Monday, September 14, 2015

A Picture is Worth 1000...

You can't win if you don't play. That's the standard Lottery slogan. 

But for some sweepstakes, the only cost to play is the time it takes to enter and maybe of accepting a few extra promotional e-mails, usually for a product or service you enjoy anyway.

We visited beautiful, misty Grand Marais, Minnesota for some family time on July 26th of this year (2015). A friendly fellow tourist took this snapshot of us backed by Lake Superior near Artist's Point using my camera. It's not an isolated place, but in today's selfie-obsessed age, it's rare any more for a stranger to offer to handle your camera without a request. Several days later, while surfing through TripAdvisor as she researched possible excursions for my Father-Son European adventure, my wife Stacey entered the My TripAdvisor Discovery Competition on a whim with this image, just before the closing date of the contest, titling it "Family Fun in Grand Marais." TripAdvisor is our go-to place for reviews of hotels and attractions.

Fast-forward more than two weeks. I was in Rome with my son, having just reviewed five floors of Ancient Roman statuary at the Musei Capitolini, where I received this e-mail from Stacey:
"I may have won a contest. Making sure it's legit. The guy in the email checks out. I haven't spoken to him yet. I had entered a picture from our Grand Marais trip and titled it Family fun in Grand Marais and that was referenced. xo"
Only by rare chance did my wife check her junk e-mail folder this August 16th, where she found a message from TripAdvisor's sweepstakes administrator, Cohen-Friedberg Associates, LLC, that had inadvertently gone there. Murphy's law dictates that phishing scams from "Microsoft" regarding our e-mail accounts make it through the firewall on a near daily basis, while a message we might actually want went to junk. It was the last day the grand prize could be claimed! After validating the promotion administrator's credentials through an Internet search and via LinkedIn, Stacey phoned the administrator's representative just in time, and we were given 24 hours to get affidavits of eligibility and tax forms notarized.

Then, with the help of a TripAdvisor-approved, patient travel agent, Stacey only needed to plan the particulars of our paid flights and accommodation towards a trip for two, including a family member, to anywhere in the United States before next spring. Today we can look forward to eight days in the paradise of Maui, Hawaii, which we Minnesotans will spend during the cold of February, 2016 to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary in advance. TripAdvisor is sure to get some more hotel or restaurant reviews, and I'm certain to generate a few more blog entries.

Everyone has received that phone call message that "You've won a free cruise," followed by the catch, an obligation to visit several time-shares. Beware any unsolicited "prizes" that sound too good to be true. This was for real; the prize-winner notice referenced our sweepstakes entry with a legitimate, popular web service, and no purchase was necessary. A legitimate contest will have no strings attached.

Every chance outcome in your life requires some fortuitous juxtaposition of random events, like the alignment of holes between slices of Swiss cheese. But attentive vigilance helps stack the odds in your favor. How many similar, legitimate contests – found inside candy wrappers or cereal boxes, on fast-food packaging or website promotions – go unclaimed, only to be awarded the next alert contestant? You have to play, and pay attention, in order to win.

This may be O'ahu (Kualoa Beach Park), but we can expect similarly breathtaking tropical scenery on Maui.