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How to not sell timeshares

(I just found a few half written blogs that should have been in the last trip report.  Pardon me while I catch up.  The photo below was taken on April 4th 2010.)

I’d love to name and shame, but I didn’t catch his name. So a photo will have to do.  This guy is my nomination for Worst Timeshare Seller ever.

If you’re a male walking around Las Vegas, you have to expect to get cards and magazines for (let’s call them) strippers pushed in your face.  That’s just the way it is.  In fact, many porn-slappers don’t discriminate on gender.  They just want to get rid of as many of their flyers as they can so they keep a pretty open mind about who might want to use their clients’ services.

But although their bright orange uniforms can make it look like some sort of brothel-sponsored chain gang littering up the streets, they’re not really that invasive.  They don’t stop you when you’re walking and they don’t cause a fuss if you ignore them.  They slap their wares to get your attention, hope you take one and then move on to the next punter.

If you’re a couple walking around Las Vegas, timeshare sellers are a much bigger pest.

Notably, they have never approached me when I’ve been walking on my own.  In fact, I’ve seen them turn away if I walk towards them.  But when I’m with Claire, it’s like they’re ants and we have our faces painted with jam.

Although I don’t usually give them chance to finish, if you’re a couple in Las Vegas and someone comes running after you to ask if you’d like to see a free show, I’m sure this is the catch 100% of the time.

Yes, you will get show tickets, but you’ll have to sit through hours of hard sell to earn them.  And who wants to spend their valuable Vegas time doing that?

It’s not even that I don’t have an interest in vacation property ownership in Las Vegas.  For how often I go there, it would actually make sense to invest in something, and a timeshare could be an affordable start.

But I’ve run some numbers on a few resorts.  Regardless of how much the timeshare itself actually costs, and ignoring comped or discounted hotel nights based on casino play, the amount you end up paying in maintenance fees each year exceeds the cost of a comparable hotel.

Here’s a quick example I just found: a week’s timeshare in Polo Towers (a decent location on the Strip, between Planet Hollywood and MGM Grand, opposite Monte Carlo) currently costs $1,016 in annual fees to maintain.

You might not get the best rate from a general reservation, but if you can’t find a promotional rate for a week at one of the neighbouring hotels for under a grand, you’re just not looking hard enough.

Alternatively, you could purchase 1/52nd of a room in the Grandview resort (technically “on Las Vegas Boulevard” but way South, several miles past Mandalay Bay) and get a bill for $677/year.  This place is near to the South Point, where they’re currently promoting a $42/night rate for summer weeknights – and it seems to be widely available too.  If this is the location you want to stay in, expect a typical week to cost about $400.

Hotels win, even before you take into account the five figure downpayment that’s needed to secure the privilege of staying in the exact same room for the exact same week of every year.

So, yes, I’ve done some research and I’m quite certain I don’t want a timeshare.  And even if I did, I wouldn’t buy if from some scumbag who gets in my way when I’m walking.

The trick is to spot them before they spot you.  Or, to just not care about being rude to the fuckers.

I like to avoid confrontations on holiday.  I’m there to chill out, after all.  So these are my two strategies:

If I see them well in advance, before they’ve had chance to lock onto us, we’ll split up and pull a cunning flanking manoeuvre, passing them as two individual units on either side and regrouping once back in neutral territory.  We’ve done this enough times that if one of us just says something like “You go left” or “Quick! Split!” we know exactly what to do, and it’s pretty effective.

If it’s too late and we’re already firmly in their sights, I still try not to engage the enemy.  We simply walk past, both chanting “No no no no no no no no no”, progressively louder until they go away.  It’s usually enough.  Very occasionally, when they don’t get the message, I have been known to descend into abuse and expletives.

Which is what happened this time.

Our friend pictured above had a commanding strategic advantage with his location.  He stood at the foot of the escalator leading down from the newest walkway over the Strip – between Aria and Planet Hollywood.

From there, he has chance to see you coming a good 15 seconds before you get to the bottom so he can get into position ready to harass.

It’s pretty horrible.  You know exactly what is going to happen and can’t do anything about it.  Which is probably why things didn’t go down particularly pleasantly.

It’s been so long since I started writing this that I can’t remember the gory details, but it began with him trying to block my way at the bottom of the escalator.  I brushed past and said, “Oh go away, I’ve had enough of you lot already”.

Or words to that effect.  In fact, I think I actually was that polite to start with.

Apparently he thought by engaging us he still stood a chance of selling an overpriced piece of real estate.

“Hey man?  Why come to Vegas with a bad attitude?”.  And from there it descended into little more than a discussion of who actually was the ignorant dickwad.

Well, I’d argue that causing a scene on the very street where you’re hoping to entice happy holidaymakers by to sign up for a lengthy presentation is quite possibly the worst sales tactic you can employ.

This is Vegas.  Take a tip from one of the gazillion card players you must come into contact with every day.

Once you know you’re beat, just muck your cards and move on to the next hand.

Classic sign deathwatch

I’m saddened to think that I may have seen this sign on the Las Vegas Strip for the last time.

It’s the end of an era really. The Tropicana has, as far as I know, the last remaining good old-fashioned letterboard sign on the Strip.

And while it appears they don’t have as much to say these days since the titty show finished, it’s still a classic sign.

There is still one of these at the back of the Riviera, but it’s way behind on Paradise Road. There’s another at Bill’s which is a Strip casino but the sign is far enough along Flamingo Road that it doesn’t really count. If you were driving from one end of the Strip to the other you probably wouldn’t even notice it.

I’m by no means an old timer but in the ten years I’ve been coming to Las Vegas I’ve seen quite a lot of these signs bite the dust.

The imploded Stardust, New Frontier and Westward Ho are still basically just rubble, but I can’t imagine either of the projects planned for these sites having anything so awesome as this or this, if they ever actually get built.

Caesars and Bally’s both had splendid old-fashioned signs that have been replaced by, basically, big TV screens.

They’re cool enough but I still kinda like the old style and it’s a shame there’s going to be none left.

There’s just something magical about knowing a guy with a ladder climbed all the way up there to spell out Gladys Knight’s name (or even just to let you know they have clean rooms).  It certainly beats watching adverts for Elton John and Jerry Seinfeld on perma-loop.

This is what’s happening to the other sign, just round the corner on Tropicana Ave.  A billboard and a video screen,and no doubt it’s going to be topped off with some representation of the Trop’s dreadfully indifferent new logo.

Not really the right vehicle for the job

Off-road driving in the desert. In a little Toyota Matrix.

Shhhh… don’t tell Alamo :)

I don’t know what imma gonna do

I’ve never been so glad to fly a slightly inconvenient route. I think my plane from LA to Heathrow was the last one allowed in before the UK closed down to all air traffic this afternoon.

Volcanic ash. There’s something new to blame all kinds of shit on. Jump on it while you can.

If I’d flown “normally” with BA I would still be stuck in Vegas. At the international terminal, which has not much more than half a dozen wheel of fortune machines and a Pizza Hut. That flight was one of four full screens of arrivals showing as delayed or cancelled when Ianded.

If I had managed to get a handy connection for Manchester, Which I considered instead of driving to Heathrow (and again across the Mojave both ways), I would be stuck in London.

Any other route with a transfer in the US and the transatlantic flight would have departed late enough that it never would have taken off.

In fact, my flight was actually 20 minutes late taking off so we were already cutting it a bit fine. I guess the pilot put his foot down to make sure we weren’t forced to land in France.

Possibly the biggest win of the whole trip.

www dot what

File this one under “you really couldn’t get a better domain name than that?”

Bette Midler’s Replacement

It’s the dead terrorist puppet guy off of YouTube and those silly ringtone adverts.

Surprising really. Given the massive publicity all over town for Matt Goss and his little show on a boat, anyone would think he was the biggest star at Caesars.

But somehow it’s Jeff Dunham who landed the gig of keeping Celine Dion’s picture frame warm until she returns.

Don’t leave home without your tourney schedule

While trying to find the schedule for the Deep Stack Extravaganza, I discovered that there is a mobile version of the Venetian’s web site.

It’s always good to see a web site that had made the extra effort to be readable on small screens but this casino site has overlooked one fairly important section.

Don’t they have gambling here?

The slow business of winning money

The screenshot below shows my split times from a mad dash I had to make from Planet Hollywood to my room at the Rio and back again.

I think a round trip of about 40 minutes is a pretty respectable result to be honest. You can never underestimate how long it takes to get places in Vegas and before I set out I had looked at my watch, seen that it was 8:30am on a Sunday morning and reasoned that I actually stood a chance of doing it in under an hour.

At night there would have been little chance, and I certainly would not have taken the Strip.

The reason I had to make this little excursion? Claire hit a royal flush for $4000 and apparently her driving licence wasn’t good enough to prove that she deserved to be paid.

Obviously the win was awesome – the second largest jackpot either of us had ever seen – but the buzzkill that followed was far from it.

To be honest, I should have seen this coming. We were playing at Planet Hollywood, which has recently been taken over by Harrah’s, and the last time I had trouble proving I existed using an official British ID was at Harrah’s Laughlin.

It was actually because of this ownership change that we were there in the first place. There’s likely to be only a small window of opportunity between the P.Ho. being linked into the Total Rewards system and the video poker being downgraded to unplayable paytables.

It was still far from great with 99.2% bonus poker and – at best – 0.3% back in comp. It’s a very thin advantage play – and only if you assume that your action is going to be enough to get some good room offers.

Everything has dried up for me since the start of the year, despite enough of a session to retain Platinum status at Christmas, but we figured it was worth a go on Claire’s account to see if we could keep the free suites at the Rio coming for just a little longer.

Without really thinking anything of it, Claire held an ace and a jack of hearts. Suddenly something beautiful dropped in.

After a few cycles of the jackpot tune, the lady who had run off with Claire’s ID returned to say that the driving licence was no good, and could she please produce a passport instead.

We’ve had hand pays in full with no such hassle from the Palms, Four Queens and even Terrible’s. None of these casinos have high numbers of international visitors and you would expect, compared to a major strip resort, they don’t have to deal with many big winners from overseas.

A driving licence is clearly a perfectly fine form of identification. Even just the photo card part. In fact I’ve never been asked for the paper half – even when renting a car!

Seriously, if Terrible’s can manage it, You’d expect the world’s largest gaming company would be ok.

But alas no. Two options: fetch the passport now or come back later to collect the money from the cage.

I really didn’t like the sound of the second option. The way things were going, I would have expected to get there to find a random percentage deducted and nobody in the casino who knew anything about it. And that was the best case scenario.

Knowing that they couldn’t silence the machine until they had paid the jackpot I told Claire to wait there while I sped back to the room and got her passport.

So this all started with a royal flush at about 8:15am. Yes, I love the smell of winning in the morning. I was back from my dash across town at 9:10am, and we finally got paid at 9:45am.

Apparently it still took another 35 minutes to count out four grand, even though they knew what was coming, and someone even told us once I’d got back that everything was ready and they would be right back. With the money.

No, we did not tip for this service. But I think they must have realised how shit it was, because nobody hung around with their hand out, and the last hundred was not conveniently broken down into twenties, tens and fives as it so often is – to make sure you have change to give away.

When the machine first burst into song, slimy staff were out in force. Anyone who was in earshot came to congratulate Claire in the most sleazy and obvious way you can imagine. The cocktail waitress wanted a piece too. I’d waited half an hour for my first coffee, but suddenly the service got much, much better.

The slot attendant who was first to respond was meant to finish his shift at 9am but when I got back he was leaning nearby pretending to do paperwork, and immediately came over to say goodbye. As transparent as you like.

No dude, we’ve not been paid yet so you’re not getting anything.

It’s a bad idea to play chicken with karma in Vegas so Claire and I talked about whether it was right to stiff the floor staff over what was, essentially, a brain dead corporate policy.

I felt they should be tipping me for having to drive to another hotel to fetch a document they didn’t really need and for Claire having to spend an hour and a half of her holiday sitting and waiting. Claire said that as long as there wasn’t a problem getting paid the full amount, the people we were dealing with were only following instructions – however stupid they might be.

But, after all that, we settled in agreement that another 35 minutes to take a photocopy of a passport deserved nothing but contempt.

Welcome to Fabulous Barstow

In what will surely become a tradition, the first gambling of the trip turned out to be nowhere near Las Vegas. We stopped in Barstow for a toilet break and to play some scratchcards from the California State Lottery.

Last summer I noted what a great selection of scratchcards these were and how – in the manner of a primary school football match report – even though we lost, we all enjoyed the game.

This time we picked ten dollars of random cards and ended up with an awesome break even result.

It managed to keep us in suspense right to the end – the very last card I scratched had a $10 prize.

I know in the picture I could have scratched off any letters – you will just have to trust me.

Strike that

Online check-in for my flight opened at 4:05pm.  I was a little slower than usual, but at 4:09pm I had a decision to make.

“Do you want to upgrade to Club World for £399?”, said the British Airways web site.

Apparently I did want to.  As shown below with possibly the best use of the strikethrough text I have ever seen on a web page.

Clearly to offer this they must have plenty of empty seats in business class on that flight, and if I hadn’t bought the upgrade it would have been going to a lucky winner at the gate tomorrow instead.  But as I have zero status with BA and it’s a big plane, the chances of me being that lucky winner were virtually zero.

However I do fully intend to win this back in Vegas.  Or at least eat enough free food on Claire’s RFB at the Four Queens to offset it.  Watch this space.