Lynn Coddington of Burlington, Vt., had never heard of Visa's Magic Moments contest before a Visa representative called her to say she was a winner.
"It was a total surprise," said Ms. Coddington, an owner of a Mail Boxes Etc. franchise, who got a $1,000 break on her son's tuition, which the University of Vermont charges monthly to her Visa card.
Visa worked hard to push its Magic Moments holiday promotion-in which a random second was chosen each day of November and December, and Visa picked up the tab for all transactions it processed during that second on each day-but it is not clear how many consumers, like Ms. Coddington, had been unaware of the contest.
Even consumers who knew about the promotion had no way of knowing which second was chosen, or when the transactions they made would be processed.
Visa said it was pleased with the results of Magic Moments. There were 16,826 winners of a total of $1.2 million in rebates.
Visa spokesman Lorne M. Fisher said more member banks signed up for Magic Moments than for any other promotion in the last five years.
Participation by banks was more than double that for Visa's 1997 holiday promotion, "Read Me a Story." And participating banks sent out 97.7 million statement stuffers about the campaign, almost double the number for the holiday promo, Visa said.
Preliminary figures showed a sales volume increase of about 17% during the contest-which ran during the peak holiday shopping months-and an overall transaction volume increase of 19%.
"We believe (Magic Moments) played a role in that, but in addition we had a great deal of e-commerce initiatives and the holiday season itself," Mr. Fisher said.
Fifty merchants that Visa describes as "key" displayed ads for Magic Moments-either in their stores or on Web banners-in 36,008 locations.
Visa's Magic Moments Web site got more than 127,500 hits, the company said. Many people won while shopping on-line or paying monthly fees for their on-line service providers, according to Visa. Among the Web sites that produced winners were: America Online, eToys, Amazon.com, eBay, CD Now, Dell.com, Lands End, Earthlink, and Mindspring.
Ms. Coddington said she "didn't even have to do anything" to win because her son's tuition is billed automatically to her card.
The largest purchase Visa paid for through Magic Moments was a $5,998.81 auto repair bill in Virginia. The smallest purchase charged during a selected second was a 32-cent stamp.
One man won a computer system he had purchased on-line; another won a diamond ring he had bought for his wife for their 30th anniversary. One woman won a cruise for two to the Bahamas, and another won a round of golf for four people at a country club.
Of the 5,270,400 seconds that elapsed during the contest, the one selected on Dec. 8 proved to have the heaviest transaction volume. For that day, Visa refunded 1,332 purchases.