When Barbara Smidt bought a Cyber Monday travel deal on FreshTrips for a five-star all-inclusive resort in Cancun, she thought she was getting a bargain.
She got more than she bargained for. And worse, she didn’t know she was in trouble until it was too late. Smidt contacted us on Feb. 7, two days before her trip was supposed to begin.
But first, let’s rewind the tape to see what happened in November. Smidt saw the FreshTrips promotion posted as a Cyber Monday deal through Travelzoo, one of America’s largest travel websites. She booked the trip, which included a 10-day all-inclusive stay at The Royal Sands resort in Cancun, plus airport transfers, and received a confirmation email from the company.
But it wasn’t a traditional confirmation email. Instead, it displayed the amount paid, the dates, and the number of guests. What it did not display was a confirmation number from the resort. And curiously, the email said that she wouldn’t receive a confirmation until 30 days prior to her departure date.
You probably won’t be surprised to know Smidt’s credit card was charged immediately for the full amount of the package. She booked and paid for airline tickets separately, directly with the airline, so she had committed to specific travel dates.
And she didn’t know anything was amiss — until Jan. 9, 30 days before her departure date, when the promised resort confirmation number never arrived.
What she did next is the natural response to any travel booking problem: she contacted the seller, FreshTrips. Tirelessly, in fact. And because Fresh Trips says it is a “travel technology” company, and not a travel agency, they aren’t staffed with phone representatives, and only take phone calls for a fee.
You know, in addition to the thousands of dollars customers have already paid.
The FreshTrips website smacks of a scam on a few levels. First, it says right in bold print: “OUR COMPANY IS VERY REAL and there’s no scam here!” Something about the all-caps vow of honesty written in purple font set on a backdrop of 1995 web design makes me feel like I’m visiting the blog of a 13-year-old girl — but rest assured, this business says it’s legit. Additionally, it name-drops Travelzoo all over the place, calling the travel giant its “partner” supporting their “mutual clients.”
Well, Smidt’s incessant emails to FreshTrips were met with vague reassurances of “just wait longer,” which understandably made her more nervous. She of course contacted the Royal Sands itself, which had no record of her planned stay. A TripAdvisor thread warning of the ongoing scam claim that customers who received confirmations were provided a physical resort address corresponding to a McDonald’s in Cancun’s Hotel Zone.
When Smidt contacted Travelzoo, surprisingly, she received emails written by its CEO Michael Stitt, who seemed to be in damage control mode. The emails addressed the debacle in vague terms, attempting to assure customers it would do everything it could to see that they were accommodated through another travel partner, Apple Vacations. Travelzoo was nevertheless trying to distance itself from the mess of a situation, which remains shrouded in mystery.