There’s no such thing as a free lunch — or in Mark Spurgeon’s case, a free cruise.
Spurgeon fell for a notorious timeshare sales pitch: In exchange for attending a sales presentation by Sunny Palms International, a brand of the Villa Group timeshare company, Spurgeon was promised a free eight-day cruise.
His story stands as another warning to beware of this sales ploy — and to research the company making the pitch before sitting through the sales presentation. Had Spurgeon done so, he might have saved himself $1,391.
Spurgeon decided to travel to Mexico for five days to attend the sales presentation, which lasted three hours. When he returned home, he filled out and sent the paperwork to claim a certificate for the cruise from Sunny Palms International. He received the following response:
We have added your name to the cruise certificate waiting list today and this will be sent out to you in due course. The certificates are sent out on a monthly basis and can be 2 – 3 months behind. Please be patient.
But after three months, Spurgeon had not received the certificate.
Spurgeon called Sunny Palms’ customer service again, and was told that it would now take the company four to six months to issue the certificate. At that point, Spurgeon contacted our advocates for assistance. He wants either the cruise certificate or $1,000 of the cost of his trip back.
I now believe that Sunny Palms International is a front for The Villa Group out of San Diego … which operates a number of timeshare properties in Mexico.
The Sunny Palms International people call you and entice you to come to Mexico for five days and four nights at one of their properties where you go through a timeshare presentation. The reason you take their bait is that you think you are getting two vacations for the price of one since your bonus, once you complete the Mexico trip, is a one-week cruise certificate that [is] good for anywhere with any cruise line.
I further believe that Sunny Palms International was a new front at the time of their call to me, as I did some online research on the company, including The Villa Group, and saw either no or very few complaints. In fact, TripAdvisor had the resort in Mexico rated 4+ stars; this is why I did the deal.
Now, when you go online, you see a ton of complaints, and The Villa Group is rated an F by the BBB [Better Business Bureau].
But we think the cost of his trip to Mexico is sunk.
We don’t have executive contacts for Sunny Palms International or The Villa Group in our database. Sunny Palms’ website contact page lists a toll-free number, an email address for customer service, and a fax number. The Villa Group’s website contact page lists a number of resorts and contact information for their general managers, but there is no mention of Sunny Palms International anywhere on its site.
The internet contains a large number of complaints about both companies, as Spurgeon mentioned. We wish — and presumably so does Spurgeon — that he had researched Sunny Palms International and The Villa Group before booking his trip to Mexico, because he might have decided that the trip was not worth booking. The email he received advising him to “be patient” was a bright red flag that it was very unlikely that he was ever going to receive the certificate.
Our advocates reached out to Sunny Palms International, but have received no response. We can only agree with Spurgeon that the company is a scam and warn our readers not to fall for it. The best way to take a cruise vacation is to pay for it without sitting through a worthless timeshare presentation.
Update: Spurgeon has notified us that he has received his cruise certificate from Sunny Palms International.