3 scary ways to beat the system for Halloween

By | October 31st, 2015

As a consumer trying to get a fair shake today, it often seems as if no matter what you do, the cards are stacked against you. But some people go to such lengths trying to beat the system, it’s downright scary.

Being a consumer today can be both a blessing — and a curse. And what better day than Halloween to remind us of the darker side of being a consumer.

It’s true that today’s consumers enjoy unprecedented convenience and choice brought about by the digital age. But in the face of giant mergers and acquisitions, and a political system that is showing deep cracks, consumer protections are dwindling.

It’s enough to send shivers down your spine.

For some, it’s not worth the fight. They throw up their hands with an, “Oh well, that’s life.” Others turn their transactions into a high-stakes game of trick or treat and find devilish ways to game the system.

Three stories that made headlines this week give us a glimpse of the frightening extremes to which some people will go for a free buck.

1. The Timeshare Terror

Nothing is scarier than the prospect of enduring a torturous timeshare presentation for some dimly-lit free gift at the end of a dark tunnel full of painful, high-pressure sales tactics.

But there are people who get their thrills dabbling with this evil.

If those free Disney tickets are just too good for you to pass up, experienced timeshare goers recommend some strategies for coming out on the other side unscathed.

For example, you should carefully calculate the value of your time.

Related story:   Who has the worst fees in the travel industry? Here's the surprise answer

If the “free” gift that’s being dangled before you is worth the unpleasantness of a sales presentation that can last as long as 8 hours, go for it. Often, however, there are better things to do with your time.

Another tip? Bring along a friend as a “bad cop” to talk you down if the offer starts to seem too good to refuse.

Most importantly, be prepared to say “No.” Say it often — and mean it.

One timeshare goer tells how she put her cards on the table after hours of sales pitches.

When she began to feel the screws really begin to turn, she spoke loudly for the entire room, “I don’t appreciate you trying to pressure me like this. I told you no, I’m not going to sign those papers.”

Then she stood up and said, “Now, where are my free Disney tickets?”

Scary stuff indeed.

2. The Frequent Flier Freak Show

For many of us, the thought of frequent flier freebies makes our eyes go wide like a traveler possessed.

But the reality of accumulating enough free miles to use, then navigating the airline’s restrictions in order to book a desirable flight, are often enough to exorcise our demons.

Not for Sam Huang.

He paid about $300 for an experience that retails for closer to $60,000. But the extent to which he went to score the first-class suite on Emirates is chilling.

His secret? Big airline bonus miles via new credit card sign-ups. But it wasn’t easy.

“It took me at least a year to figure out how everything works,” he said.

Related story:   Is the TSA coming for your iPad?

Then, he spent months signing up for credit cards from Bank of America, which has an agreement with Alaska Airlines, which is a Mileage Plan partner with Emirates. It was a tangled web to weave.

“If you can’t pay off your bills fully every month, please don’t do this game,” said Huang, who currently has about 15 cards.

“This was just a cool loophole. If they’re going to let me do this, why not see how far I can take it?” he said.

Fifteen credit cards? Blood-curdling.

3. The Credit Card “Dead”(beat)

Credit card companies may call him a “deadbeat,” but the only thing ghoulish about John Ferro are the tricks he plays with his credit cards to rack up big treats.

$1,000 in treats in six months.

The term “deadbeat” is a reference to credit card holders who pay their balance every month and so benefit from their card rewards at minimal cost to them.

Ferro takes the practice to spine-tingling lengths.

He recommends using reward cards to purchase everything from gas to medical bills to college tuition. The more you buy, the greater your rewards. At least, that’s the premise.

The key is staying on top of your finances and not carrying a balance.

“You can still receive the benefits if you carry a balance,” says Ferro. “But the interest will cost you much more than you could save with a low-interest card with fewer rewards.”

An even scarier idea is to carry no credit card at all. But experts say consumers who never use credit cards will never receive the highest possible credit ratings.

Related story:   5 things customers say during the holidays - and what they really mean

In the end, the timeshare, airline and credit card companies we dread so much can be scary — but they can also be beaten.

  • Bill___A

    In reference to the term “dead beat”, I am of the understanding that a “dead beat” is a person who doesn’t pay their bills. As something like 70% of people in Canada pay off their credit card bills on time (and pay no interest) you can well imagine that the banks no longer survive off the credit card interest. The merchants are charged varying “discount” rates by the credit card companies depending upon the status of the card. An elite card with more benefits charges a higher discount rate to the merchant than does a low end one.

  • AJPeabody

    I hope the guy with 15 floating credit cards has a backup plan such as automatic payment from a full checking account or a responsible person who will pay all 15 bills on time, just in case somerthing unforseen (medical, leagal, or social) prevents him from doing it himself. Otherwise, the houise of cards collapses in a cloud of fees and interest.

  • AMA

    Maybe he just has to have them, not use them. It sounds to me like it was the new-account “bonuses” that racked up all those points so fast.

  • AAGK

    I think it is a good idea to put tuition and regular expenses on your credit cards. So long as you pay in full I don’t see why that would be frowned upon. Using a charge card like Amex, you have to pay in full and get membership rewards- there is no downside. Why is the guy in the article that advocates this painted negatively?

  • KarlaKatz

    The term “dead beat” is the definitive “insider” term used for those of us who pay off a CC’s balance each month. I’m in the industry, believe me, it IS the industry’s commonly used pejorative.

  • Kairho

    Well then I’m a proud deadbeat. And proudly showing off the free (yes, Chris, free because I pay nothing more than I otherwise would) business class ticket to Asia every 2-3 years or so.

    But I must also ask, if it’s so abhorrent a practice by consumers, why does the industry reward those consumers by considering it so positively when it comes to credit scores?

  • KarlaKatz

    You are incorrect: Credit scores actually drop, for 100% non-use of available credit. Check out credit karma’s website; 0% usage is a detriment. A deadbeat is one who uses the card, but pays off the statement balance each month. I, too, am considered a “deadbeat” by mine own company. It’s just an insider term, bandied by those “in the know”. Don’t be so touchy. And, remember: to keep one’s credit score at their personal optimum, card usage should be in the 10% range. That doesn’t mean one can’t pay off the statement balance (NOT to be confused with the total balance on the card).

  • Kairho

    I cannot figure out which of my statements you are saying is incorrect. To clarify: I pay off all cards when the bills arrive and thus am a “deadbeat.” That does not equate to non-use of credit as I maintain around a 7-8% card utilization ratio, as per CreditKarma.

We want your feedback. Your opinion is important to us. Here's how you can share your thoughts:
  • Send us a letter to the editor. We'll publish your most thoughtful missives in our daily newsletter or in an upcoming post.
  • Leave a message on one of our social networks. We have an active Facebook page, a LinkedIn presence and a Twitter account. Every story on this site is posted on those channels. The conversation ranges from completely unmoderated (Twitter) to moderated (Facebook and LinkedIn).
  • Post a question to our help forums or ask our advocates for a hand through our assistance intake form. Please note that our help forum is not a place for debate. It's there primarily to assist readers with a consumer problem.
  • If you have a news tip or want to report an error or omission, you can email the site publisher directly. You may also contact the post's author directly. Contact information is in the author tagline.