"Of course they are," he said. "They're open 24 hours a day."

This time he was wrong. The BBB, which reports on 2 million U.S. organizations, has offices throughout the United States that are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. But it also has a website (www.bbb.com) that can be accessed around the clock. Absent advice and information from the BBB that night, I muddled along on my own.

No. 2 kept hammering. I kept saying no. But the pounding in my head was weakening my resolve. I felt like caving in so I could leave. Then inspiration struck. "I have a terrible headache," I whined. "I can't say yes under these circumstances."

No. 2 seemed to be growing weary of me. He called in his boss, Salesman No. 3.

No. 3 was stern. No smile crossed his lips when he entered the cubicle.

"The trouble with most people is that they don't have the money," he said.

"Actually, all I want is my trip to Cancún," I said. "How do I know you'll honor it?"

No. 3 dismissed the question and returned to his "you-just-don't-have-the-money" tack.

But we both knew it wasn't working. Finally, he threw his hands in the air and slid a glossy four-page brochure across the desk to me. "Fill out the certificate inside and mail it in," he said, walking away. I looked at the brochure. A headline advertised two round-trip airfares for two; inside was a form and pictures of Cancún, Jamaica and other vacation spots. I slipped it into my purse, smiling as I left because I'd run the Global Discount Travel gantlet and emerged triumphant.

What a fool I was, I thought later, when I looked more closely at the brochure. Global Discount Travel had passed me along to another company, Millennium Travel & Promotions Inc. of South Daytona Beach, Fla.

My two-hour sentence in Global's sales office was only the beginning of my odyssey.

The Millennium brochure offered to provide two adults with two round-trip airline tickets and two nights' accommodations at a choice of six destinations: Cancún, Jamaica, Las Vegas, Orlando, Fla., Phoenix or San Francisco. But it spelled out 12 lengthy terms and conditions I would have to fulfill to receive my trip.

The first requirement — due immediately — was a "$50 per person, good faith refundable deposit in U.S. dollars (postal money order, money order or cashier check only)." I called the state attorney general's office again, where I learned that the requirement was legal.

Then I marched off to the bank, where I spent $4 to purchase a $100 money order, and then to the post office, where I spent $4.42 more to have the check sent by certified mail.

I felt queasy sending $100 to a company I knew nothing about; the feeling continued for a month until I received a letter from Millennium requesting "three valid travel dates."

These were tricky: The first date had to be at least 60 days away, and the choices had to be at least 45 days apart. None could fall on a holiday — or during the week before or after a holiday. Not so difficult, I thought at first. Then I realized Millennium's holiday list was lengthy and included all of March and April (spring break). I also had to arrive at my destination on a Tuesday or Wednesday. After an hour, I came up with three dates that seemed to fit all the criteria: Feb. 24, May 11 and July 13.

About three weeks later, another letter from Millennium arrived. I ripped it open: Would I be going to Cancún on Feb. 24?

I'd have to wait to find out. This letter simply offered "enhancement options to make your vacation more enjoyable." For an additional fee, Millennium would extend my stay, rent a car for me or add extra passengers to my package.

Then I read to the bottom of the letter. It had to be signed and returned within 10 days "to continue processing your travel request, even if no options are taken." Seven days had already elapsed. I signed — declining the enhancements — drove to a FedEx office, where I plunked down $11.83 for second-day delivery.

It would become a new pattern in my life.