January 23, 2013

Reading fine print still doesn't guarantee you won't get robbed

George Smith

We were robbed. I expected it but was still surprised.

The post card arrived last fall, promising "two round-trip airline tickets from most major continental US airports and three days and two night's hotel accommodations at one of over 600 locations," plus a rental car for three days.

I called the listed phone number and discussed the offer with a woman in Arizona who said we would have to sit through a presentation about timeshares at the Trade Winds Motor Inn in Rockland. Linda and I have stayed there several times over the years and I first got to know the owner in the 1970s, so I was interested.

We scheduled the presentation and, on the appointed day and hour, were ushered into a large upstairs room at the Trade Winds by our salesman. Other potential customers were spread throughout the room at tables where they were meeting with other salesmen.

The music was incredibly loud, and we had great difficulty hearing and understanding our salesman who was British. Linda got a headache and asked if the music could be turned down, but the answer was no. Our salesman did get her a small cup of water so she could take a couple of Advil.

The salesman's presentation was rude, intimidating and confusing. He constantly asked if we were ready to buy a timeshare. I'd heard horror stories about timeshare presentations, but didn't believe they could possibly be that bad. Turns out they are worse.

Throughout the 90 minutes, our salesman refused to answer my questions, including how much a week's timeshare at the Trade Winds would cost. He said we'd get that information only after agreeing we wanted to buy the week.

Toward the end of the ordeal, the owner of the Trade Winds entered the room and I excused myself to go over and say hi to him. When I returned to the table, my status obviously had been upgraded. The manager of the whole operation came over to our table, conversed briefly with our salesman, and then told us they'd concluded we would not be buying a week's timeshare but if we did, it would cost $11,000.

I thanked him for that information and told him we wanted to think about it and would get back to him within a week, at which point he said the price was only good that day and would be much higher next week. And then our salesman abruptly escorted us out after handing us information explaining how to claim our gifts.

And here's where the real trickery comes in. Before we could claim our air tickets, rental car and hotel stay, we had to send in an "Activation Form," to Smart Travel & Incentives in Florida. Once they received the activation form they would send us an application form for our travel gifts.

Accompanying the activation form was a page of rules in microscopic print. I figured out quickly that they were putting up all sorts of stumbling blocks to prevent us from ever getting the gifts.

For example, at the bottom of the activation form an "expiration date" of June 7, 2014 was written in. But a close reading of the rules indicated that the activation form had to be returned to Smart Travel within 21 days of the issue date on the form: Dec. 7, 2012.

Also on the activation form I read, "mail completed form to" the Smart Travel address. I almost missed this one. In the small print in the instructions above the form, I discovered that the form had to be mailed US certified mail.

(Continued on page 2)

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