Cagey Consumer

Hilton Las Vegas Getaway Offer

A Spectactular Las Vegas Vacation Getaway Has Been Reserved for You

We recently received a certificate from Hilton with the above banner. It was very clear that we had not won a contest, since the price, equivalent to $49 a night for a mid-week stay, was displayed in inch-high characters. We have received offers from Nevada casinos before offering mid-week stays at lower prices, but with the free show tickets, it seemed worth considering.

In addition to the price, the notice from the Hilton Grand Vacations Club indicated that the "reservation" was for accomodations at "one of the Hilton Resorts in Las Vegas," how long we had to respond to this offer, and the range of dates for which it could be used. Noticeably absent from the front of the certificate was any "fine print" or a statement to see reverse side for details.

Details of Participation

Although the enclosed cover letter indicated that attendance at a "90-minute tour and timeshare sales presentation" was required, it doesn't take an Einstein to realize that this mailing was designed to draw attention to the certificate that omits any such language on its face. Even though the back of the certificate has approximately 600 words of solid text describing the sordid "Details of Participation", including a 5-day cancellation requirement and the risk that your nightly room rate will jump to $139 if you don't attend the full presentation, there's no indication on the front of the certificate that you need to look elsewhere for further details.

Cagey Consumer's Opinion

Officials of the Hilton Grand Vacations Development Company say that they are complying with the "timeshare acts" in all states where this mailing is sent, that the contents of the mailing received the approval of the State of Nevada, and that participants are informed of the sales presentation requirement prior to making their reservation. However, these "timeshare acts" do not encompass all the laws which apply to such solicitations, nor do they address other issues of ethical business conduct. We think that this mailing unfairly lures people into calling to make a reservation for the following reasons: The effect of emphasizing the positive aspects of the offer, while minimizing the negative aspects, is to get people to respond who might not otherwise respond. Every business wants people to respond. That's why businesses advertise, hold sales, and sometimes even give things away. Generally, businesses making such offers are expected to meet the terms of the offer. For instance, a business that advertises a TV on sale, and subsequently discourages customers who come into the store from buying the sale product, may be guilty of bait and switch.

In the words of the BBB

The Better Business Bureau publishes an advertising code. This code does not have the force of law, but businesses that abide by it are meeting at least a minimal standard of ethical practices. According to the BBB code of advertising:

A "bait" offer is an alluring but insincere offer to sell a product or service which the advertiser does not intend to sell. Its purpose is to switch consumers from buying the advertised merchandise or service, in order to sell something else, usually at a higher price or on a basis more advantageous to the advertiser.

  1. No advertisement should be published unless it is a bona fide offer to sell the advertised merchandise or service.
  2. The advertising should not create a false impression about the product or service being offered in order to lay the foundation for a later "switch" to other, more expensive products or services, or products of a lesser quality at the same price.
  3. Subsequent full disclosure by the advertiser of all other facts about the advertised article does not preclude the existence of a bait scheme.
To be in compliance with the BBB's advertising code, Hilton cannot rely on the subsequent disclosure which occurs when the customer responds to the offer. Rather, Hilton must make substantial disclosure of the terms and conditions before the customer contacts Hilton. Because the mailing piece is designed to encourage the customer to contact Hilton before they read the 600-word disclosure, we believe that Hilton should be held responsible for failing to make sufficient concurrent disclosure of the conditions associated with this offer.

There are plenty of different hotels you can patronize -- you don't need to select one that has questionable business practices. We suggest that consumers should vote with their feet.

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