Editor’s Note: Have you ever looked at a contest entry and said “No one ever wins those” and tossed it aside? Today’s blog is from Angela Wilson, someone I admire for entering and winning sweepstakes. Here is her story.
My husband and I really enjoy traveling to new places together. Unfortunately, we don’t always have the budget to travel as much as we would like. We have been lucky and persistent enough over the past few years however to travel for free, or nearly free by winning travel related sweepstakes. With the help of sweepstakes wins and help from our travel agent Tracy at Travel On A Dream, 2012 was The Year of Travel for our household.
Many people are very skeptical about sweepstakes and promotions they see on the Internet, and with good reason. There are a lot of scams out there and you have to be careful and use a bit of common sense when entering, but there are also THOUSANDS of legitimate sweepstakes and promotions available every year from some great companies. We started out our year in March by traveling to Orlando on a trip sponsored by Oreo and Kraft Foods. Oreo sent my husband and me and our two guests to the Hard Rock Hotel. We spent 3 days on the Club Level and we were given a cash stipend that covered our tickets to finally get to check out The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The highlight and purpose of the trip, however was one of the coolest events ever. We were given the opportunity along with two other families to play basketball with Shaquille O’Neal. It was a great experience for all of us, and we found out Shaq is now a fan of ToAD too! I entered online every day for about 3 weeks for this one. This prize also came with a basketball autographed by Shaquille. We donated it to a fundraiser for a Cystic Fibrosis organization in our area so others got to enjoy our winnings as well.
Very shortly after that trip, we received a cash prize from True Car. I mailed in one entry for this sweepstakes! We decided to use the funds for travel for the rest of the year. We were booked on the ToAD Fantasy Cruise for October 2012 and we used the cash prize to pay off our balance, purchase airline tickets for that trip, and upgrade our pre-cruise stay from Pop Century to The Beach Club. Next we traveled to Las Vegas for a long weekend in April courtesy of Southwest Airlines’ Spirit Magazine. We had never been to Vegas before, so this was quite an adventure for us. This prize included airfare, 2 nights at New York, New York resort and casino, tickets to Cirque du Solei’s “Zumanity” and dinner at one of the hotel restaurants.
In May, we traveled to Sanibel Island in Florida. We had won a 3 night stay at a hotel there, but airfare was not included. I was holding on to a voucher for 1 free airline ticket that I had won from a previous contest the year before, so we used that and purchased the second ticket with funds from our earlier cash win. Travel On A Dream helped us book a rental car at a great price, and we had a great time enjoying the beach and the wildlife there.
Over Memorial Day weekend, it was back to Vegas courtesy of Bud Light. This time I was able to treat my sister to a trip since she hadn’t had a vacation in nearly 15 years. Bud Light was a great sponsor—we again stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel, enjoyed free Bud Light all weekend and got to enjoy a UFC Fight at the MGM Grand. This is not something I would have probably chosen to do, but it was another fun adventure
In June, we won tickets to a NASCAR race in Michigan. Again, this was an event I wouldn’t have normally paid to attend, but it was a fun adventure, even if we did get a little wet in the rain.
In August, we won season’s tickets to the NFL team of our choice, again compliments of Bud Light. We made the difficult choice to sell our tickets to a fan and use the funds toward our ToaD cruise. Later that month we also won a trip to Frankenmuth, Michigan which we will be exploring this spring.
We are booked for another cruise in 2014 and it’s our goal to pay for it entirely with winnings from sweepstakes. Not all wins are large cash sums or trips—sometimes we win a $25 gift card, and we immediately have Tracy apply it to our balance due. It may not seem like a lot, but every little bit counts and it’s fun to watch that balance drop.
Sadly, there is no free lunch. The IRS says that the value of all prizes must be claimed as income at tax time. This is going to require some creative budgeting for us this year, but the tax cost is far less than what we would have paid out-of-pocket to go on all these fabulous trips and experiences.
Interested in trying it out? Here are a few tips to get you started:
- You WILL get junk mail. It’s a fact of life in sweepstaking. Consider a dedicated email account for entering so you don’t miss any important emails.
- Read the Rules. Don’t disqualify yourself by entering more than once if the rules say only one entry. If you can enter daily DO!
- Do not pay to accept a prize. Real sweepstakes don’t require this.
- Read the Rules again!
- Enter! You can’t win if you’re not in!