Charles Berger’s dreams of a future filled with fun family vacations prompted him to invest in the Palladium Travel Club. But now those dreams have turned to nightmares as he tries to sift through all the additional fees and blackout dates. Will he ever be able to enjoy his “investment”?
Travel clubs have gained popularity in recent years, but at the same time, they are gaining the same negative reputation as their sibling, the timeshare. The two have striking similarities and we have seen identical complaints about each: hidden fees, unavailability, previously unmentioned blackout dates and difficulty in exiting the program, among other issues.
Berger contacted us because he wanted our help in forcing the club to release him from his membership. He listed his damages at over $12,000, and he already had filed a complaint with his credit card company.
“I tried to book a room,” he says. “For example, I have attempted to use a free week but was told that my 4 year old is $70 a day. The certificates now have blackout dates that I cannot use.”
Additionally, He had signed up for a membership with a “suite” size room. But now he was told that he would need to be booked into a smaller room because of his children.
“None of this is in the contract. In addition, the ‘special rates’ provided are more than if I just went on a site to book. I have not used anything from this travel club yet,” he told us. Now he just wanted out of the program.
We can’t say that we blame him!
What a tangled mess! Berger had not been able to use his travel club membership even once, and the company appeared to be putting up vacation roadblocks at every turn.
So, what is a travel club?
It seems that many travel clubs follow a business model that is nearly identical to that of a timeshare. In fact, it may even be prudent to suggest that the travel club moniker was created because the timeshare name has become tarnished.
When is a timeshare not a timeshare? When you call it a travel club instead.
Travel clubs offer the buyer “member discounts” and “member perks” at resorts within the program’s network that supposedly are not available to nonmembers. However, the complaints that we see would indicate that these perks can be purchased by any paid customer regardless of their membership status.
Berger is not alone in his dissatisfaction with the reality of a travel club investment. A quick search on the internet will reveal an endless supply of timeshare and travel club tales of woe. In our own forums we often see complaints from travelers who wish to be released from a travel club obligation. We have even seen previous complaints about Berger’s particular travel club, Palladium.
So why do consumers continue to buy into these types of programs?
It appears, that for the most part, the high-pressure sales tactics of these companies work. They are designed to create a feeling of urgency and exclusivity for the prospective buyer. Time and again, we see complaints that begin with “I felt pressured” or “They told me I had to sign the deal immediately or it would become unavailable.” Under these conditions, a consumer often signs a contract without fully reading all its terms.
This is a mistake. A big one.
Would you buy a house or a car without reading all the terms? I assume that most people would not. An investment in a travel club often involves thousands of dollars and long-term commitments. Further complicating matters, these contracts are often governed by the laws of foreign countries, such as Mexico. This type of obligation should not be entered into lightly.
However, while vacationing in a beautiful resort, far away from the pressures of home and work, inhibitions are lowered. Perhaps under the influence of one (or two) piña coladas, it is hard to imagine that the managers in these hard-sell presentations may not have your best interest at heart.
Travel clubs and timeshares are designed to make a consumer feel that they have purchased something tangible, when the commodity often is quite vague. Frequently, once a buyer arrives home they begin to wonder what exactly they purchased, and buyer’s remorse sets in.
They may research online and discover that the “club” is not providing anything more to them then they could have booked on their own or with a travel agent — sans membership.
Unfortunately, we also don’t frequently see a positive resolution to requests for help concerning timeshares or travel clubs. So when we first read Berger’s complaint, we were not very hopeful.
In his case, though, we have good news. Before he even had the chance to send us a copy of his contract, Palladium directly responded to his complaint. He reports, “I just received a call from Palladium today and they stated that they would reimburse me — complete cancellation of the travel club membership and reimbursement of all payments paid.” He assured us that he will keep us updated if this reimbursement fails to materialize.
We recommend that if you are interested in a timeshare or travel club, make sure that you do your research before you arrive at your destination. It is never a good idea to make a snap judgment about something that will affect your life for years to come.
There are many schemes and scams associated with these types of programs and many have been proven to be outright frauds. It is imperative to check reviews and recommendations both online and in real life if you think a particular club is right for you.
Timeshares and travel clubs have their fans, but we know that these happy travelers are ones who have thoroughly researched their options and know exactly what they are purchasing. Remember, once you have signed a binding contract, there is very little that even the best consumer advocate can do for you. So know what you are committing to, before you sign your name on that dotted line.