, but again, it's all about off-peak.

However, there were upgrades available. For around $100, we could fly whenver we wanted to on that day. Or for about the same amount but without the free transportation, we could stay on-strip for four or five nights (I forget which). For something like $250 or so (if I recall correctly), we could add one more night at the hotel, stay on-strip, keep the free airfare, and be able to choose when to fly.

We splurged on the big "expensive" upgrade, because it's still a great deal. It's very hard to get to Vegas on a plane for less than $200 per person. On-strip hotel rooms during the week start at $30/night at Circus Circus or the like. So already we're looking at getting more than $500 worth of vacation at 50%+ off. [I should note, though, that the last time we went to Vegas, I got airfare on Southwest plus two nights at the San Remo for less than the cost of airfare alone. I don't know why, but sometimes it works out that way.]

We were booked into the Riviera. While their buffet was bad (although not actually terrible, just bad), the room was, well, a perfectly ordinary hotel room. We flew in late morning on Monday, left Thursday evening, and so had three evenings (MTW), two days (TW), and a morning and most of an afternoon (Th) in Las Vegas.

The pitch had also promised many extras "worth over $500" or some such claim, including some number of meals. Again, I just assumed that the value to us of these extras would be minimal. In this, I was actually pleasantly surprised. We used our "free" tickets to two afternoon shows; Mac King the magician, and ventriloquist Ronn Lucas. The free tickets did warn in the fine print that there was also a one-drink minimum. Our eight ounce fruit concoctions were about $7 each, so we were really paying $6 each for the show and $1 for the drink.

We didn't feel ripped off in the slightest, though. I know that it's not that hard to get those free passes; they tend to turn up in a lot of special offers and package deals. But they're not (usually) just lying around in the Las Vegas This Week coupon books, either. And the shows were really fun! Mac King was a decent magican. Not big and showy, but funny. We especially enjoyed his deft handling of a kid from the audience who basically went completely catatonic on him half way through a trick. He smoothly transfered the stage-struck little boy back to his parents without letting it throw him, and made a joke along the way. Years of experience, I'm sure, but it was still fun.

Ronn Lucas was even better. He had an incredible act; hilarious and convincingly spontaneous, even though most of the spontaneous stuff was, in fact, scripted. I stopped to chat with him briefly after his show. I wanted to ask him a couple questions and compliment him, and he apologized to me! He told me that he wasn't really feeling that well because he was fighting a cold, and he needed to get packed up and out the door pretty quickly because he needed to get from the Rio (where he performs) to the Hilton (where he was the opener for the Smothers Brothers that evening)! I want to go back some time and see him on a "good" day.

We also spent our own regular money on things, of course. Most of the free meals were breakfast, of course, plus, I think, a meal voucher for the buffet, an $8 (x2) value or thereabouts. A lot of the value of the coupons were in things like "book a one-hour (or more) treatment at the spa and receive a *free* Aromatherapy Hot Rock Treatment" or the like. Spend money to save money.

So, was it really a free Las Vegas vacation of three days, two nights, plus airfare and $500 worth of bonuses? No, of course not. It was, in the end, a three-day, three night vacation with a cost of about $700 for the two of us. Since that total includes the really fancy dinner we had one night, and tickets for two to see Cirque du Soleil's show "O" at $100+ per ticket, we definitely feel we got a great deal on a great vacation, even when you include the mildly unpleasant 2.5 hours we spent telling the time share people "No" in order to get our free gifts. Oh, and I think this particular presentation also included some vouchers for 'dinners for two at local restaurants' which was something like gift cards worth $30 toward dinner for two at, hmm, I forget where, but they were decent restaurants; the kind that you might be able to eat at for $15 each if you drink water and order the cheapest item on the menu. We had nooooo problem using those up.

* * *

What prompted this entry in the first place is that our Florida vacation (like most of them) has a deadline, and we've reached it. We had a year, or maybe two, from when we earned it to take our vacation, and it expires in April. There's a 90-day booking deadline. Now, they *could* have just let it quietly run out on us; we'd never have noticed. But instead, they called us. Are we going to take our trip? Or would we like to extend it?

This was a perfect opportunity to hunt down some of the restrictions. First was clarifying the days. Four days in Orlando + 3 days in Ft. Lauderdale + 3 days on a cruise < 10 days of vacation. It's closer to 4 days plus 1 evening in Fort Lauderdale and 1 evening on the cruise ship. There's a freebie included worth around $100: either a pair of 2-day passes to Universal Studios, or a pair of 1-day passes to Disneyworld, or a 1-week car rental. I take it for granted that the car rental is for a sub-compact. although I'm sure we could upgrade for a fee. {grin}

What we actually have is seven nights of accomodations in three locations. So for arguments' sake, let's try a hypothetical itinerary. We arrive in Orlando on Sunday. Even if we get up early, we'll still arrive late on Sunday. (We hate red-eyes.) We get to the hotel, have dinner, and go to bed. Nights used: 1/7

We spend Monday and Tuesday having fun. Nights: 3/7 Fun: 2 days

Wednesday, we have to get to Ft. Lauderdale. It's 200 miles away. I don't imagine flying would be worth it; even if it were free, it would take too long. If we drive, then it's about 4 hours travel time plus check out and check in, so we'd have a few hours before dinner to enjoy Lauderdale, plus whatever we did afterward. Nights: 4/7 Fun: 2 days + 1 evening

The next day, we need to report to the cruise ship. Imperial Majesty cruise lines is a tiny line with one ship that does 2-night cruises between Miami and Nassau, Bahamas. Boarding appears to be around noon. Lunch, orientation, lifeboat drill, dinner. Show, dancing, midnight buffet?, sleep. Nights: 5/7 Fun: 2 days + 2 evenings.

Friday from 9am to 5pm, we do whatever one does in Nassau. Then dinner, Captain's reception, stage show, and whatever else before we fall asleep.
Nights: 6/7 Fun: 3 days + 2 evenings.

Saturday, we need to get off the ship for the next load. Probably cleared before noon. The agent I spoke to said that wherever we were staying in Fort Lauderdale, it would be between 5 and 15 minutes from the beach. (I forgot to find out if that was "on foot" or "by car," but I think "on foot" is actually a safe bet.) So the cruise terminal is probably not some absurd distance away. We're back in the hotel by early afternoon, and do more Miami-like things for the rest of the day. Nights: 7/7 Fun: 3.5 days + 2 evenings.

Sunday, check out, go to airport, fly home. It's better if we can set it up so that the last half is "go to Lauderdale, spend a day in Miami, get on boat, day in Nassau, get off boat and go to airport." That's 4 days + 2 evenings.

Cost is about $340. That's a $58 "booking fee," plus $140 per person for the cruise ("meals, entertainment, and port fees."). I'll note that the lowest published rate for the cruise, "inclusive of port and service fees" is $180 per person for an inside cabin with two single bunk beds. They don't have that many of the shoebox cabins, though, so it's much more likely we'd end up in an inner stateroom, which has a double bed and goes for about $200pp.

Hotels in Orlando start around $50/night, and in Fort Lauderdale, around $80. So that's $260 retail. Total retail of the Florida trip is thus just under $800. While I could probably shop it all down to something less, I doubt I could drive it all the way down to $340, which is about what it'll cost us. We'd have more flexibility, of course, and not have had to sit through the time share pitch in the first place, but I still think it's a pretty good deal.

On the side, the Florida vacation also includes "three days, two nights in Vegas." This can be taken entirely independenly of the Florida trip. For that matter, we are also allowed to do Orlando by itself, and put Fort Lauderdale and/or the cruise on an entirely different schedule. There are "no blackout dates," although there is a limit on available slots at any particular time. I just take it for granted that trying to book Christmas or Spring Break is
not gonna happen. I don't know if the LV component is on-strip or not, but I'm sure it's mid-week, so it's not worth all that much. For us, about $50.

Too bad the whole Florida thing is about to expire. "But wait!" We could either give them an extra $110 to move our expiration out one year, $116 to move it out two years, or if we give them no extra money, but pay the cruise fee now, we get a 2-year extension and can (attempt to) book on only 30 days notice instead of 90. OK. Port fees now it is.

There you go. Secrets of Free Travel from Time Share Sellers.
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