If you live near any large city, you are probably within driving distance of multiple places to skydive. The good thing about that - you have options! The bad thing - lots of competition means some of those companies may resort to rather shady sales tactics to capture your dollars.
Some of the tandem skydiving marketing gimmicks out there are outright rip-offs. They take advantage of the typical first-time skydiver’s lack of knowledge about the sport.
We think that sucks, and we want to share some of the worst “offers” we have seen. Please don’t fall for them. One of our core beliefs at Chicagoland Skydiving Center is that your first skydive should be an amazing experience, and you are a valued guest. Your skydiving provider owes you respect, and you shouldn't have to settle for less. We wish the whole industry shared this point of view.
Unfortunately, everything on this list is currently in practice in the United States.
Here are five of the worst skydiving "deals" in the country...
NUMBER 5: CONVENIENTLY LEAVING OUT YOUR ALTITUDE
How it’s marketed: Skydiving service listed simply as “tandem skydive” with no reference to the altitude you will be jumping from.
Why it’s shady: You're most likely being sold less freefall for the same amount - or more - than other skydiving centers. Or, it's a daily deal promotion offering a “special deal off retail” but you are not going to receive the same retail product.
How it happens: This is most common when skydiving centers run a deeply discounted deal, like a Groupon, for a large percentage off regular retail value.
The offending dropzone purposely does not specify jump altitude in the deal and hopes you won’t notice. This allows them to give you less when you arrive, in order to save money on fuel to save a bit of the margin given up on the deal price.
Normally they may jump from an altitude like 13,500 feet, but when you go to redeem your coupon, you get out of the plane around 9,000 feet. That difference equates to about half the freefall time you would normally get. Seriously, half!
What's even worse, some of these dropzones will publish an altitude in the deal, and still have you exit the plane lower than promised.
And they get away with it pretty easily, by simply not giving you a working altimeter to wear on your skydive. If you can’t see your altitude, you won’t know you’ve been shorted.
What to do: Contact the company directly before your purchase, and get clarification on what altitude you will be jumping from if you buy the deal. Ask if that is the normal jump altitude for full price customers. Compare prices and altitudes to other companies in your region - you are pretty likely to find it’s not such a great deal after all.
NUMBER 4: WEATHER INSURANCE
How it’s marketed: Purchase add-on weather insurance in case of bad weather the day of your jump.
Why it’s shady: This is one of the poorest excuses for customer service we have ever seen. No one can control the weather, and making you pay for that risk is taking advantage of first-time jumpers not knowing what to expect.
How it happens: The offending dropzone will charge you an additional fee on top of the jump price, and tell you that is required to be paid in order to re-schedule your appointment if it rains, is too cloudy, or too windy on jump day.
What they don't want you to know, is that short weather holds are common in the skydiving business. Good skydiving dropzones will communicate while you wait, and keep you updated on anticipated jump time. Great dropzones will also calculate how much more daylight is left, and go ahead and reschedule you if you’re not going to be able to jump that day based on your place in line. The best dropzones will do all this, plus contact you ahead of time, before you even leave home if the forecast indicates you won’t be able to skydive that day.
What to do: Find out the dropzone’s appointment change/weather policy ahead of time. If they want to make you pay for something no one can control, find another place to jump. There are plenty of skydiving operations that will reschedule you at no charge.
NUMBER 3: GEAR UPGRADES
How it’s marketed: Discounted tandem skydive price with “gear not included” in fine print.
It may also look like: Asking you if you want to upgrade to better equipment when you check in for your appointment.
Why it’s shady: Why would anyone buy a tandem skydive experience, without assuming the equipment needed to do it will be included? On top of that, if a skydiving company is willing to take some customers for jumps with their “best gear” and other customers with their “OK gear” - you should really question what other safety corners the business may be cutting.
How it happens: The offending dropzone wants to be able to list the lowest price online, so they have to find a way to get you to pay more once you arrive. In many cases, the up-charge adds up to nearly retail price anyway. So much for that great deal.
The dropzone may also be playing on the natural fear associated with making a first skydive. Of course everyone wants to jump out of a perfectly good airplane with the best equipment possible. Every rig on the rack should be properly maintained by an FAA-approved rigger.
If there is any question as to the airworthiness of the gear, it should not be jumped. Period. Making you pay to get something better is a scam.
What to do: Ask for the complete price for everything you will need before you pay for your jump. Every tandem skydive purchase should include the following: rig (main parachute, reserve parachute, automatic activation device, instructor harness and student harness); goggles to wear in freefall; an altimeter for both the instructor and the student; and a jumpsuit with gloves if it’s cold on the ground.
NUMBER 2: PRIORITY SEATING OR EXIT
How it’s marketed: Premium seat or exit order priority.
Why it’s shady: If a skydiving plane flies a load, then everyone is going to get out. The plane isn’t coming back down until it is empty.
How it happens: Offending dropzones are using terminology associated with commercial airlines, because customers are generally familiar with what they mean. On a commercial airline, more expensive fares include perks like legroom, food, drink service, priority boarding, etc. But in the skydiving world, none of that exists.
Jump aircraft are designed very simply: to give you a spot to sit, a seatbelt to wear, and have the least amount of obstacles between you and the door. That’s it. You will be spending 10-20 minutes in this plane, so any added cost to be in it is simply not worth it.
What to do: We can’t think of a single jump aircraft flying today where any spot to put your butt is worth more than any other. Don’t fall for this one. Just do your homework on the dropzone's approach to aircraft maintenance and safety record.
NUMBER 1: EXTREME FASTEST FREEFALL
How it’s marketed: Last-minute upgrade to the fastest freefall possible.
Why it’s shady: This tactic quite literally convinces you to pay more to get less. It plays on the emotions of customers who say they are “psyched, extreme, like speed, etc.” It’s offered more often to men than women, to build up the ego.
How it happens: When you are being geared up for your tandem skydive, your instructor offers you a special upgrade to freefall as fast as possible so you’ll have to deploy the parachute sooner than other jumpers. You will be told it’s the most extreme way to skydive - more daring than the “standard” jump.
If you agree to it, you will leave the plane at 7,500 feet (the lowest legal altitude to exit on a tandem jump). After approximately 10-15 seconds of freefall, you will have to deploy the parachute. Everyone who chose the standard jump altitude will get to enjoy closer to 60+ seconds of freefall before having to deploy.
The dropzone just saved a bunch of money on fuel, and profited more on your purchase.
Sometimes you will be told you can pay for this upgrade after you land. This dropzone is purely taking advantage of you not really understanding what you’re buying. They are hoping you'll hand over the money before you talk to others and realize what happened. Even worse, sometimes the instructor will just take cash while you’re gearing up and “take care of everything for you.” That money goes right into their own pocket. Congratulations, you just generously tipped your instructor to do less work.
What to do: Find out all the options and extras available before you pay for your jump. Decide what you want, and stick with the best value for you. Anything sold to you after you’ve paid the first time is most likely not worth the cost.
YOU'VE GOT THE INSIDE INFO NOW. PLEASE USE IT!
Every business is trying to find creative ways to make more money. But resorting to deceitful gimmicks shouldn’t be the answer. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you feel like you’re getting a high pressure sales pitch, you probably are.
See something else out there that seems shady? It may be. Whether you are shopping for skydiving in the Chicagoland region or elsewhere, please let us be a helpful resource for you. If you need assistance understanding some sort of special skydiving promotion, please contact us and we would be happy to help you figure out if it’s a good deal.
The only thing in it for us is knowing a first time skydiver won’t be taken advantage of, and be cheated out of what could otherwise be an incredible, properly valued experience.
Share this with a friend thinking about skydiving. Friends don't let friends get scammed!