If you work in an office, one with a fax machine, you’ve probably seen those mass-faxed offers from travel companies promoting drastically discounted trips to faraway places. Barbados, St. Maartens, Nassau/Bahamas, Bermuda, or closer to home, like Vegas or Orlando. $99 for two, or $199 for a family, promotions like that. There’s usually teeny tiny print that, conveniently, gets faded out, or with half the paragraph missing. Maybe someone tossed out page 2 of 2.
Well, one of those white papers was left at my office fax machine, and while waiting to fax something myself, I was transfixed with the faded black inky message offering a 5-day trip to Cancun, Mexico for $99. As it turns out, Cancun, Mexico was on my bucket list. Why Cancun? Dunno, it just was. Word of mouth, probably.
I asked co-workers if they ever contacted the company, took one of these offers, and pretty much got the impression that they thought it was a scam, and wouldn’t trust it. Now, as for me, a journalist, writer and adventurer, I decided to give the company a call, and see how far we got until I either made a deal, or confirmed their “scamminess.”
First, I spoke with a gentleman who, indeed, said it was for real, that it was a promotion to fill empty rooms at Mexican resorts so that customers like me get to try out the amenities, the complimentary food, drinks, and discounted excursions and watersports. OK. That sounded reasonable. In return, I’d take the 90-minute vacation ownership tour with accompanying sales pitch within a day of my arrival. Now, as an experienced vacation owner, and vacation ownership tour taker, I’d anticipated such a requirement. Over the years, my family and I had taken advantage of these tours for free breakfasts, and discounted tickets to theme parks. It was a game, and I got it.
The next step was to pay them upfront, which showed them that I was a serious player: $99 for one, and an additional $99 for my companion; the fees would cover taxes and gratuities. I had something like 2 or 3 years to take the trip, and since it was a destination I’d wanted to visit, I took a leap of faith and put the fees on my unexpected travel credit card. That was the easy part.
I knew my oldest daughter would jump in immediately to be my companion. Free drinks, beach? Paid for by Mom? She just had to kick in her airfare. We planned this for the recent Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Wednesday through Sunday. I scoured the internet for airfare deals and at the 6 month mark – we couldn’t book the trip before then — I found reasonable round trip airfares and flight schedules, departing at 8 a.m. from JFK which meant we’d be having our first Pina Colada by 4 p.m. that afternoon.
With flights booked, hotel accommodations paid for, there was one more thing I needed to have, and that was official confirmation that we had legit reservations for the resort. “I don’t want to land in Mexico to find out that we were scammed, and would have to sleep in the airport,” I told my daughter as she queried why I was obsessed with receiving some record of our stay. “The resort does not send out confirmations until a few days before travel,” I found out. OK, great. I remained patient while sensing the possibility of a scam approaching.
Over the course of the next few months, I made repeated calls to the original travel company, based in Fort Lauderdale, that had a very generic name, like “visitmexico,” or something like that. It did not have an address, only a toll-free number and a website. It was starting to look shady. Here I was out $200 for the resort fees, another $700 for two round-trip tickets, and the folks at my office wondering if all was set for my trip. “Still working in it,” I said a bit sheepishly.
I’m not a patient person when it comes to waiting on confirmations of any kind, and so went online to find the resort’s phone number and proceeded to call up Mexico. After the Spanish greeter’s opening greeting, none of which I understood, I politely asked for someone who spoke “Englise.” The new representative said in broken English that they hadn’t received our dates, and didn’t know we were coming, and advised we check back with our originating travel agent. Bing, Bing, Bing. My timeshare-scam alert went off, and I went into “crazy traveler” mode, calling Florida twice a day, leaving message after message, being the squeaky wheel I needed to be. Finally, a very nice gentleman at the Florida-based “visitmexico” picked up and said not to worry, they don’t even give the names to the resort until days before the trip. OK, I breathed again, but not all the way, yet.
He confirmed our names, dates and ages. “Both travelers are over 28, right?”
“Um, no. My daughter is 22,” I said, alarmed. Uh oh, he said, that will mean an additional $150. It was like a Steven Spielberg movie, just when you think the danger is done, another danger is around the corner. “No one said that,” I told him.
“Well, it’s policy that for you to get this promotional deal, both travelers have to be 28 or older. You can check with the resort if you like.”
“Oh, I will,” I said, with great gusto.
By the end of this ordeal, I had the resort in my cell phone’s contact list, and I know that the receptionists over in Cancun became quite familiar with the crazy Americano woman asking for “Englise, por favor.” Five or six calls later, I spoke with a very patient rep who said that they did not care how old the travelers were. If they were over 21, that was fine with them. I said, “You promise?” She laughed. “Si…yes.” Since I had made a friend now, I asked if there was an airport shuttle? “Si.” And, now, the million-dollar question: “Can you email me a confirmation of my dates and your address?”
I loved this woman. The confirmation popped up in my email days later. END
Emily and I took the elevator up to the 6th floor of our resort which overlooked the white sandy beach, and the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico. There, I finally took a deep, deep breath; we were in paradise. The resort service was impeccable, the food was four stars, it fulfilled every promise made by that fax all those months ago. Perfect weather, luxurious service, food and drink everywhere; shrimp tacos in one corner, covered hammocks and beds in another. And, Pina Colada’s as I’d like. Given the trauma of the past few weeks, they owed me.
We took the timeshare tour on day 2, and my daughter got off with good behavior about halfway through her sentence. I continued on, until the moment I said, “Si” myself.
I didn’t buy a timeshare unit, but a smaller deal that provides ownership perks, discounted prices, and all the confirmations I need.
Moral of the story: These enticing travel faxes can be legit, with a very nice outcome. But be prepared to work for it.