I’m not normally one for attending conferences (unless they’re academic/research-oriented ones), in particular those related to travel-hacking since so much information can be found online, but after a number of my internet-friends decided to attend TravelCon II, I figured that if nothing else, I’d have a great weekend hanging out with them in Vegas. However, I decided  to attend on one condition: I would have no out-of-pocket costs for my flight or accomodation.

Flights were easy. For ~$120 in Virgin American and Southwest miles (which probably cost me all of $10 to acquire), I could fly to Vegas and back without missing any work.

Hotels were a different story. Most hotels on the strip are not affiliated with chains (although some have partnerships), and I didn’t want to use up any cash-equivalents (e.g. hotels.com free nights, Orbitz credit) to ‘pay’ for my stays.

Despite not having figured out my accommodation, I went to purchase my ticket, assuming I would figure it out somehow. And sure enough, at the very end of the event description was the following (mysterious) message:

There are no special hotel rates that we’ve negotiated, but if you were at TravelCon OC and attended Omar’s (Travel Summary) presentation, you’ll know of a FANTASTIC way to book rooms for the weekend!

Clearly, there was a method, and naturally, I took that as a challenge.

After putzing around online and coming up largely empty, I remembered an email my mom had gotten a few weeks prior that she had excitedly forwarded to me in an email asking for advice about how to take advantage of it. It looked something like this:

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Although the offer was supposedly targeted, the offer code did not appear to be unique, so I figured I would call Holiday Inn Club Vacations to see if I could participate. After a few brief questions to ensure my eligibility, I was good to go. I purchased the package (the second option granting $249 cash, which incidentally also included a rebate certificate), and then made a reservation for November 6-9.

My appointment was scheduled for Saturday, November 7th at 9am, which unfortunately overlapped with TravelCon. Though I wasn’t thrilled about this fact, lacking other options for a free hotel stay (and I had promised myself that I would only go to TravelCon if I had no out-of-pocket costs excepting food), I forged ahead. Besides, with Esther joining me, how bad could it be? With everyone warning me of how pushy and persuasive time-share salespeople could be, it basically felt like I was going to be playing a ‘game’, after all…

On the morning of my presentation, we went to a special building at the back of the resort and checked in with the front desk. After a few minutes in the lobby (which is a great way to get free breakfast, by the way), a representative–let’s call her Camille–came out to meet us.

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And then the fun began. The presentation was divided into three phases, which I’ll label as the introductionthe appeal, and the pitch.

I’ll spare the boring details of my conversations with Camille, but roughly, the phases can be described as follows:

  1. The introduction: Camille asked me and Esther questions about ourselves–where we’re from, where we’ve been, where we want to go, as well as about our families and friends. She then proceeded to share her own background and connect bits of what we had said to things about her.
  2. The appeal: We were introduced to the program and shown pictures of all the wonderful properties worldwide. We were then shown a ten minute movie of families recounting their (positive) experiences with HICV and how it has brought then closer together, yada yada yada. Camille then looped back to our earlier conversation and tried to show us how we could achieve all of our aforementioned travel dreams.
  3. The pitch: The (confusing) math and the hardball. The fallacious arguments and the deal-making. Circles and arrows. Now-or-nevers.
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Time to gamble!

Some thoughts…on thoughts:

Although I did come out with my prizes in hand, I wasn’t satisfied with my performance.

Before I go into what I thought I did poorly, here’s what I thought I did well. When I called to inquire about the offer, not only did I act as if I had been targeted myself, but I made sure to enumerate all my travels and give the cash value of all of my hotel stays, whether or not they had been free to me. This was a successful strategy because when you’re on the phone doing the initial eligibility screen, you want to come off as a high roller or someone loose with your money. The phone screen is precisely the point at which you want to list off all the countries you’ve been to and trips you’ve taken, because the phone rep can’t touch you. Although they are (likely) commission-based, they don’t really have any prerogative but to get you in the door.

In the same vein, I did a good job at giving Camille just enough information about myself to think I was being genuine and interested, but not enough for her to really latch onto something at my core and make a later emotional appeal. She wanted to think I had a girlfriend? I didn’t get in her way. That way, when she came and made an appeal based on my relationship status, I was able to brush it off with ease.

Although things largely went well, I did made one huge mistake. In my efforts to keep (conversational) distance between myself and Camille, I yes-ed her to death so I didn’t have to get into any serious discussions. However, as I probably should have realized going in, you DON’T want to simply say what you think they want to hear. This one may not seem obvious at first since you want to minimize the amount of stress and conflict, but it may come back to bite you.

Why? There are a number of studies that show that self-contradiction is one of the most uncomfortable situations we can find ourselves in, even if we were being disingenuous when making the first statement. As a result, when we feel uncomfortable, we are more likely to take drastic actions to alleviate the discomfort–say, by purchasing a time share–than otherwise (due to cognitive dissonance). For me, this happened when I was asked which of the options I thought was a better deal after having gone along with the contention that a time-share was a good deal earlier on in the presentation.

So what would I have done differently? Picked a line of objection and stuck to it. That could have been  the travel hacking angle–i.e. I never pay full price for hotels so the economic argument doesn’t work, or it could have been the ‘advisor’ angle–i.e. this is all great but I need to speak to my financial advisor/mother/brother/priest before going forward. This would have closed off the line of attack I listed above and in general, kept me focused on rejecting the salesperson despite repeated attempts to convince me otherwise.

So would I do it again?

Absolutely. I saved myself $400, had a great time at TravelCon, and learned a thing or two about how to navigate high the time-share sales pipeline to my advantage. Plus, I walked away with a great story to tell. What could be better?

Happy hacking!