This is going to be long and boring. I'm just writing it up so that other people who get a similar offer will be able to read what or experience was.
A while ago we got a message on our answering machine telling us to call back so we could claim our prize, although they didn't mention what the prize was. Skeptically, I called back. I was told that I had one a trip for 2 to Las Vegas. All my wife and I had to do was go collect our prize, which would involve driving to their nearest center (about 1 hour), and then sitting through a 90 minute sales presentation. I figured getting a trip (flights plus two nights in a hotel) to Vegas was worth that hassle, so I scheduled an appointment.
A week or two later we went straight from work to the presentation, which was in what looked like an office building. The Trendwest lobby was made to feel like a hotel. We signed in, and were quickly met by our sales rep. I don't remember his name, but let's call him Al. Al took us to an open room which was set up a lot like a restaurant, where several people were already getting acquainted with their sales rep. Al directed us to his table, where the three of us sat down and talked a bit. He tried to figure out what we like and dislike, while we tried to figure out what he was up to.
After about 10 minutes it was time for the presentation. We all went into another room where they had a video projector set up, and a presenter walked in to tell us what this night was all about. The presentation went something like this: People like timeshares because it's cheaper than staying in hotels. Timeshares aren't flexible, though. So Trendwest has something better. They build hotels all over the world, and sell part ownership. That part ownership gets you a certain number of points, which renew every year, that you can use to stay in those hotels. So basically you buy an investment in real estate, that gets you free hotel stays every year.
After the presentation we returned to Al's table, where he tried to convince us to buy in. He used pretty standard sales techniques. We weren't too keen on spending $10,000 that night, but that would mean forgoing the that-night-only offer. He offered us some more perks when we weren't buying, but we still weren't interested. I was trying to figure out how much hotel stay I could buy if I invested $10,000 in a 60/40 stock/bond index fund. In most cases you can draw 4% off that, inflation-adjusted, forever. So that's $400 you can spend every year, instead of some number of points that can only be used at certain hotels. Al either couldn't or didn't want to understand that. A big selling point was that we were buying a lifestyle change. That buy spending this money once, we'd enjoy a higher quality of vacations, and we'd take more of them.
After a while Al gave up and called in the floor manager, let's call him Bill. Bill gave us another offer and ran some numbers with us. That didn't work out so well since most of the time when we vacation we camp and don't stay in hotels at all. Since we weren't buying that, we were sent off to Charlie to collect our prize. But before that happened, Charlie wondered if we'd like to take advantage of a special trial offer. The deal was that we'd get 6,000 vacation credits (which is 5-7 days, but only usable at a subset of all the resorts) for $695. After some debate, we decided it would be nice to do that, just to do a real hotel vacation for a change. We then surprised Charlie by paying the full amount right there. (Really, it's kind of scary that anybody would finance that kind of purchase.) Halfway through signing the papers, he mentioned that this also included sitting through another presentation once we were at the resort. I was kind of annoyed that he didn't mention that before, but we went ahead anyway. Finally, we did get the coupon for our Vegas vacation.
At home, some research on Ebay shows that we could've bought 10,000 one-time use credits for $660, so we paid about 50% extra by buying from the pusher. Perhaps the smart thing would've been to call and cancel (we had 7 days to do that, according to our contract), but we didn't. So now we've got a week's of hotel time that we fully intend to enjoy.
Our Vegas vacation came with various limitations (mostly that it had to be all during the week), so I called to reserve a time during Danielle's summer vacation. That was no problem, but I did learn on that phone call that the airport we're flying out of would be chosen by the travel provider, and we would be told about 2 weeks before departure what that would be. Since the airport list included several LA airports and San Diego, I was not happy about that. It takes a long time to drive to San Diego from here. It's probably faster to drive to Vegas directly. Anyway, we can always decide not to fly if we end up in that boat.
It all seemed set, but just recently we got a piece of paper in the mail saying that we had to send in a check for $94 to cover taxes and fees. This is the first time those were ever mentioned so I'm pretty annoyed. We will not be taking the Vegas vacation. If I need to pay $94 to get something, then it's not free.
So in the end we were promised that we would get a free Vegas vacation but we came away with spending $695 on a different vacation, and no Vegas vacation. If you get a similar offer, I recommend you just ignore it and keep enjoying your life. If you do decide to go, well, now you know a little bit more of what to expect.