Contest for ‘free’ trip to the Bahamas not so free
By Kivi Hermans
Have you ever been enticed to fill out an entry form to win a car or a free trip? Something free sounds really great. Sometimes, though, something free can be too good to be true, which is what some students at Flagler College have learned the hard way.
Within the last couple of weeks, a few Flagler students have been receiving interesting phone calls from Security Travel Agency regarding their win of a free cruise to the Bahamas. Unfortunately, after further research, these students have found that they were being misled
Andrew Goyet and Leigha McDonough are among the few students who received a phone call letting them know of their newfound win. Goyet decided to go on and do some research after his girlfriend and his parents had both won the same trip within a matter of two days.
After McDonough was informed, she ecstatically called her boyfriend, who immediately killed her mood.
“Yeah, I won it too,” recalled McDonough of their conversation. “Well, why aren’t you happy?” she asked him. “Because it’s a rip-off!” he informed her.
Goyet and McDonough both found out the same information about the trip. The additional costs include $87.50 to send to the company just to receive the package information. There is a $145 charge for administrative fees for the winner and their guest, a $198 fee in port taxes and $90 for the hotel tax.
The agency also fails to provide a cabin for the guests on the boat, The Discovery, which in fact is nothing more than a “ferry ride” to the island. As a Tampa ABC affiliate reported in 2005 about this scandal, one man discovered that there was, in fact, no cabin during the cruise, but that the “winners” would have to sit on the deck in a lawn chair for the six to seven hour cruise from Fort Lauderdale, to Freeport in the Bahamas.
The application does not say “free,” which is usually an automatic assumption on any entry form for a chance to win a trip or a car. However, it does say that the administrative, port and service fees are not included.
The forms are being placed in spots that seem to be a favorite for a younger crowd. In St. Augustine, Scarlet O’Hara’s, Club All-Stars, Sunset Grille, Club Fusion and a mini-golf course are among the many venues that have placed these boxes in areas where they are available for their customers.
The boxes go beyond St. Augustine. The travel agency is located in St. Petersburg and one man filled out the piece of paper at his favorite Mexican restaurant in Sarasota. But after he contacted the manager of the restaurant and informed him about being ripped-off, the manager removed the box and ballots from his restaurant.
Goyet was not happy about the run-around that the travel agency gave him just to find out more about the trip.
“It was a tempting offer,” he said. “What better way to go on a trip than to win a free cruise to the Bahamas?”
But after receiving a phone call on a Tuesday morning announcing his win, Goyet realized that this offer might not be as good as he thought.
“You have to pick it up by Thursday in St. Petersburg,” the agency informed him. “I had to walk around asking people, ‘Hey where’s St. Petersburg? How far is it?'” Goyet said.
After careful research, he also found out that the hotel in the Bahamas was bombarded by hurricanes last year and that any upgrade would cost even more money.
Goyet, however, feels that this trip is not necessarily a scam.
“They didn’t take your money and run with it. They took your money and sent you on a trip,” he said. They get the $90 registration fee and then send you the information, but not everyone chooses to actually go on the cruise.”
Goyet and McDonough hope to inform students of this situation.
“Be careful with what you do,” McDonough said. “Don’t fall for everything that comes your way. Read everything carefully, listen to all the information and completely research it. Don’t just jump for it.”
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