In early 2000 my husband and I were invited to a presentation and if we attended, that is all we had to do they said, we would get a free trip to Mauritius. Being a lot younger and even less wise, we agreed to attend.

Since then we have learnt of so many others who were caught in the same trap. On our arrival at the hall where we had been told to meet, we discovered that it was a presentation on the purchasing of points for holidays in various resorts around South Africa and in neighbouring countries. Within a few years we were also able to book holidays on other continents in partnership with RCI (Resort Condominiums International).

We listened to the presentation which was excellently presented and it convinced us that there were many advantages to enrolling with the company.  As I have said in a previous article, we are not the kind of folk who like to go to the same place year after year which was why we did not choose to purchase time-share. In that form of holiday one purchases a part-share in a condominium/flat/apartment or whatever you prefer to call it, and get the opportunity to spend the same week of each year at a specific resort. Although one can do swaps they are not always as simple as the sales team make it out to be.

But back to the evening of our presentation – when we sat down with an individual agent, I specifically asked if we could use our points to spend 3 days in one place and 2 in another so as not to be tied to one venue for any length of time. “Oh yes, definitely. We understand and will do everything to make your holiday truly yours!” Well that was not how it turned out, but I shall return to that in another article. Now I want to tell how we were duped about the so-called free holiday.

We knew a few people who had been to Mauritius and they raved about the island so we were very keen to visit it as well. A couple of times we asked about the offer but were told that they would give us the details as soon as the evening was over. As we were leaving we were given an envelope in which we found all sorts of documents. For our free holiday we had to complete a form which listed the names and details of 5 different resorts in Mauritius and we were given to understand that we could indicate our options and then we would be told what was available. No matter which of 4 possible dates we requested only the most uninviting of the resorts was available. We eventually accepted a week at that resort.

Not sure what was actually free about the trip as we had to pay our airfares and taxi fares to & from the airport, a cleaning fee and for all meals!  The hotel was on the east coast of Mauritius which is not considered the best area and the very dirty beach was across the road and down a small hill.  The one bit of interest was that it was the spot where the Helderberg had crashed into the ocean. We did enjoy our days out visiting the Botanic Gardens, sailing on the catamaran to a beautiful cove and the original sugar mill where the horse is still used to drive the mill, but the short and expensive ride in a dirty glass-bottomed boat was not pleasant. At the end of the week we were collected by a taxi which we shared with 3 other couples and for which we had to pay. The other 2 couples had been staying at an hotel down the road and of better quality. We had a great chat with them on the way to the airport and when we arrived home and did our calculations, we had not only paid more than our ‘free holiday’ sponsors but more than those who were staying at the better hotel down the road!

We learnt a lot from this experience. Firstly, we grew up fast with regard to responding to other offers of a free holiday just by attending a presentation. When the telesales person calls we now immediately push for them to tell us exactly what they are offering and then say ‘no thank you.’ Secondly, we get all facts in writing BEFORE making any commitment. Sign nothing before the next day at the earliest so having time to think it over, even if the presenter is adamant that ‘if you don’t sign tonight you have lost the special offer.’ When offered a free holiday, ensure that it is genuinely FREE!

We are now older and very much wiser.