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Rope a Dope

Last month we received a letter through United Airlines which promised a pair of free airline tickets anywhere in the continental United States if we sat through some presentation. Although the letter came from United Airlines, the presentation was from some other travel agency whose mantra seemed to be, “We’re not a time share.”

If you Google their phone number, 866-437-7729, you get a whole set of planted videos that make it all seem legit. We’ve made it a point to avoid these types of presentations but we were bored and looking for an excuse to travel, so we figured that we’d give this one a shot. If I was able to zone out for an hour and a half and come out with free airline tickets, I’d count it as a win. I didn’t mind jumping through a few hoops.

The presentation day came and it turned out to be some company called Pretentious Asshole Network, but they went under the pseudonym Global Vacation Network. They had us fill out a questionnaire in which we stated that our ideal travel destinations were Traverse City and Copper Harbor, Michigan. We stated that our travel accommodations primarily involved camping or staying with relatives. It was amusing during the presentation when our appointed overtanned douchebag would get on a rant about all the amazing places where PAN could get accommodations, and he would throw in places like Hawaii, Costa Rica, and fabulous Traverse City with an overzealous wink.

It had all the typical trappings of a time share presentation, although they kept going on about how they weren’t a timeshare. From what I understand, they first separate you from some ridiculous sum of money up front, that day preferably, then they staple a member badge on your forehead for a feeling of self importance, and from then on they assume the role of being the sole limiting factor for any future thought of any vacation planning you may do. Besides the elite status you have of being a member, you now have the added ability to schedule and rent a condo for one or two weeks a year in exotic locations such as Traverse City.

Of course, their shtick was that it only costs around one or two hundred dollars per week for the condo and several hundred more per year in maintenance fees. Assuming you forget about the extra thousands upon thousands of dollars they tore out of you in that first day of consensual financial rape, it ends up being a pretty good deal.

To clarify, PAN probably isn’t completely full of pretentious assholes. I just have a natural loathing of salespeople that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I imagine that there are a few people here and there that actually save money over their long lives by squeezing everything they can out of PAN every year of their lives. If your vacation plans can be planned out months in advance, within absolute blocks of Sunday to Sunday, and you only ever want to stay in one place per vacation inside a condo, this may actually work out for you. For us, the notion was far too limiting.

But that didn’t stop our own personally assigned salesperson from promising all sorts of other bullshit after the presentation when we were herded out into the raping room. We told her that we don’t vacation that way. We told her we love to camp and drive multiple places on vacation. Somehow, she promised that the exclusive member badge stapled on our forehead would save us all sorts of money if we were only to drop thousands and thousands of dollars into her lap right then. She said it all with a straight face. It made no sense.

The thing that really gets me about these types of crappy presentations deals is their incessant badgering that you’d be an idiot not to buy their load of crap that very instant. They assume that’s what you’re there for and feign personal injury when you explain you’re only there for the allegedly free airline tickets that roped you in in the first place.

The problem is this: As our sun-kissed Jersey Shore presenter explained, we were getting an exclusive, never before heard of price on the initial financial gutting, as long as we bought into it today. If we walked out the door, Suntanned Sam explained with heart-wrenching empathy that they were legally unable to offer us the discount price on any other date. If I remember correctly, for all the other saps that bought into PAN outside of one of these meetings, they pay an additional five thousand dollars.

They are buying your ignorance. They’re imposing a five thousand dollar fee on critical thinking. You have no time to compare their product with anything else out in the world and instead you have to take them for their word, and they seem ready to promise limitless benefits to their members.

These sleazy sales pitches offer an interesting study into how the human mind works. Their business model is built around our innate fear of losing something we don’t even have and how that overpowers our common sense, raising the chance of acting on an impulse. It’s amazing that so many people actually sign up for the program on the spot. It’s really a lifelong commitment that, up until ninety minutes ago, most of the people buying into it didn’t even know it existed. I find that fascinating.

What’s more is that, for those who buy into it on the spot, there now exists the need to justify their purchase. I seriously doubt that anyone who bought into this thing actually takes the time to do the price comparisons or research after the fact. That would be like admitting defeat. Instead, I imagine there’s a need to justify the costs, and one common way to do so is to rope in other friends. And that is exactly how PAN says they get the majority of their customers: through referrals.

In summary, no, they’re not all assholes. But the way they sell their product is slimy and makes them look like assholes. Their condo swapping scheme probably works out all right for a lot of people, but I doubt the majority of them actually save money over the average Joe during their lifetime of vacationing. The best thing I learned from this experience is that if a company puts that much effort into shunning a critical evaluation of their product, it’s best to walk away. Save your time and money and do a little research on your own.

And, as we figured, the free airline ticket thing is a crock of shit. We received a packet in the mail from Millennium Travel and Promotions which explained what “free” really means. There are all sorts of hoops to jump through and different fees to pay that it would probably end up costing more than buying the tickets on your terms and flying when you want. Oh well! Lesson learned and no money lost.

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