As a consumer trying to get a fair shake today, it often seems as if no matter what you do, the cards are stacked against you. But some people go to such lengths trying to beat the system, it’s downright scary.
Being a consumer today can be both a blessing — and a curse. And what better day than Halloween to remind us of the darker side of being a consumer.
It’s true that today’s consumers enjoy unprecedented convenience and choice brought about by the digital age. But in the face of giant mergers and acquisitions, and a political system that is showing deep cracks, consumer protections are dwindling.
It’s enough to send shivers down your spine.
For some, it’s not worth the fight. They throw up their hands with an, “Oh well, that’s life.” Others turn their transactions into a high-stakes game of trick or treat and find devilish ways to game the system.
Three stories that made headlines this week give us a glimpse of the frightening extremes to which some people will go for a free buck.
1. The Timeshare Terror
Nothing is scarier than the prospect of enduring a torturous timeshare presentation for some dimly-lit free gift at the end of a dark tunnel full of painful, high-pressure sales tactics.
But there are people who get their thrills dabbling with this evil.
If those free Disney tickets are just too good for you to pass up, experienced timeshare goers recommend some strategies for coming out on the other side unscathed.
For example, you should carefully calculate the value of your time.
If the “free” gift that’s being dangled before you is worth the unpleasantness of a sales presentation that can last as long as 8 hours, go for it. Often, however, there are better things to do with your time.
Another tip? Bring along a friend as a “bad cop” to talk you down if the offer starts to seem too good to refuse.
Most importantly, be prepared to say “No.” Say it often — and mean it.
One timeshare goer tells how she put her cards on the table after hours of sales pitches.
When she began to feel the screws really begin to turn, she spoke loudly for the entire room, “I don’t appreciate you trying to pressure me like this. I told you no, I’m not going to sign those papers.”
Then she stood up and said, “Now, where are my free Disney tickets?”
Scary stuff indeed.
2. The Frequent Flier Freak Show
For many of us, the thought of frequent flier freebies makes our eyes go wide like a traveler possessed.
But the reality of accumulating enough free miles to use, then navigating the airline’s restrictions in order to book a desirable flight, are often enough to exorcise our demons.
He paid about $300 for an experience that retails for closer to $60,000. But the extent to which he went to score the first-class suite on Emirates is chilling.
His secret? Big airline bonus miles via new credit card sign-ups. But it wasn’t easy.
“It took me at least a year to figure out how everything works,” he said.
Then, he spent months signing up for credit cards from Bank of America, which has an agreement with Alaska Airlines, which is a Mileage Plan partner with Emirates. It was a tangled web to weave.
“If you can’t pay off your bills fully every month, please don’t do this game,” said Huang, who currently has about 15 cards.
“This was just a cool loophole. If they’re going to let me do this, why not see how far I can take it?” he said.
Fifteen credit cards? Blood-curdling.
3. The Credit Card “Dead”(beat)
Credit card companies may call him a “deadbeat,” but the only thing ghoulish about John Ferro are the tricks he plays with his credit cards to rack up big treats.
$1,000 in treats in six months.
The term “deadbeat” is a reference to credit card holders who pay their balance every month and so benefit from their card rewards at minimal cost to them.
He recommends using reward cards to purchase everything from gas to medical bills to college tuition. The more you buy, the greater your rewards. At least, that’s the premise.
The key is staying on top of your finances and not carrying a balance.
“You can still receive the benefits if you carry a balance,” says Ferro. “But the interest will cost you much more than you could save with a low-interest card with fewer rewards.”
An even scarier idea is to carry no credit card at all. But experts say consumers who never use credit cards will never receive the highest possible credit ratings.
In the end, the timeshare, airline and credit card companies we dread so much can be scary — but they can also be beaten.