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An offer in an envelope

Published September 23. 2017 09:41PM

Free two-night hotel stay and four tickets to the amusement park of your choice! Of course I ignored the letter. I knew the offer was a scam. You get nothing for free. I threw the "free deal" in the garbage. An hour later, I pulled it back out. The conditions that had to be met was something I had once experienced several years ago. Come and listen to a 90-minute sales pitch for time-sharing. You get to choose to go on a vacation at luxurious locations all over the world for a reasonable fixed price that covers the cost of the resort or hotel for one to two weeks depending upon what plan you select. The cost does not include food nor consumer expenses nor the means of travel to get there. There are also annual maintenance fees that can get quite expensive. I know people who own time shares and are happy with it, but I had zero interest in this idea. I thought my wife and I would take a rainy day and drive up to this particular resort in the Poconos and go through the spiel to get our free offer. "No matter what you say or 'special, one-time-only deal' you offer us, we're not buying," I said to the salesman. "That's fine, but you have to understand that to qualify for the free offer, you are obligated to participate in our sales presentation." Two hours later, after saying no four different times to his lower and lower price offers to buy time sharing, we walked out holding a validating piece of paper entitling us to a two free hotel nights stay at a hotel and four tickets to Hershey Park. I didn't know that the "fun" would begin long before we would arrive at the amusement park. An information letter arrived in the mail requiring that I pay a $50 refundable deposit so that the company in charge of providing the free two nights' hotel stay and four admission tickets to Hershey Park could process our request. The letter also explained that the choice of the hotel would be theirs, and not mine and that we could choose three sets of dates for our travel with the following exceptions. No holidays and no weekends were available and the company would decide which of our selected weekday dates we would get based upon demand and availability. I was then directed to send a $60 check to cover the cost of taxes and service charges that was not included as part of the free offer. Well, I thought if you consider the regular prices of hotel stays and amusement park tickets, to pay just 60 bucks would be reasonable. The company said it would notify me 15 days before our early August travel dates of where we're staying. That didn't happen. My phone calls went unanswered. Finally, a travel agent contacted me and apologized. The letter of confirmation, he said, was sent back with "wrong address" stamped on the envelope even though it actually was the right address. So the four tickets for one day at Hershey Park were confirmed, but the hotel stay was another matter. "You will have to stay at a very low-level hotel," said the agent. It will be a no-frills place with two beds and a bathroom that normally costs about $50 a night." Looking online at pictures of the rooms made me wonder if the place should have been named the "Rat Trap Motel." "How about an upgrade?" I asked. He informed me that would cost me extra money and I would no longer be entitled to my $50 refundable deposit. I rejected the upgrade, a hotel that was "under renovation." A previous visitor put pictures online of cracked floor tiles, lines of mold surrounding the shower stall, and patches of peeling paint on the walls. I requested another upgrade and settled for a Comfort Inn. Now I had to add another $60 and pay a total of $160 for the package. Include the $20 parking fee at Hershey and the $100 for food inside the park, and I paid nearly 300 bucks for this free vacation. About 50 years ago, my father told me the only things you'd always get for free are TV channels and water. Now I tell my kids the only thing that's free is the air you breathe, at least until the government figures out a system to calculate how much air each of us breathes every day and then surcharge that amount. I'm holding my breath on that one. The mail just came. Inside this envelope it says I won two free airline tickets to anywhere in the continental USA. Hmmmm. Rich Strack can be reached at

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