My Mysterious Invitation
Dear Rich Lifer,
We spent last Thanksgiving on Kauai, trading Black Friday and turkey for surfing Hanalei Bay and eating poke.
The weather was terrific. The waves were great. And at the risk of being heretical, I like Hawaiian shave ice more than pumpkin pie.
So you can imagine what I was thinking when this invitation showed up in my mailbox …
It was sent from The Westin in Princeville, a hotel that we ate at a couple times during our stay. In fact, their bar’s macadamia-nut old fashioned quickly became one of my all-time favorite cocktails.
Perched straight above the area’s most iconic surf spot, it’s an epic place to stay… though I opted for a more economical Airbnb elsewhere.
Which brings me back to the invitation.
An Enticing Proposal
It was offering me:
- Six days and five nights in a private villa at the aforementioned Westin.
- A six-day car rental through Avis (or at least up to $185 in prepaid credit toward a mid-sized vehicle).
- My choice of a $75 resort credit for food and other items or 15,000 reward points (supposedly worth $185).
The price? $649 and roughly $20 a day for parking a car during my stay.
Beyond a deadline to respond and a window to book the actual trip, there were just two additional catches.
The first one entailed certain blackout dates and other availability requirements.
The second one was that I would have to sit through a sales presentation. My wife would have to as well. It would take about two hours.
Now, considering that particular hotel runs at least several hundred a night, the value of this package was pretty spectacular.
For someone living in California, where direct flights to Kauai can be had relatively cheaply, it’s especially attractive.
And since I work out of a home office and my daughter is homeschooled, our family could pretty much go whenever we wanted.
What to Do, What to Do
I started thinking more about the additional pros and cons, even reading up on the nature of these sales presentations, consumer rights during them, and the experiences of others who had already done this type of thing in the past.
Here are some of the things I learned.
First off, it is a good deal and fairly straightforward.
There aren’t any real hidden “gotchas” with this particular offer. If you want to go to Kauai and stay at a nice place for a good overall price, it’s a solid way to do it.
The same might be true of other similar offers you receive in the mail. Or it might not be.
Examining the scope of every individual timeshare/condo/vacation home pitch out there is way beyond the scope of this article. (Though it may be something I cover in the future.) As is debating the actual merits of what this particular sales presentation would be about – an ownership interest in the Westin Vacation Club.
The real issue for most people gets down to that sales presentation itself – especially if they don’t really have an interest in, or the money to commit to, any type of vacation home ownership program.
Heck, I would estimate 0.01% of the people who agree to attend a sales presentation are even remotely interested in buying something ahead of time.
And I would almost guarantee that a higher percentage than that do end up buying something, including many people who shouldn’t.
Navigating the Sales Pitch
What are some general guidelines and considerations then?
First off, you probably DO have to attend the sales meeting.
While I’ve read cases where it wasn’t required, my particular invitation was very clear: If you don’t attend, you will get charged high-season rates for the accommodations and suffer other financial penalties.
At the same time, you definitely don’t have to do more than that.
If the advertisement says the pitch is approximately two hours, then you should restate that the minute you arrive to the presentation and hold the sales people to that commitment if things are starting to go over.
In fact, it is entirely fine to tell the person right up front exactly what your expectations are.
There’s no reason to be rude, but you can certainly be honest and direct.
For example, you might simply say something like, “I agreed to attend this sales presentation for a killer discount on my vacation. I don’t have any interest at all in buying anything. I understand it’s your job to make a presentation and I’m happy to let you do that over the next two hours as outlined in the advertisement. But I want to repeat that I won’t be buying anything and I will understand if you don’t want to waste any further time on me. I am also only willing to give you the two hours. If things go longer than that, I will leave.”
If you go this route, expect the salesperson to still do his or her job.
In some cases, they might simply go through the motions or perform everything with a “wink, wink.”
On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve also heard some supervisors require their people to hear “no” seven times (or more!) before taking it literally.
There are plenty of stories online about salespeople using extremely aggressive tactics.
You have to be ready for any approach, and comfortable enough in yourself to not let any of it raise your blood pressure.
Speaking of which …
While I do love those macadamia-nut old fashioneds, I would recommend NOT drinking any alcoholic beverages if they’re provided.
It should be fairly obvious why: Nothing lubricates the mental “yes” machine like a couple of beers or cocktails!
You should also become familiar with your legal rights ahead of time. For example, here’s a brochure from Hawaii that outlines the state’s consumer rights.
Should You Feel Bad About “Gaming the System”?
Some people don’t feel right enjoying the benefits when they know they aren’t interested in buying anything.
Here’s my stance …
You don’t ask to look at billboards.
You don’t ask to watch TV commercials.
You don’t ask for banner ads on the websites you visit.
And you definitely don’t ask for telemarketers to call your cellphone.
They are the (largely unspoken, but understood) tradeoffs that we accept for getting free TV programming or a powerful Internet search engine.
Nobody is forcing you to act on any of the advertisements you see or hear. They are simply part of doing business for the companies involved.
It’s the same thing with incentives to listen to vacation ownership pitches.
The companies understand that a small number of people are truly interested, and an even smaller number will actually agree to buy anything.
They are happy to cast a wide net to viable prospects and let the math do its thing.
So if you receive a solicitation like the one I got, seriously consider what I’ve said today.
It could end up being a great trip at a terrific price.
Heck, in some instances, certain vacation ownership arrangements might even make sense for certain people (though the pitfalls are typically huge and a return on your investment takes many years).
Ultimately, I didn’t get around to booking the trip by the specified deadline but I’m pretty sure they would still honor it if I called.
Maybe I should go and report the results back to you. You know, in the name of “science”.
To a richer life,