On May 4, seven months after my evening with Global Discount's salesmen, a "tentative travel itinerary" arrived by mail. I'd be going to Orlando on July 13, returning July 15. I skipped to the bottom of the letter where I saw:
Total paid: $0.00
Balance due: $508.86
How could this be? I wasn't going to Cancún, and I was spending $508. An itemization listed hotel tax, applicable tax, Sept. 11 security fee, courier fee, processing fee, surcharge, transfer and travel insurance. I called Millennium, waited 17 minutes on hold, and talked to a travel counselor.
"I'm very confused," I said. "I understood this was a free trip."
"We pay for the air tickets and the hotel," she said. "But you have to pay for the document fees and taxes and surcharges and other things. It helps cover costs."
"But I already sent you $100. What about that?" I asked.
"This is in addition," she said. "After you complete your trip, contact us and we'll return the $100."
"What about Cancún? I wanted to go to Cancún."
"Trips are subject to availability. It must not have been available," she told me.
I hung up and considered my options: If I sent in the $508, I would be spending $667.33 — including the deposit, bank and mailing fees — for a trip to a city I didn't particularly want to visit at a time of year when I didn't particularly want to go.
Then I took a spin through the Internet to compare what I was getting to what other companies had to offer. Several Orlando airfare and hotel deals were available July 13-15 on third-party websites such as Travelocity and Expedia; some were as much as $150 less. I could buy a three-day package to Orlando for two on Delta Airlines and stay at a Travelodge for $520. Or I could stay at a Holiday Inn for $558. I could choose the dates I wanted, instead of having them dictated by Millennium's restrictions, and I'd know the hotel in advance. With the Millennium package I wouldn't find out until I arrived.
I decided to send the money. Once again I visited my bank to buy the required "cashier's check or personal money order," and the post office, to send the check by certified mail.
Seven weeks later I received an airline e-ticket from Millennium.
On July 13 — about nine months after my evening with Global Discount's salesmen — I flew from LAX to Orlando on American Airlines Flight 244 and checked into a plain but tidy room at a nearby Holiday Inn.
I spent the next day sweltering at Disney World, dropping $116.62 on tickets to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. I spent $123.53 on a rental car and $170 on gas, food and parking at LAX.
Before leaving Florida on Thursday, I drove 65 miles to Millennium's office in South Daytona Beach. Although I had no appointment, President Tony Armand seemed happy to talk to me when I told him I was a journalist who had just taken one of his trips.