While on the topic of slimy sales tactics, in Fiji, my brother saw a deal where you could go on a cruise for $10 per couple, rather than $398. The only catch is that you need to attend a 90-minute sales seminar.
Since my family had already booked theirs in, MrFodder and I had the option of paying the full amount, or attending the seminar. The amount didn’t matter all that much to us, but from what my brother told us, it sounded like a pyramid scheme-type seminar, so I was really curious about what they’d do. Unlike my last involvement with someone trying to get me involved in one of those marketing things, I wouldn’t have any involvement with the salesperson, so I could view it with the perspective of an outsider.
My brother told us that we were not supposed to know each other. It sounded really weird, my family went as a group to sign up, and the woman said she wasn’t supposed to do large groups, as they preferred just couples, but she’d make an exception. They ruled out any couple that had a combined income of less than $80k AUD (though no actual proof of income is required) and any couple under the age of 25. They also asked if we had dependants, but I’m not sure what that had to do with anything. The interesting thing is that the woman at the registration counter kept emphasising how we were being invited to the seminar, and that not everyone was able to get an invitation.
On the day of the seminar, MrFodder and I were picked up from near our hotel by a shuttle bus and taken to a resort. It was actually quite beautiful.
They also kindly offered tea, coffee and morning tea.
Rather than being in a large group, we were assigned a sales consultant and it was just a three of us at a table. The first part was a questionnaire. She asked us certain demographic questions again, like our age brackets, combined income bracket (which seemed to be grouped into < $50k, $50-80k, $80-100k, 100k+). Then we were asked some questions about our vacation habits – where we’ve been in the past 3 years, how long we tend to travel for, how much we spend, whether we thought holidays would become more or less expensive, how important holidays are to us. When we said that we only travelled every few years, she seemed shocked. We said that going away for a holiday isn’t a big priority for us – in fact, we mostly prefer just relaxing at home.
She confessed to us that she was divorced. She and her husband were on opposite shifts at work, and barely spent time together. Before she knew it, he was cheating on her and the marriage was a shambles. She quit her job to try and patch things up, but it was too little, too late. If she had the chance to re-do things, she would have tried to put more effort into spending quality time together. She added that her father had passed away recently, and that life is short, so you should enjoy it while you can.
She then moved on to talking about some of our ideal vacations, if money were no object, where would we like to go, what would we like to do. Her boss came over, and emphasised that this product isn’t for everyone, and that they would not pressure us to make a purchase at all.
We’d been there for about 30 minutes at that point, and she finally got around to explaining what the product actually was: the minimum package nets you 12,000 credits per year, which you can spend on accommodation at any of the hotels in their network. Unlike regular holidays, where you spend money on accommodation and it’s gone, these credits are refreshed, so you can use them year after year, or if you don’t want to go on a holiday every year, you can rollover credits for up to three years, and also borrow credits from future years, combining them to make a bigger holiday – so you could theoretically spend 48,000 points per vacation.
Before she could finish, they grabbed everyone in the group and put us a room together to show us a video (it was a pretty small group, there were 4 couples in total). MrFodder found the video incredibly cringe-worthy and cheesy, but I thought it was an educational experience.
The video did a really good job trying to pull the heartstrings. There were many shots of a “family” (it looked pretty fake, so I’m sure they’re all actors) at the beach, happily enjoying themselves. Making memories. Then they had some testimonials from “happy customers who had purchased more points”. You can use the points yourself, or gift them to a family member or friend. What really threw me was that the testimonials they had all seemed to point out that the people had bought additional points. I’m sure the intention was for it to show that those people actually do enjoy the product, but all it really said to me was that your yearly allocation of points isn’t enough to have a decent holiday, and it’s likely you’ll need to spend even more. MrFodder’s favourite part of the video was the CEO of the company cooking sausages on a BBQ, giving a sausage to his son, then doing the whole pretend-to-be-shocked-at-being-caught-on-camera, following with, “Oh, I didn’t see you there, but look at how my family is enjoying this!”
After I elbowed MrFodder for bursting out laughing during the video, we somehow managed to make it through the rest of it without mocking it. Our consultant grabbed us again once the video was over (not really giving us time to discuss anything), and continued the sales pitch.
She asked what we thought of timeshares, and I replied that I had heard that they were bad. She explained that with a timeshare, how it works is that you are allocated a particular room at a particular venue at a particular time. The benefit is that the price you pay is fixed, but the downside is that you have to take the exact same vacation year after year. With regular vacations, you can go wherever you want, whenever you want, but over time, the price of going on vacations will go up. To combat this, they thought they’d take the best of both worlds and create “vacation sharing” – rather than having a fixed booking, you get points every year which you can spend wherever you want, whenever you want, for a fixed price.
We went on a tour of the facility. She picked up a keycard for a regular one-bedroom apartment, and also a presidential suite apartment, which she gave MrFodder to hold on to. The one-bedroom apartment looked pretty average, like a serviced-apartment you’d find at a 2 / 3 star hotel. When we got to the presidential suite, she allowed MrFodder to swipe the card and let us in. It was so luxurious.
You get a massive dining room table.
There are three double bedrooms, with one of them being a master bedroom which is much larger and has an ensuite.
Here’s a view from the balcony – did I mention you get your own private pool and a great view of the beach?
Here is one of the bathrooms, with a bathtub, indoor shower, and outdoor shower. Plus it has its own TV, which you can watch from the bathtub. Both of the bathrooms had a TV.
It was two floors of amazingness, but I knew in the back of my mind that being on the lowest package would probably mean more time in the one-bedroom apartments, and no time in the presidential suite.
We returned to the seminar room, with the consultant careful to grab the keycard from MrFodder as soon as we left the suite. It had now been about an hour, and we finally got to see the numbers. The Texan guy returned and started by saying that there are two packages. Their standard package, which is available anytime, includes 12,000 points per year, however, these points don’t roll over (you lose them if you don’t use them within the year), and the deal only lasts 39 years. You can get all that for the lovely price of a $16,000 upfront payment, which must be paid in full, plus a yearly ~$1,000 maintenance fee.
Or, you can get the premium package, which is only available at the seminar, for one-day only!!!! With the premium package, you get 6,000 credits per year, you can rollover points for up to three years, borrow points from future years, there was something else called bonus time and fun time which meant that you could spend money, rather than points, if you wanted a bit more. But the best part is that you can pass this “ownership” on to your kids and their kids so the benefits will stay in the family. All of this for a $2,700 upfront payment, with the rest of the $16,000 being a loan financed by them, with easy payment plans available, plus a ~$700 per year maintenance fee. (My brother later added that if you had someone you hated, you should leave them the ownership of this product in your will.)
The best part about being an owner is that you are an owner – all the properties are held in a trust, of which you are now a part of. If the company goes under (which is also incredibly unlikely, because it’s huge), you can either keep your share and continue the program with whoever ends up buying out the company, or you can sell it for what you paid and get your money back – so it’s no risk! Except I honestly don’t think it works like that.
Fortunately, both of them seemed to notice that MrFodder and I balked at the cost of the product, and after we stated that we couldn’t afford it, and it really didn’t appeal to us, they stayed true to their word and didn’t push it. We collected our cruise tickets and returned to Port Denaru.
I thought some of the tactics they used during the sales talk were quite interesting. The Texan guy found out that we played computer games, and he started talking about how he likes to play games. I mentioned an allergy, and she said she had one, too. They were trying to appear similar to us. She also played the sob story angle, with the divorce and dead father, and I did feel bad for her, but MrFodder pointed out that she might not even be telling the truth.
The entire start of the sales pitch wasn’t spent selling anything, but rather on trying to make us picture a vacation, and put us in a positive frame of mind when thinking about vacations. Just think, if we didn’t have to worry about the pesky cost of accommodation, we could go on holiday every year!
The timeshare thing was a nice touch, as this program definitely has a timeshare feel to it, so by actually addressing the negative aspect of timeshares up front, they manage to disassociate them from their product. It’s true that timeshares are different, but it’s not like vacation shares are incredibly flexible either. I asked about the availability of certain venues, as you’d think during school holidays or other busy periods, more people tend to go on holiday, and it’s not like they have an unlimited supply of rooms. She explained that if you want a specific place at a specific time, it’s best to book 13-months in advance. At the 6-months in advance point, you’re only about 50% likely to get the place you want, with the probability reducing drastically the closer you get to your vacation date. Not to mention, there are tiers with the points. So busy periods are a red-tier, and the cost of the same venue during a red-tier date compared to a white-tier date is quite different. Not to mention you are forced to stay at their properties, so if they don’t have a place in the city you want to go to, you’re out of luck.
The whole passing on to your kids and grandkids just sounds horrible to me, saddling them with a yearly fee and possibly the remainder of your loan if you didn’t manage to pay it off before you died.
My brother also added that when he went, he passed up the opportunity, but they told him to wait, brought along a more attractive sales consultant, and gave him a “super special offer” – for $2000, he could have a trial ownership, with 20,000 points for one year, and then decide later if he wanted to join for good.
I failed at getting a clear photo, but you can see the various manilla folders with the different tiers of plans available (with different colours being for different currencies).
We were offered what I think was the lowest plan, but I think some of the other folders contain higher levels of plans (before we mentioned money woes, she briefly spoke about a premium plan with 12,000 points per year, but it had a ~$1,000 yearly fee – the more points you get, the higher your fee is).
I also found it interesting that we weren’t really given time to discuss it alone. There was the time when we were looking at the presidential suite, where she left us alone to explore, but that was before they had gone over the monetary side of it, so we couldn’t really discuss it then. I imagine that if we had asked, they would have let us talk it over, but I can’t say for sure.
It also seems to prey on families, as they were really pushing the holidays with kids angle, both in the video, and with the fact that even the one-bedroom apartment would house a family of four, as it had a pull out bed to sleep two extra people.
I mentioned to MrFodder that I thought it was weird that they didn’t tell us upfront what it was (when we registered for the seminar), as if we had known, we would have known that it wasn’t for us, and it would have saved them the time (and money, as they wouldn’t have had to give us a cruise voucher). MrFodder said that was the entire point – they wanted to expand their market, and so if they didn’t give you a chance to self-select yourself out, they could get you into the room and start using all the usual sales tactics to try and get you to change your mind. It doesn’t even matter if 70% of the people aren’t interested, they make so much money from the other 30% that they can afford to eat the loss – which just goes to show what a bad deal it is. Plus, if they told us beforehand, we’d be able to research what it was, and come across all the negative posts saying what a bad deal it is, and how a lot of people who get suckered into them end up trying to sell it to someone else, or sell their credits to other owners to recoup some of the cost. Fortunately, I’d already read about that on /r/askReddit, so once I found out what it was, that was all I could think about.
It was an interesting experience, to have a seasoned salesperson try to sell to us, and despite MrFodder’s fears that I’d cave, I honestly didn’t feel compelled at any point, and I’m glad they didn’t try to pressure us.