Potato Chip Cats: Sweepstakes Math on Winning a Vacation: Was it worth it?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Sweepstakes Math on Winning a Vacation: Was it worth it?

So you want to win a free vacation? Go for it. But try to consider what it could really cost you, and if there are any hidden fees associated with winning a travel sweepstakes. Here is my experience. 

I was lucky enough to win a sweepstakes vacation grand prize trip to Arizona. It included 8 nights at 4 different resorts, most meals, a dinner show, a mini-cruise on a Steamboat, and LOTS of golf. I don't golf but my ex-boyfriend was excited about that part. 

See that there? EX-boyfriend. Needless to say, this trip didn't really end up the way I'd planned it. Originally, we booked it for mid-April, but we broke up right before our vacation. Go figure.

So I waited a few months and went on the trip with someone else, and it was amazing! 

But now I'm trying to figure out what the prize cost me, and any hidden fees associated with winning a vacation. Here is my story. 

Travel sweepstakes cost and value

Color Coding: Red means money out of pocket. Green means sweepstakes inclusion.

Overall value of the prize, determined by sponsor: $4,145

- Taxes owed upon acceptance:
There are taxes associated with sweepstakes: any prize valued over $600 typically requires you and the sponsor to file tax forms for additional payment.

- Cost of original round-trip flight: $300
When I booked the flight with my ex, it was $300 per person. Obviously we had to cancel it, and got a useless refund of $150 in United Airlines credit, on my ex-boyfriend's credit card. Never going to see that again.

- Groupon for Desert Helicopter Tour: $99
In my excitement to visit the southwestern desert, a climate I've never experienced, I found a great Groupon deal for a helicopter tour of the Scottsdale area. BUT, the Helicopter company did not have ANY flights during my trip in June! Another "go figure." One representative said that half their fleet was down for maintenance in the summer, and another said they just weren't flying out at all. Period. Customer service much? If you offer a Groupon that is valid through the summer, maybe TELL people that you don't fly during the summer!
My ex gave me $100 for his part, at least. Now I have $199 Groupon Credit.

- Round-trip Flight: $700 
Luggage: $100
Travel was not included in this package. My guest paid for the last-minute flights, for a total of $1400, and because of unexpected complications, had to re-book one flight and spent way too much.

- Hotels: $704
We were not able to take full advantage of all 8 nights because of work. The hotels were cheaper because of the season- the package valued them higher.
2 Nights at Fairmont Scottsdale Princess: $374
2 Nights at Zona Hotel and Suites: $330

- Misc. expenses: $193
The Fairmont was gorgeous but expensive! NOTHING was included. No free breakfast, no free wi-fi; a water bottle alone was $6. We had a few snacks and drinks, and I got sick on day 2 and spent money on a doctors appointment and medication.

- Included Food: $290
Our dinner at Fairmont was easily the best Mexican food I've ever had. You couldn't slap the smiles off of our faces as we ate that meal. And we didn't end up spending anything at Zona. Awesome!

- Rental Car: $190
We were staying in Scottsdale, Arizona, and being from Connecticut, there was NO WAY I was not going to take a little road trip to the Grand Canyon! We also needed to go to the doctor, and my guest dropped his phone in the pool on Day 1 (another "go figure" here) and it required multiple trips to the store downtown. It was helpful to have a car.

Expenses I can't detail:
My guest, my now boyfriend, the gentleman that he is, absorbed the cost of most of our miscellaneous expenses, including the flight, rental car gas, airport parking, extra meals, cab fare from the airport to the hotel, and the Grand Canyon entrance fees, so I'm sure his overall cost was rough. But he found it to be totally worthwhile, and we had a great time.

I also didn't keep exact calculation of my cash spending, a few bucks for a snack, a few bucks for a tip, a souvenir, but it was not much.

Worth noting: the fates collided and making my sweepstakes vacation into a reality was quite the hassle. Cancelling a flight, re-booking a flight due to maintenance, tight work schedules, getting sick, weather being "too hot" for helicopters; you name it, luck was not on our side.

Others, with more time to plan and much more luck, may come away from this much better than I did. This is my honest experience in winning a vacation from a giveaway. I never expected it to be free.

The Overview:

Of a $4,000 vacation sweepstakes prize package, I was only able to use $994 of the prizes.
Based on the expenses above, we spent about $1,782, and I have $199 left in Groupon credit. The value was so high because of the golf outings, I'm convinced. 

If this had been easy breezy planning with no complications, it would have been about $933.

I really wish I could have taken advantage of more of the prize attributes, but our time was constrained. If I ever win a trip again, I will definitely take it with a grain of salt. Remember, nothing is really free. 

But overall, I really enjoyed it and our mishaps were somewhat unavoidable. In the end, without this trip, I may never have had the chance to go to the Grand Canyon, stay in beautiful desert oasis hotels, and enjoy some amazing meals, despite what we had to spend. 

Grand Canyon lookout
Mather Point Lookout at the Grand Canyon: beautiful views all around!
Fairmont Resort in Arizona
Overlooking the fountain and walking trails at the Fairmont, a desert oasis!


  1. Yes, Megan! Definitely worth it! Look at that view of the Grand Canyon - awesome!!! Those package deals are not all they are played up to be. Got one for a cruise, which was NOT cost worthy! Overall, it looks like you came out a winner:>)

  2. Hi! It was on the news up here a few days ago... to beware of scams offering free cruises, free vacations, etc. Because in the end you will have to pay a fee for this... a fee for that... so nothing is really free. Im glad you got to go with someone you could enjoy it with... sorry it was kind of a pain $$-wise.

  3. Very eye opening. Thanks for sharing. Glad it at least wasn't a dud of a trip. :)

  4. looking at that picture of the grand canyon..it was worth it!! it's too bad you didn't get to stay longer, but it's GOOD that you didn't end up stuck with your ex!

  5. would like to go back, went in march a few years ago and got caught in a blizzard


Thanks for your input!