Is this a scam? Maybe I can’t imagine that vacation after all

Wayne is so embarrassed by his decision to pay $2,300 for a travel club that he asked me not to use his full name. I understand his reluctance. He’s a well-educated professional who was just looking for a way to save money when he traveled, and he feels scammed.

The company that took his money is called Imagine That Vacation and I will not link to its site for reasons you’ll understand in a moment.

Here’s what happened: A few weeks ago, he attended a 90-minute presentation after getting a card in the mail that offered him a free cruise.

They promised tremendous discounts on condos, first-class hotels, cruises and all-inclusive resorts. They promised most would be up to 65 percent off the retail price.

We had been to these types of presentations in the past and never signed up for anything because they were for either time-shares or condo-only vacations. When we travel, we always stay at all-inclusive resorts, so we joined this club.

We foolishly gave Imagine That Vacation $2,300 and signed a contract for their “travel services” without having access to their website to see the actual prices for the vacations.

The timing is important. The transaction took place in Maryland, and state law has a three-day cooling off period, which would have allowed Wayne to get his money back. But it took a week to get him “into the system” according to an Imagine That Vacation representative.

Once we were given access to their system, we found that the prices of their all-inclusive vacations were not at the tremendous discounts we were promised in the presentation. In some cases, Orbitz and Travelocity prices were less.

Also, the first-class hotel discounts we compared were only 10 percent off the retail price (not the 65 percent they promised). In some cases, our AARP discount was the same.

Wayne called Imagine That Vacation the next day and spoke with a representative named Marcus, who had given the presentation.

“We told Marcus of our disappointment in the prices and asked if we could get our money back,” he says. “After several phone calls back and forth, stalling us with excuses galore, Marcus said we could not get our money back.”

Wayne and his wife are deeply disappointed.

“We thought by making this $2,300 investment we would be able to afford to travel again with the huge discounts we would receive from Imagine That Vacation,” he says.

He wonders — is Imagine That Vacation a scam?

In order to find out, I called the company to speak with a representative. Imagine That Vacation lists an 800-number on its site. I was connected with someone who said there was no supervisor with whom I could speak, and that this was just the reservations number. I asked for an address or an email contact, and she said she didn’t have one.

So I tracked down an email address and sent Imagine That Vacation a brief, polite message with Wayne’s question. That was two weeks ago.

Hiding behind a reservations center and making it difficult to contact you — that’s not the way a legitimate business behaves.

I have always contended that a vast majority of travel clubs are scams, and this case doesn’t make me change my mind.

But is Imagine That Vacation illegal, strictly speaking? Well, I reviewed Wayne’s contract, and it looks like Imagine That Vacation paid its lawyers well. The paperwork doesn’t actually promise any discounts, only unspecified travel services. Very clever.

I suggested Wayne dispute the charges on his credit card. He’s been issued a provisional credit.

Update (1/5/12): Wayne’s dispute has been decided. He writes:

We received a letter from Discover on Tuesday with the “rebuttal” from Imagine That Vacation. Basically, they said, and Discover agreed, that there was no promise of the amount of the discounts in the contract we signed. Discover reversed the credit, and the $2,300 charge is back on our account now.

Even though the name of the company in the contract is “Imagine That Vacation”, the rebuttal letter came from a company named “Endless Travel”. I called Sherri Wolff on Tuesday evening (the administrator who wrote the rebuttal letter to Discover). I tried to appeal to her sense of decency, but she stood her ground. Sherri said it doesn’t matter what we were promised in the sales presentation, we signed the contract. If we wanted to cancel, we should have done it within the allotted 3-day cancellation period (the fact that we did not have access to their website to see the discounts for 7 days does not matter.)

When we attended the sales presentation, we were told Imagine That Vacation had an A+ rating by the Better Business Bureau. I tried again today to find the company on the BBB website and there is no listing for either “Imagine That Vacation” or “Endless Travel”. I thought I would make a complaint against them. It’s almost as if this company doesn’t really exist (except to take our money).

(Photo Doug 88/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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