Sunday, April 1, 2012

Caveat Emptor: Some Deals are Too Good to be True

Update 4/5/12:  It appears that Exotic Escapes has cancelled this deal and issued refunds to all buyers.

Several of the Vegas blogs and discussion groups have been discussing this deal  that was offered in the last few weeks on Living Social:

For $149 Sunday-Thursday or $289 Friday-Saturday, you get:

  • Room for 2 at the Plaza Hotel in downtown Las Vegas
  • Four live show tickets
  • $300 in slot play
  • One in-room massage
  • Daily $25 breakfast credit at Island Sushi and Grill 

This was offered by a company called Exotic Escapes Vacations, which seems to be a reseller/packager of hotel and timeshare resorts.  They seem to have an existing relationship with the Plaza; according to Exotic Escapes' own website for the deal, Exotic Escapes has an office on the third floor of the Plaza, although their headquarters seems to be in Florida.

According to the Plaza's Facebook Page, Exotic Escapes did not contact the Plaza before offering this deal on Living Social.

Much of the information in the offer is misrepresented or misleading:

" Feel like a high roller with $300 in slot play, or use four included tickets to see your choice of live shows. Acrobatics, theater, and eye-popping special effects are all box-office hits. Whatever you choose, you can look forward to one included 50-minute Swedish massage in your room."

$300 in Slot Play

The offer does not say that the $300 in slot play is not for slots or video poker at the Plaza.  According to posts on TripAdvisor and from what I have gathered reading the discussions and comments on the Plaza's Facebook page, it is for promotional slots at the Casino Royale, next to the Venetian, 4.1 miles away from the Plaza.  These promo slots apparently can be played for free to anyone who walks into the Casino Royale, and are not equivalent to regular slot machines.  

I've never played the Casino Royale promo slots, but I once joined the slot club at Hooters to try their offer of $200 promo slots, and it was a complete throwaway.  I played through the whole thing in about 2 minutes and walked away with nothing.

I think it's reasonable to infer that the play you are buying is at the casino you are staying at.  For this reason, I would consider the offer to be misleading.

Show Tickets

The offer does not specifically say which show the tickets are for, but the link points to the Plaza's Avant Garde show page.  However, this show apparently ran for only one weekend and then closed.  

According to posts on TripAdvisor and the Plaza's Facebook Page, the tickets are for shows for which there are free coupons in the tourist magazines, such as Nathan Burton, Mac King, etc.

Given that the offer links to a show on the Plaza's web page, I would consider the offer to be misleading.  I would also encourage the Plaza to clarify whether that show is going to reopen.  If not, it is probably a good idea to remove the show's web page.

I've also been offered the same shows in exchange for listening to a timeshare.  Since I know they are available in limited quantities at little or no cost, I declined the offer.  I don't necessarily believe it is the responsibility of the tour operator to offer only shows for which discounted tickets are not available, if they think that their customers will enjoy the shows and wouldn't otherwise see them.

Massage Services

Finally, the Plaza has no spa or massage services.  It is not clear where Exotic Escapes was going to find massage therapists to come there.  

The Facebook page has been saying that customers are being offered a $100 coupon instead.  I use frequently and encourage others to use it if they understand what it is, but this will not buy you dinner at a restaurant of your choice.  It probably has a value closer to $8 when accounting for's normal discounting policy.  My understanding is that it is a $100 off coupon if your dinner is $200 or more at's limited roster of restaurants.  (they also automatically add 18% tip before the discount.)   For the rest of us, I believe you can redeem this for ten $10-off coupons for bill totals of $20 or more.

$25 Daily Breakfast Credit

This seems to be articulated clearly, and I have not read that customers did not receive it.


My understanding is that Living Social is refunding in accordance with their 30-day no-questions-asked policy.  I've used living social several times without any problems, so I have no reason to believe they wouldn't honor the return policy.  However, it remains to be seen what will happen for those who bought it and are holding it to use it well after the 30 days.  I would hope that Living Social recognizes the misrepresentation in this offer and issues refunds to anyone that requests them.


This has been a marketing fiasco for the Plaza, a relatively small hotel (by current Las Vegas standards) that had really been trying to redeem itself in the last year.  The Plaza bought high-end furnishings out of the failed Fontainebleau project's liquidation.  I haven't been there since its renovation, but it has several new and interesting-sounding bars and restaurants, including the Swinger's Club, a piano bar / miniature golf course; a legitimate theater company; and Oscar's steakhouse, named for former mayor Oscar Goodman.  I've personally been rooting for the Plaza, since it was one of my favorite Las Vegas hangouts back in the 1990s.

The Plaza claims that Exotic Escapes never contacted them before this offer.  According to facebook posts from irate customers, Exotic Escapes continues to operate within the confines of the Plaza.  I don't know the exact relationship between the Plaza and Exotic Escapes, but I would like to see Plaza management sever any relationship as quickly as possible.

It's not clear what Exotic Escapes' intent was.  It's possible that the people who organized the deal did not recognize the low value of the components.  At any rate they clearly did not do their homework.  The ad copy was certainly misleading, if not outright deceptive, so I am loath to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I've contacted the Plaza and Exotic Escapes via Facebook to let them provide their point of view should they wish to do so.  If and when they do, I will post it here.

In short, this deal was too good to be true.  Actually, I have seen and exploited deals that are as good or better than this, but it's always a good idea to ask some important questions before buying into a deal:

  • Who is offering the deal?  
  • Have I ever bought anything from them before or do I have other reason to believe they are legitimate?
  • Is there any misleading text in the description that might mean something other than what it suggests?
  • What is the refund policy?
  • And most importantly, can I pay by credit card which gives me some ability to dispute the charge if I don't believe I got what I had understood to be paying for?

By the way:  This deal evoked memories of Bob Stupak, one of Las Vegas' great sheisters, almost lovably so, if that is possible.  He owned the Vegas World casino (now the Stratosphere) and filled it with customers who bought "VIP packages" of questionable value.  His casino also featured games with non-standard rules.  I recommend the biography of Bob Stupak by John Smith to anyone interested in Vegas characters, and hope someday that it gets made into a biopic movie.  There is also an interesting and entertaining essay by the original owner of the CheapoVegas web site.


  1. Good job of summarizing the entire scenario so far.

  2. I have not yet received response from the Plaza, Exotic Escapes, or Living Social. Plaza and Exotic Escapes clearly are overwhelmed and I expect it will take some time before they clear through the backlog of irate customers (which I am not).

    I should add that on March 26, the obviously beleaguered Exotic Escapes facebook representative posted on the EE Facebook Page (, "we did not have editorial discretion on the advert from Living Social. And we absolutely do care about our guests and customers."

    On March 27, there is an especially instructive Post from Michael Poland, who claimed that he considered buying the package but ultimately didn't before it closed.

    He notes that he asked several EE customer service representatives whether he could use the free slot play (FSP) at the Plaza. He noted that "every person I spoke with stated unequivicably [sic] the FSP was at The Plaza on Plaza machines".

    He also pointed out that most of the buyers of the deal likely were savvy users who recognized the value of FSP at the Plaza, which explains the high volume of buyers.

  3. You'd think groups like Exotic Escapes and the Plaza would be keenly aware of the hazards of groupon/livingsocial/other daily deal sites and how generating lots of interest can backfire. Add the impact of social media and how stories like this spread like wildfire, and I'd think they'd be more proactive about this.

    Thanks for detailing how it all went down - very interesting!

  4. I think they did not understand what they were advertising, and in particular did not understand the difference between full-value slot/VP play at the Plaza and the Casino Royale promo play. If the slot play were valid at teh Plaza, you could basically play a low-risk VP strategy and cash it out with an expected value of about $280 or so. A large number of sophisticated slot/VP players saw the value of the slot play and pounced on it, so they had many more subscribers than they expected.


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