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TAKING THE KIDS ( FOSTER OR OTHERWISE) ON VACATION CAN BE AN EXPENSIVE PROPOSITION.

No wonder so many people agree to the timeshare promotions offering free or discounted travel for just attending their peresentations. And the agents target people our age because they assume we're retired or reaching retirement ( silly them).These junkets CAN be a way to spend less on a vacation you had already planned. Or, they may spell disaster for your trip.

 Here is the story of our experience at a Sunterra Resort in Branson, MO.

Trial by Membership

 

I believe her first words were “Mrs. Harvey, as a frequent visitor to the Branson area, you are being offered a three night, four day vacation in Branson, Mo. for a ridiculously low price. The phone call came at a convenient time, and we love Branson so we were interested.

The catch—or qualifier, if you prefer—was that we attend a 90 minute presentation at a resort. That’s not a huge chunk of time, especially to get free show tickets and lodging. It cost $199 up front. We figured it out: three nights at the Quality Inn, where we usually stay would cost around $240. We asked that our tickets be to Silver Dollar City, a favorite stop for us. The offer included two adult tickets. That’s about $83. And the promotion gave us a meal coupon worth $30. The vacation, at this point was worth $353—the promotion saved us $ 154.

When we picked up our package at a Branson travel agency, they booked our presentation for a morning when we had tickets to the lunch cruise on the Showboat Branson Belle. Not a problem, the agent said. The presentation was at 9:00 am, our boarding time was 11:00. The travel agent assured us that the Sunterra resort was only minutes from the showboat, so we agreed.

We arrived at the resort a little before nine and checked in for the presentation. After a 20 minute wait, a middle-aged woman with a pleasant smile called our names and we followed her from the room.  I had informed the resort that our boys would be with us—ages eight and fourteen—so the sales rep led us to a youth activity center. After waiting several minutes for an attendant to appear, we left the boys to play Foosball, and we followed the rep to another room, where we sat at one of about fifteen tables—all filled with prospective timeshare buyers. It was now 9:15am.

The sales person assigned to us was remarkably like us: she had the same likes and dislikes, had traveled to the same places, lived on a budget. And she admired us deeply for being foster parents—especially at our age. She would give us a timeshare free if she could.

Unfortunately, she could not. But she wanted to show us how this type of vacationing would be wonderful for us, traveling with foster children. Everything was included, she said. They could stay at the resort and swim, play miniature golf, even be attended while we grabbed a few minutes of relaxation for ourselves.

She pulled out an album of resort pictures from around the world; places we could visit for only $99 and our membership points each year. She even showed us HER family album—pictures of her family in exotic places. The clock ticked on.

After another ten minutes or so, a man came into the room and greeted everyone. He told a few jokes and polled the prospects on the length of their marriages. Incredibly, though we were one of the youngest of couples there, we had been married the longest. We were ceremoniously offered a bottle of non-alcoholic champagne. Everyone applauded, he filled our glasses and shook our hands and another five minutes clicked

away.

            My husband worried his watchband. There were no clocks in the room. It was now 10:15. He reminded the sales person that we had a tight schedule—we had to be out of there by 10:45. She smiled and said she would hurry, but she wanted to be thorough. She didn’t want us to miss out on this opportunity.

            We got down to the bottom line: money. The cost of a timeshare membership was just a little less than buying a cottage in Branson. We gasped. Both of us.

            “We don’t have that kind of money,” we told her.

She changed tack. “Do you put away money each month for your vacation?”

We told her we did—and how much.

“Well, for that monthly payment, you can buy a membership here, with all its benefits.” She leaned toward us. “You can even use your points to bring your family with you. The suites sleep six, but you could put someone on the couch.”

It didn’t take long to reason that the amount we set aside covered our lodging, meals, travel and entertainment. Her payment was for two, two-week stays in a condo. We weren’t interested. And time was running out, we reminded her.

“Of course.” she said. “I won’t have time to take you on a tour of the facility, but I can give you a virtual tour.” She took us to a flat screen TV mounted to a wall. It proved to be a computer monitor with an interactive program. “You just watch this while I check on some things.”

The woman returned in a few moments with the man who gave us the champagne. He told us he could qualify us for smaller payments. We said no. The two conferred. It was 10:35.

The sales rep led us back to our table. My husband glanced again at his watch and scowled.

“I just want to make sure you don’t miss out,” the woman said. “You, of all people, deserve a value like this.” She pulled out some more papers. “Would you be interested in a trial membership with fewer points—just to see if this is for you? It is $1000.”

We said no. She tried again, opening the album of other resort pictures. Charlie held up his watch and gave it an exaggerated inspection. She didn’t look at him.

It was now 10:45. Charlie was biting his fingernail. Fidgeting. I was sick to my stomach.

“Look,” Charlie said. “We can probably do this trial membership thing, but we have to go.”

“The paperwork won’t take long.” Her smile reminded me of the expression our cat had when he came to the bottom of the deck stairs with a mouse—that wide grin, and the little tail hanging out of his mouth.

“We’ll come back for that,” Charlie told her.

“Fine. But we’ll need you to leave your credit card here…”

A month later, back at home, we called the resort. Maybe it would be fun to take the family. The agent who answered our call told us trial members couldn’t request more than two suites at a time—even if their points allowed it. And they would absolutely allow no more than six in a condo. NO sleeping bags on the floor.

We’d as soon stay in the Quality Inn where we get a free breakfast and our rooms are usually just steps from the pool and hot tub. We probably will stay there when we take the family to Branson next summer. They will be glad to see us come back. There are  24 of us.

And the thousand bucks? Gee, I don’t know. We’ll have to use them somehow. But I’m sure glad it’s only a trial membership. 

 

**************************************

 

There are some great tips out there to help us avoid the pitfalls of these promotions, WHEN IT SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE.

 

Time share opportunities are everywhere. If you’ve traveled recently, you may soon get a call announcing you are eligible (or have won) a fantastic vacation. The catch? You have to sit through a presentation at a resort community. A presentation that may last several hours.

            We once endured a two-hour Las Vegas time share spiel to get free show tickets and free buffets. The sales person assigned to us wasn’t really into his job and it was kind of fun seeing how the “rich and famous” live. Plus, the temperature in Vegas was in the 90’s and we were on foot. It was worth it: the show tickets were $30 apiece and the buffets were $10.

            But these “freebies” can end up costing big if you don’t observe some simple rules.  The following is from Expert Law. Com    http://www.expertlaw.com/library/consumer/free_vacation_fraud.html#g

       

 

Protecting Yourself

You can help avoid being cheated by taking the following steps:

         Remember - if a travel deal sounds too good to be true, it almost always is.

         Travel offers that come via unsolicited telephone calls or by spam email are much more likely to be fraudulent.

         Don't be afraid to say "no". Don't let them pressure you. If they call you and "won't take no for an answer", hang up.

         Whenever possible, purchase travel services only from businesses you know to be genuine.

         Take your time. If you are pressured to make a quick decision, the chances are much higher that you are being scammed.

         Get the details before you buy. For example, find out what accommodation is included in a package and check it out before you book. Check with the hotels to make sure that they work with the promoter - sometimes promoters lie about the hotels they intend to use. If meals are included, find out what restaurants they use, and any limits or restrictions on what you may order. If the package includes a rental car, find out what rental agency they will use and the model of car you will receive. Find out what airport and airline they will use for any air travel.

         Check out similar packages with other, legitimate travel agencies and services. You may find that you can get this "spectacular deal" for less money through a reputable travel service.

         Get it in writing. If the offer comes over the phone or by email, ask them to send you a full description of the package and all terms and conditions. If they won't provide a written description of the offer, or have made promises inconsistent with what they send in writing, you can be quite certain that they are trying to cheat you.

         Make sure you know all date restrictions on any travel package - if there are so few days available that you can't schedule a holiday, you're throwing your money away.

         Make sure that you are dealing with a genuine travel promoter or agency before giving them a credit card number by telephone, email, or through a website.

         If you are pressed to send payment by courier or overnight mail, think twice. Unscrupulous promoters want your money as soon as possible, and sometimes use couriers or overnight delivery services to avoid the possibility of federal mail fraud charges.

         If in doubt, pay by credit card. While there is no guarantee that you will be able to effect a charge-back if the travel deal turns out to be a fraud, you effectively have no chance of recovering your money if you pay by check, money order, wire transfer, or cash

 

 

Also, when you get to the presentation:

            Be aware that the sales rep is just that—he is there to sell something to you.

            If the only reason you are going to the presentation is to get the freebies—keep that in mind. There is nothing wrong with taking advantage of these offers. Resorts target huge numbers of people. They know most won’t buy.

            Keep track of time—they may stall to run you into another appointment—ratcheting up the pressure on you to buy something just to get away.

           Don’t be afraid to walk out—Even if you forfeit your “freebies,” you might save a bundle in unwanted timeshare obligations.

            If you are genuinely interested, check out the facts. Find the hidden fees. There may be administration charges of $100 or more every time you book time at the resort, and there are usually monthly or annual upkeep fees for the property. You may have trouble getting the dates and units you want without booking far in advance.