Spring break scams
By Brian Hobbins
assistant viewpoint editor
It is that time of year when many students will return home to ask their parents a burning question: "Can you help me out with spring break?"
When my roommates and I asked our parents this question last year, a resounding "no" echoed across the Midwest.
Salvation to our escapist blues came in the form of an ad, hidden discreetly in The Observer. Student Express was promoting trips to exotic locales in Mexico at cut-rate prices including free trips for "campus representatives." It seemed too good to be true!
And it was.
The surprisingly low prices gave way to one of the biggest nickel-and-dime scams I have ever fallen into. Deposits, "meal plans" and "perk" packages put a slow suction on student bank accounts well before the ides of March began to blow. Number crunching let us figure out where that free trip was coming from: our own wallets.
However, as the winter snow drifts piled, the thought of the beaches and open-air bars acted as a salve to our financial wounds. Finally, the big day arrived. Students poured into Chicago's O'Hare airport by the hundreds for our 2 a.m. check-in Sunday morning.
A flight delay and a few hours later, there was another flight delay. Finally, we boarded our charter plane approximately 10 hours late. True, we would lose a whole day in Mexico, but at least we would be there in time to shower, change clothes and hit the bars, right?
Student Express had other plans; they decided to put the luggage for their trip to Jamaica on our plane to Mexico and vice versa. It was comically surreal to see my friends' luggage with Jamaica tags come in on the luggage rack. Surely Student Express would make everything alright by the time we would need our swimsuits for a Monday morning dip, right?
Our luggage was delivered to us on Wednesday, and not a moment too soon. The swimsuits we had to buy at "el mercado" were not proportioned for gringos altos and the sea water was shrinking them. Additionally, the few threads we had were getting a little gamy after three nights partying. Aside from lost luggage, a lost day and an errant reservation at the hotel it would seem nothing else could go wrong, right?
During our week stay in Cancun, the sinister Student Express never ceased to amaze me. Our meal plan provided us with $2 worth of food for, you guessed it $2. The open bar was a chaotic madhouse that yielded beer to the highest tipper. There was zero accountability anywhere in the organization and whenever a problem developed our fluent Mexican hosts quickly picked up the phrase, "no inglÚs."
The stressful week came to an end back at the airport. We rolled in at 2 p.m. for our pre-flight check-in. A delay and a few hours later, their was another delay. Sanity in the hot airport was limited. Rumors of a gate change and an overbooked plane gave way to a running of the bulls of sorts across the concourse. Fighting, sweating and swearing will be my last memories of Mexico and Student Express.
These memories I share with you not as a sob story, but as a warning. If a travel plan seems to good to be true, it probably is. My advice is pay the extra money and go the extra mile stateside to have a blast beachside.
All Inside Stories for Wednesday, November 17, 1999