hawaiiQuestion: We recently signed up for a membership with Global Personal Services (GPS), a company that offers travel concierge services and access to travel discounts. We paid $4,590 to join plus a $19.95 a month maintenance fee automatically collected from a checking account. We thought it was just the perfect time for us to enjoy our future plans traveling since I retired from work last year.

We were looking forward to our plan trips to Asia and Europe this year. In fact, the day after we became members I called and asked for a price quote vacation package to Hawaii in November. Our son lives in Honolulu.

Unfortunately, unforeseen things happened. My husband became very ill. He will undergo a heart procedure soon. Our plans suddenly came to a halt. With all these medical and hospital bills, we don’t know if we will be able to continue making payments to GPS. I’ve asked to cancel our account, but GPS will only “freeze” the account, which would allow us to continue paying for it later. Can you help us?

Dolly Hunter, Snohomish, Wash.

Answer: The terms of your agreement with GPS should have been included in the contract that you signed. I could not find any details about the GPS terms on its website, so it was impossible to independently verify any of the details of your agreement.

GPS appears to be a travel club that sells access to a travel agent and discounts as a club membership. I have three major problems with travel clubs: first, they’re pushed largely to retirees in a high-pressure environment. Second, most of the discounts they offer are widely available outside the club, and don’t justify the four- or five-figure pricetag. And finally, the ironclad contract makes it virtually impossible to get a refund and, sometimes, even to cancel.

When I asked about the specifics of your GPS sale, you told me it was sold in a high-pressure environment, and of course the reason you’re contacting me now is that you’re having trouble canceling. That’s reason enough for me to get involved.

It is possible that the GPS membership would have worked out for you had your husband remained healthy; I’m willing to give the company the benefit of the doubt. But I think the fact that you haven’t booked a trip through the company yet — even the short getaway to Honolulu that you were considering — says something about the discounts. The fact that they were making it difficult to cancel the contract also does not help them, but that’s certainly their prerogative.

My advice? Be very careful about attending any kind of presentation for a “club” that offers discounts or services. You should take the contract home and review it with your attorney before signing it, and if they don’t let you leave the presentation with the contract, run. No legitimate business stops customers from reviewing a contract.

I contacted GPS on your behalf. A representative responded quickly (a good sign) and said that she believed you had asked the company to suspend your contract, so that you could transfer it to a relative. GPS agreed to cancel your contract “in sympathy” of your situation and it will not deduct any more money from your account.

Do travel clubs make it too difficult to cancel their contracts?

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