In addition to being a blog where I write about my web developing experience and provide tips on establishing one’s online presence, I’m also going to use this platform for the occasional musings on life in general.
Several weeks ago I received a phone call asking me to complete a survey related to travel interests. Often I say “Sorry, busy” and hang up but this particular time I was feeling somewhat generous with my time so decided to go ahead with it. The questions were fairly standard, pertaining to our last vacation, where we like to travel, whether we prefer all-inclusives or adventure trips, etc. I spent about 10 minutes answering questions and then said a pleasant, “good evening” and that was that.
Until two nights ago.
Monday was a long day of camping and packing up and driving 2+ hours to get home, so by evening both my wife and I were exhausted. And then the phone rang. Looking at the number on the phone I wasn’t overly excited – it was clearly a telemarketer of some sort. Against my better judgment–and you’ll see why this was against my better judgement in a sec–I answered the phone. The lady on the end was from the same company that had called a few weeks earlier and wanted to confirm my answers from the survey. After confirming, she noted, “Well, because you were so great at filling out the survey, we want to reward you.” My ears perked up. “You’ve been awarded a 1 hr presentation on our travel company!”
Wow. 1 hr presentation on a travel company. Won’t my friends be envious.
She went on: “And at the end of the presentation, your name will be drawn to win one of 4 amazing prizes: 1) 3 days/2 nights in Las Vegas; 2) $500 travel voucher ANYWHERE in the world; 3) $1000 return flight anywhere WestJet flies; 4) 7 nights in 1 of our 100 condominiums across Florida.”
Unsarcastic “Wow” this time. “Wait, so all I have to do is show up for this 1 hr presentation and then I will walk away with one of the four prizes – you guarantee this?”
“Absolutely sir. It’s this simple. We want to thank you for taking the time to fill out the survey!”
“Okay, so what’s the catch? There must be a catch.” (Note: There’s always a catch. There has to be.)
“Sir, there is no catch… it’s exactly as I’ve said. You will get 1 of these great prizes.” And she proceeded to read them over again. I recited each one to her and she reassured me there was no catch. (Note: there was a catch). When telling my mother about this later, her words were, “Well, if it sounds too good to be true….” Sometimes life experience provides us that hindsight advantage before it occurs. Sometimes we have to learn the hard way.
In our naiveté, Rhonda and I went to bed that night quite excited about the great fortune we had stumbled upon, simply by giving of our time over the phone and completing a survey. What good people we are, we thought to ourselves.
I woke up Wednesday morning, the day we were to attend this seminar and receive our amazing prize, thinking about that amazing prize. I was hoping it might be Vegas… or Florida. Either one would be pretty amazing. Vegas would be great as then I might get to see my childhood country music hero, Garth Brooks, who only does concerts in Vegas. Florida could be decent too – as long as it wasn’t in one of those overcrowded resort-type locales, I’d be happy. Really, any of the prizes would have been great. $500 toward any flight anywhere in the world? Heck, I could use that! $1000 toward anywhere WestJet flies?! Amazing!
Wednesday night was raining. I picked up Rhonda and we were off. We arrived and were anxious about the culmination of the event, but first we had to get through the presentation. Blah, blah, blah… sad to say we ended up signing up for membership, not because we were convinced this was a great idea but because as a couple we do not know how to to say no. Neither of us were 100% confident about the deal as we were going through with it but partially out of pity for this poor salesgirl, working her way through university, and partially because we were able to knock the price from $4,995 membership to $245 plus $1000 of in-kind catering services provided by my wife’s business. (Such swiftness to reduce the price should have tipped us off, but our naiveté forced us onward.) Signing the contract, initialing documents here and there, the whole thing took about 10 minutes and the entire time both Rhonda and I were inwardly feeling unsettled about it. It didn’t help matters when as soon as we had agreed to the membership, the sales girl went to the front of the room to make an announcement: “Excuse me folks – I’d just like to announce [Company’s] newest members: Steven and Rhonda!” Applause followed. Rhonda and I simultaneously sank in our chairs.
After the presentation we excitedly hurried over to the barrel of tickets to claim our winning prize. 1 of 4 prizes. Guaranteed to win. No catch. Here’s the catch: The barrel had about a thousand tickets in it. Three of the tickets were marked for the Vegas trip, the Florida trip, and the WestJet voucher. The rest were for the $500 voucher. So obviously we, and virtually everyone else, chose the $500 voucher. Except that, upon looking at the voucher, here were the stipulations:
- Has to be toward a seven night consecutive stay in a condo, all-inclusive, cruise, or tour package
- Valid only 2 years from date of tour
- Maximum $125 could be used per booking
- Not valid for Christmas, New Years, Easter, Spring Break, or any statutory holidays
- Must be claimed through the company’s own travel agency (who uses travel agencies to book trips anymore?!)
In other words? There was no functional value in this $500 voucher… and though not technically a scam or dishonest, the way it was originally framed led us to believe we were under quite different circumstances pertaining to this prize. Downtrodden, we left the building. As soon as we got outside, I told my wife, “Rhonda, we’re cancelling this membership” (We have 10 days to do so without any charge). “I know,” she responded, “I know.”
We got into our car and drove through the rain, deliberating about why we said nothing the whole time we were signing up for this membership and how frustrated we were that the prize was a useless voucher and that we were way too naive to know better beforehand. We decided we would go in at some point in the next few days and cancel our membership. But then, about halfway home, I decided: “Nope. The time is now.” So we turned around and drove back, marched up the stairs, and asked to speak with the manager. We told him and our salesgirl our desire to cancel our membership and the feeling of uncertainty that both of us had with the whole thing, as well as the fact that we felt duped by the way they had framed the “guaranteed travel prize” over the phone, leading us to believe quite a different outcome would result from the draw rather than receiving a virtually useless travel voucher with more stipulations and restrictions than the FBI warning preceding the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Fortunately, the manager did not put up a fight or try to convince us to reconsider and away we went with the canceling of our membership (albeit the debit machine was not working so I need to return today to complete the refund).
And so that is the end of that. Everyone told us of their skepticism beforehand, either vocally or through their facial expressions. And even we had our doubts going into it, but thought “ah what the heck.” We need to learn to listen to these voices and signs along the way – and realize that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Fortunately, all that was lost was a wasted night and a bit of shame for being so naïve.
So for all of you who informed us beforehand of the likelihood of this being too good to be true… let us know that you told us so below...