We’ve talked about vacation club scams in the past — and I’m on record as saying I’ve never run across a legitimate travel club — but what happens to the folks who plunk down thousands of dollars for a membership?
Well, meet Cheryl and Don Harvey, who were vacationing in Branson, Mo., with friends last March when they were approached by a salesman for a company called Travel To Go.
“We were asked if we wanted a way to travel cheaper,” says Cheryl Harvey. “In return for listening to this information, we would be given dinner out and maybe some theater tickets. We agreed to go the next morning.”
Theater is exactly what they got. In the sales meeting, the couple heard a brief but compelling sales pitch. I’ll hand the mike to Harvey to explain.
You buy a membership for over $3,000, which will entitle you hotels and weekly vacations at a very discounted rate.
After some deliberation the sales person also offered a free cruise, and discounted airfare package if we were to purchase the vacation membership.
We were also told we could add our grown children’s names and any family members or friends to this list so they could benefit as well, with cheaper travel.
They insisted we pay for the full package that day with offering to take a credit card. We purchased the program.
So the Harveys paid $3,000 for their club membership. And here’s what happened next.
Upon trying to use their “hot weeks” — the so-called “discounted” travel weeks — we realized that you can go on the Internet and get the same deals without any costly membership.
The so-called ‘free’ cruise ended up costing us extra money to hold it and extra money for port fees. Also, it was a inside cabin in a not very desirable part of the ship. We were told that we probably would not get to travel with our friends.
The cruise came with many restrictions, including giving 90 days notice as to when we could go and dates that are blacked out. We are finally scheduled to take the cruise in a month, during hurricane season. The airfare voucher didn’t save us any money.
In other words, the Harveys are disappointed — very disappointed — at their $3,000 membership.
Now, Travel To Go wants Harvey to renew his membership for $200, which is just a fraction of the $3,000 he and his wife paid.
“Is there any recourse for scams like this?” she asked me. “We understand they are still selling these vacation packages in Branson and probably other cities.”
I don’t think renewing your membership is a good idea, I told her. Given their disappointing experience and all the strings that came attached to their offer, I think another year would yield similar results. Plus, Harvey believes Travel To Go is a “scam” — and who wants to do business with someone they believe is a scammer?
Travel To Go, for its part, sees itself as not only offering a legitimate product, but also being an outstanding corporate citizen. It claims to have an A+ rating with the BBB and to be active with charities, such as a fundraiser for breast cancer survivors. However, it is vague about its product, and it is not difficult to find other customers with complaints that are similar to Harvey’s. (You’ll pardon me if I don’t link to its site from this post.)
Emails sent to Travel To Go asking for comment on Harvey’s case were not returned.
But is Travel To GoTravel To Go To Go a scam? It did offer the Harveys something for their money. Worth $3,000? Probably not. Sold under suspicious circumstances? Probably. But that doesn’t necessarily make it a scam.
Or does it?
I have a stricter definition of “scam.” If Travel To Go had taken their $3,000 and given them nothing for it, then that would be scammier. But in some respects, that’s exactly what the Harveys are saying — that they could have saved the $3,000 and gotten the exact same thing.
So which is it?