Yesterday afternoon I got a phone call from New Hampshire. I ignored it, as I do most calls from unfamiliar numbers (they’ll leave a voicemail if it’s important, right? Then I can call right back). This caller left a voicemail. And after listening to it, I called him right back.
I had entered a drawing at a beer festival last month, hardly knowing what I was entering (it was a beer festival … ). Apparently, the form I filled out with my name and contact information had been selected, and I had won, from Wyndham Resorts, four airfare vouchers. One of the best prizes given out, said the man on the phone.
Now, I see you shaking your head. Hold up on that for a second, because I can assure you, alarm bells were going off in my head, too.
But as the man talked, my prize sounded better and better. The flight vouchers were good for two years. We could fly to any of 31 destinations, including Hawaii, the Caribbean, and Europe. We weren’t required to stay at Wyndham Resorts when we traveled. There was no purchase necessary for me to claim my prize. I simply needed to show up at my local Wyndham, in Alexandria, VA, show them my confirmation email and ID, and I would be given my vouchers.
And then, things spiraled. When I picked up my vouchers, I would be given a tour. There was no obligation to purchase anything, but they wanted to show me their gorgeous facilities and inform me about the Wyndham Club, a timeshare opportunity. This tour would take a few hours. I began to think of Gilligan, who never came back from his three-hour tour. But it was just a tour, right? Sure, they might pitch the timeshare, but I’m not one to be talked into anything I don’t want to do. I would simply hear them out, say no, collect my prize, and leave.
I called my parents to tell them the news, which, despite what’s coming, was a happy, happy moment. I’ve thought for a long time that if I were ever able, I would like nothing more than to take them and my sister on a grand family vacation. We were lucky enough to take trips when I was growing up — including memorable boat trips across the Great Lakes, speaking of Gilligan — but we’d never gone anywhere really epic together, like Hawaii, the Caribbean, or Europe. To be able to make this happen for all of us was a dream come true.
My parents have never been ones to say outright “you’re wrong” or “you’re being naive” to my sister and I. They respect our judgment as adults, for which I am grateful. But I could tell they were cautious, even more so when my mom texted me after we hung up: “You should google the name of the company.” Then she sent me an article she had found on the “Wyndham Resorts Timeshare Scam.” I googled. And I found testimonial after testimonial warning against attending these timeshare pitches, including this one:
Sure we wanted to get a free gift, but the 45 minutes presentation turned into a 5 hour of guilt tripping, name calling, pushy and unpleasant meeting with a three different representatives.
The phrases “aggressive,” “insulting,” and “won’t let you leave” came up a lot. People were pressured to disclose their salaries, relationship status, and plans for having children, and many signed up for a timeshare without reading the fine print simply to make the harassment stop.
The more I researched, the more restrictions on my prize I discovered: all travel arrangements had to be made through Wyndham; you had to stay in your destination for a minimum of days; you could choose your hotel, but from a list, meaning you would pay more than you would if you planned the trip yourself. In fact, the high cost of lodging would likely nearly cancel out the value of the flight vouchers.
So, still a little reluctantly — the allure of a free lunch is strong — I sent an email to Wyndham relinquishing my “prize.”
Because after all, if something sounds too good to be true … well, you know.
(Photo source: Pan Am)