Fraudulent Travel Clubs / Deceptive Vacation Packages / Holiday Timeshare Traps
Be aware that when you place your business card or name into a
drawing for a free vacation, you may be added to a telemarketing
call list. Telemarketers know that wishful thinkers are susceptible
to their offers. Also know that your personal information, should
you enter it, may be collected by unscrupulous operators via the
Internet when you are visiting bogus travel-related sites seeking
unbelievable deals on trips or airfare.
Fly By Night Operations
You get a notice that you have won a super travel bargain. All
you have to do is make a deposit with your credit card and select
your preferred travel dates. The trouble is you may never actually
get your "bargain" trip because the travel proves to
be a complete fabrication, your reservations may not be confirmed
or because you must comply with so many hard-to-meet, hidden or
Fraudulent telemarketers purporting to be travel agencies can
offer substantial travel packages at comparatively low cost because
they know they will never have to come good on their promises.
The use of travel as a commodity makes the long-distance nature
of the transaction plausible but also makes getting a refund next
Additional Costs and Upgrades
Several companies overstate the amenities included, hide extra
charges in "all-inclusive" packages, or charge you for
products and services you never received. Free vacations often
become assertively pitched "discount" packages, where
you have to pay an excessively high price for some uncovered part
- like hotel or airfare, or inflated charges for a "required" second
person. So, your airfare may be free, but your anticipated $50
hotel room costs you $350. Perhaps a "handling fee" or "membership
fee", anywhere from $50 to hundreds of dollars, is required
Some telemarketers say you've won —or been specially selected —for
a trip then "bait and switch" you into spending additional
money for "upgraded" hotel or other accommodations. You
get a free or low-cost trip, but the room is cramped and grimy,
the food terrible or nonexistent. The promoter then magically finds
an upgrade at an outrageous price.
In addition, many offers require you to pay upgrade costs to receive
the actual destinations, cruises, or dates you were promised. Some
may require you to pay more for port charges, hotel taxes, or service
fees but not bill your card until after you return.
They promise you a bargain-priced vacation. However, when you
add up all the fees and extras, you wind up paying more for the "bargain" than for a conventional travel package. The total cost may run two to
three times more than what you'd expect to pay, or what you were
led to believe. They may also fail to inform you of their "no
refund" policy or misrepresent it over the phone.
Timeshare Sales Trap
You take the bait and fly to Florida. When you try to pick up
the vouchers for the rest of your trip, you find yourself trapped
at a lengthy spiel on timeshares. You may also find out once you
reach the final destination you are required to once again spend
part of your vacation trapped listening to a lengthy and high pressure
sales pitch for timeshare accommodations during your "vacation."
For more info on Timeshare
Every year at spring break many students, who signed up and paid
for vacation packages, are disappointed when no plane is available
for the return flight. When they examine the conditions of their
contracts, they find, in small print, a clause that says the travel
agency had the right to postpone the departure flight by as many
as three days without any advance notice.
These students are left stranded in airports far from home, with
no provisions for food or overnight lodging, just so the travel
agency can save money, flying fewer of them during the off-peak
days, once the break is over.
A lot of college students use use charters for spring break but
these flights are not covered by the same laws as commercial airlines
(usually charters can be canceled for any reason by the operator
up until 10 days before the trip). Charter flights can also raise
prices before the trip as well but you can cancel if they increase
the package price by more than 10%.
Cruise Line Cancellations
Some travelers reserve a specific cruising date, sometimes a full
year or year and a half in advance. Then, shortly before the cruise,
they are told that that particular cruise has been rescheduled.
They are told that they can go on another one, on certain dates,
which may not fit their work schedule. Most contracts say that
a cruise line can cancel at any time, for basically any reason.
Boat Ride to Hell
Telemarketers can initiate contact with you in several ways:
||they may send direct mail to you
stating you will receive a "fantasy cruise holiday" vacation
including a "luxury" cruise, then direct you to call
an 800 number; and
||they also send unsolicited faxes
to your business notifying "all staff" that the "wholesale
travel department" has only a few Bahamas cruise packages
remaining at a special corporate rate and that you should call
immediately if you are interested in purchasing one;
||they send electronic certificates
to your e-mail address congratulating you on "winning" a
fabulous vacation for a very attractive price. Some say you
have been "specially selected" (only people with
e-mail qualify) for this opportunity.
As mentioned, leads are also gathered at local fairs and trade
shows by "lead generators." Booths are decorated with
banners or signs inviting people to "register" for a
vacation. You register thinking you are entering a draw to win
Regardless of the method of contact, you are led to believe you
are part of a select group of people specially chosen to receive
this vacation package.
Once they have you on the line, they describe an exciting vacation
in Florida and a "luxury cruise" to the Bahamas. They
state that the vacation is worth a significant amount, sometimes
as much as $2,500, but that you will pay a much smaller amount
to receive it, typically $398, $498, or $598.
They urge you to immediately "secure" or "register" the
vacation with a major credit card. They also say that the
payment covers the cost of your accommodations in both Florida
and the Bahamas, as well as the Bahamas "cruise." They
inform you that you must purchase the vacation immediately.
If you request time to think over the offer, or receive it in
writing, they respond with canned rebuttals such as "this
is a limited promotion based on availability" or , "each
confirmation number can only be activated once, so you cannot call
back and reactivate your number" or "by the time
you receive something in the mail, the limited number of vacations
will be gone." In fact, there is no limit to the number
of such vacations for sale.
So you give your credit card number to the convincing operator.
Once that is obtained, they say you will be switched over to a "supervisor." In
actuality, the call is transferred to the "verification" department
at their headquarters, where a third person comes on to the line
to confirm details of the sale.
Unlike the sales portion of the call, the "verification" is
tape recorded. During the verification, they ask for your credit
card number again, quickly review the details of the vacation package
and, in some but not all instances, tell you for the first time
that you will have to pay additional charges for "port service
reservation processing fees" and that the vacation package
is "non-refundable." These disclosures occur only after
you have provided a credit card number which will be charged within
minutes of your hanging up.
In the travel certificate industry, the amount you are initially
charged during the sales call is known as the "front end" fee. This
is because you do not receive a vacation for the money initially
charged to your credit card, nor does that front end fee pay for
In fact, most, if not all of the front end fee pays the owners
and their telemarketers for their sales efforts. For your initial
$398, $498, or $598, you receive nothing more than a package containing
a short video, some advertisements and a "reservation request
voucher" for the Bahamas cruise and the Florida vacation.
When you receive the vacation package you discover that you will
have to pay more to take the vacation you thought you had already
paid for. You find you have actually just paid for the "option" to
purchase a vacation and also realize that you did not win a thing.
The required additional payment, or the "back end" fee,
is at least $198 to $316. They state that the back end fee is for "port
reservation processing fees." In fact, the back end fee pays
for most, if not all, of your "cruise" to the Bahamas
and your vacation accommodations.
Should you call and attempt to cancel your vacation it is flatly
stated that they have a "no refund" policy and that you
cannot cancel your initial purchase. If you read the fine print
on the back of the reservation vouchers that are included in their
vacation packages, you will discover that they actually do have
a return policy within a specified number of days, depending on
the state in which you live.
If you return the vacation package, even following the instructions
on the back of the reservation voucher, you inevitably receive
your package back, often several times, until you either give up
or call a law enforcement agency, the Better Business Bureau, your
credit card company or a private attorney.
People who seek third party assistance generally receive a refund.
Those who do not are generally stuck paying for the misrepresented
Should you be one of those relatively few people who decide to
pay the extra "back end" fee to take the vacation you
will find that the vacation is not the "fantasy cruise holiday" you
were promised but a five to six hour ferry ride to the Bahamas
The cruise ship you're booked on may look more like a tug boat.
The hotel accommodations they provide are shabby, and if you wish
to stay at the better-known hotels and resorts referred to in the
solicitations and brochures, you must pay yet more undisclosed "upgrade" fees; otherwise you must endure the substandard accommodations provided.
Never Never Land
You receive in the mail an "Executory Writ of Authorization" which
certifies that you will receive a "World-class
Florida / Caribbean Vacation Package . . . including all accommodations
and two Round-trip Airfares!"
The certificate also states, "This special package is
sponsored by, and designed to promote, select hotels, resorts
The certificate displays hotel logos including those of the "Best
Western British Colonial Beach Resort" and the "Nassau
Marriott." To receive your vacation package, you must call
When you call their 800 number you reach a telemarketer who reiterates
that you will receive a "promotionally discounted vacation
package." They say they can offer such a "fabulous vacation" at
an extremely discounted rate because they purchase large volumes
of rooms from the specified hotels which, in turn, are promoting
tourism in Florida and the Bahamas.
They say you are guaranteed to stay at the British Colonial Beach
Resort in Nassau, Bahamas and that the vacation package is valid
for 18 months, but that your reservations must be made at least
60 days in advance of the requested travel date. They indicate
that they are a full-service travel agency and that they are the
ones to call to book your reservation dates.
This special limited time offer will cost you only $495 which
you must pay immediately with your credit card. Through the use
of stall tactics and blackout dates they either manage to have
the offer lapse or they have disappeared completely by the time
you decide to book.
Some Travel Club and Vacation Package Offer tips:
||Buy vacation travel from a business
you know. Deal with members of a professional association
and realize that few legitimate businesses can afford to give
away products and services of real value or substantially undercut
other companies prices.
||Verify arrangements before you
pay. Get the details of your vacation in writing and
a copy of the cancellation and refund policies. Don't accept
vague terms such as "major hotels" or "luxury
cruise ships." Call to verify your reservations. Look
up numbers rather than using those provided. The entire operation
may just be a front using mail drops and call forwarding services,
all leading back to the same operation.
||Learn the vocabulary. "You
have been specially selected to receive our SPECTACULAR LUXURY
DREAM VACATION offer" doesn't mean you'll get a free vacation.
It means you'll be "offered an opportunity" to pay
for a trip that may fit your idea of luxury or not. "Subject
to availability" means you may not be able to get the
accommodations you want when you want them. "Blackout
periods" are blocks of dates, usually around holidays
or peak season, when no discount travel is available.
||Don't send money by messenger or
overnight mail. Some scam artists may ask you to send them
a check or money order immediately. Others may offer to send
a messenger to pick up your payment. If you pay with cash or
a check, rather than a credit card, you may lose your right
to dispute fraudulent charges.
Subject: RPR Vacations
Date: 26 Aug 2001
Help! We think we have fallen victim to this scam.
Our trip isn't scheduled 'til the end of Oct. this year, but the
more we see & hear the more disappointed we are becoming.
First it's approx. $700.00 for the first person, then it's $700.00
for the companion - if you don't want a sub-compact car or an inside
cabin on what sounds like the 'hell cruise' it's another $269......
Do you know of a way to get out without substantial penalty? Are
there any class action suits pending? Thanks for your great
web site - wish we would have looked at it sooner.
Reply: Suggested search at the FTC site and the search
box at page bottom for up to date info on suits.
Big Ships Stop Slowly
I happen to have been foolish enough to be taken in by Ramada
Plaza Resorts and was given their website while on the phone with
the telemarketer, though I did not access the site until after
I had hung up.
I had to use a search engine to find their site and, lo and behold,
there was your warning in big bold letters. I immediately
called my credit card company and they advised me to call the RPR
ORGANIZATION and cancel, which I did.
They told me they would honor my request, but yesterday, three
weeks after the cancellation, I received the video package in the
mail and my credit card company still shows there has been no refund.
What do I do now?
Shirl Teaney 11/30/01
We have a company that has just come to Dallas named GreatEscapes
Travel Club based out of Lakeland Florida. It is almost exactly
as you describe in your section titled "Clubbed on the Head."
I too was taken in by what originally was to be a 90 minute presentation
that became a 3 hour sales pitch. I was promised the Guaranteed
Lowest price on travel and 5 percent back in "travelbucks" to
use towards other vacations. I asked the salesman what types
of travel and he said "everything".
Reading the contract at home I find that the "travelbucks'
could only be used for certain items and the fine print suggested
that they had totally misrepresented themselves. I stopped payment
on my check the next day then faxed and sent them a certified letter
demanding they return it to me and to cancel my contract as I have
not received any goods or services from them.
I have not heard from them yet nor have they cashed my check. My
attorney says the contract I signed did not conform to State of
Texas law in regards to certain items be written in bold or underlined
print and says he hopes "GreatESCAPES" attempts to sue.
Have you heard anything about this company?
Bart Terrell 01/25/01
We Sell Dreams, Not Nightmares
I have been selling timeshare vacation packages for about three
years and although I enjoyed your site, I was upset with the bad
wrap you gave the vacation package business. It's extremely
upsetting how a couple rotten apples can ruin the entire barrel.
I'm sure there are a lot of fraudulent telemarketing companies
who misrepresent the packages and terms & conditions of the
vacation, but I am proud to say that I have one of the cleanest
and most respectful telemarketing companies in Tampa. ( no name
You must understand that a lot of these discounted packages are impressively
good deals made possible by the fulfillment and timeshare industry.
These vacations may not value at "$2,500", but for a person
to put a similar package together themselves would cost a good $1000,
whereas a customer of mine can purchase it for $398.
Although there is some truth to your article on fraudulent
vacation packages, understand that there are many reputable
companies who have been providing their clients with awesome
vacation packages and that there are many positive experiences
from people who have taken them.
Bottom line: The world evolves around business. This is
a business based on selling people something that will make
them feel better about themselves. Selling a dream. What
better dream than a "fabulous vacation".
Jason Martinez 01/11/02
While I value your opinion and even admit that many people
actually sign up for vacation values knowing they must sit
through a timeshare presentation, few actually are prepared
for the high pressure inherent in the industry. Timeshares,
while predominantly legitimate, are by their nature a poor
investment in the majority of cases.
The scams I try to focus on are the ones where the value
of an offer are grossly exaggerated and misrepresented in
order to deceive. Few people seem to arrive at these offers
aware of their future dissatisfaction.
I am glad you work within the boundaries of goodwill, make
people aware of their obligations, and do not have add-on
charges which negate any value of advertised promises. My
research is taken from numerous cases of infractions which
have set a track-able and unstopping trend.
All Vacation Packages Sound Good
I was looking for information on your great website to see
if Ramada Plaza Resort Vacations was a scam. I
gave them $349USD on Dec 21/01 by Visa which works out to
approximately $600.00 Canadian. I had given their
package and video to my husband for our 25th wedding anniversary
and promised to take our three sons along. Now I still
need to send them $1550USD to fulfill the cost, but after
reading your info, I just want to see what I can do to get
my money back.
I have to admit that I must be quite gullible. I fell for a scam
last year called, Skybiz. I paid $100.00 US to get a website instructional
program that was totally useless. I joined on the advice of a friend
and with the promise of making money.
Right now I am also trying to get back some money from a
company called, Underdoz.com (and underdogz) They offered
cheap airline tickets yet I never received anything after
six months for my $148CDN and I just found out that
they closed on December 31, 2001.
Pamela Funk 01/24/02
Note: the site was active when I visited 01/25/02
Vacation Package Call Center Job Jitters
Last month I lost my call center job after I discovered
their dishonest methods.
When I started the job I was told that I was to sell a vacation
package to people who called in about winning a $1002 credit
voucher on a vacation package which supposedly normally retails
Basically, the people calling would then be told they could
get a package containing seven vacations, one major and six
mini vacations, for only $398.00 for two people.
When I saw this great deal I wanted to get one myself, but
because I knew someone who was fooled with the Ramada resort
travel package, one of my co-workers and I decided to look
for them on the Better Business Bureau website first. Oddly,
there was no report available despite their claiming to be
Two days later I asked to see details of the package I was
selling but they refused my request, stating that they only
had one copy and wouldn't want to lose it. The next
day, after nagging my supervisor, he finally agreed to let
me go through the package but then only showed me a bunch
of pictures. Though unable to prove fraud, I suspect
Now, after being fired for being too inquisitive, I really
feel bad about losing a job but I want to make people understand
that, at least where I was working, a lot of the staff were
unaware that it was actually a scam that they were selling.
03/00 - In an FTC settlement, Frederick F. Zeigler
III, Robert E. Kane, Commonwealth Marketing
Group, Inc. and Great Escape Vacations & Tours,
Inc.; will be required to pay $145,000 in
consumer redress, $18,500 in receiver's fees and expenses,
will be enjoined from any future violations and post performance
bonds of up to $150,000 before either selling travel-related
services or conducting telemarketing activities.
Through the use of direct mail vacation "certificates" and
outbound telemarketing calls to people who, believing they
were entering a drawing for a free vacation, had previously
submitted "registration forms" handed out at events
such as county fairs, they represented that
consumers had won a "fantasy cruise holiday" to
Florida and the Bahamas, when, in fact, they had won nothing.
They actually had to pay a "promotional fee" of
$598 per couple, and up to $300 or more in additional charges
when they were ready to travel. In addition, the vacation
packages received did not provide the "luxury" accommodations
promised unless consumers paid yet more money in "upgrade" fees.
Upon calling the consumers, CMG's telemarketer described
an exciting vacation to Florida and "luxury cruise" to
the Bahamas, concluding the pitch by offering the complete
package for a small "promotional fee" of $598.
Consumers were instructed to secure their vacation using
a major credit card. Only after consumers gave their credit
card numbers were they told that the package was nonrefundable
and that in some, but not all, cases they would have to pay
additional fees - often mischaracterized as "port fees" -
when making their reservations.
When consumers received their packages, according to the
Commission's complaint, they found that they had to pay more
money for a vacation they believed was already paid for in
full, and that they had, in fact, won nothing at all.
Many consumers were told their purchase was nonrefundable.
In fact, while CMG did have a written return policy for the
vacation packages, the company allegedly did not honor it,
and consumers who returned their packages often had them
mailed back several times.
Severing Ties With Tijuana
On scams like the Mexican Vacation Club,
or others where the consumer uses a credit card for time
payments, I often tell consumers to destroy their cards,
report their cards stolen, etc. Do anything you need to in
order to close that account.
I sometimes tell them to not accept the card company's
offer of a replacement card, just to put more distance between
you and the scammer. Reporting the card lost or stolen
may be dishonest, but in this case, turnaround is fair play.
Be sure to make good on your other debts or stop using
the card for 10 days before you do this.
I have never had a consumer report back to me that the
business is actually legitimate and that it is pursuing the "debt." You
may get a dunning letter from a "letter service" collection
agency (as opposed to a real collection agency). The Mexican
Vacation Club contracts usually list jurisdiction in Mexico
City, and I've never seen them file a suit there against
a U.S. or Canadian consumer.
Consumer Attorney in Seattle. 04/02
Have you heard of Dreamquest Communications which says you
tour Ramada Plaza for an hour and get to stay at a Ramada
in Orlando for 3 nights for $228.00? They offer some
free Disney tickets but they want a bank check payment right
away. Anon 05/06/02
04/02 - Vermont's Attorney General filed
a consumer fraud lawsuit against Cape Canaveral, Florida
based Cape Canaveral Tour & Travel,
Inc. and two of its employees, Lory Walker and Michael Dwyer.
According to the complaint, Cape Canaveral
contacted Vermont consumers by telephone to sell them seven-night
vacation packages to the Bahamas and/or Florida, typically
consisting of hotel accommodations, a rental car and travel
on a cruise ship that, not including air fare, cost $1,155
and involved a time-share tour.
The complaint alleges that they violated
Vermont’s Consumer Fraud Act by:
||through their agents, soliciting
consumers to fill out entry forms at fairs on the pretext
that this would entitle the consumer to participate in
a giveaway or drawing, whereas in fact the purpose of
the entry forms was to generate "leads" for
||failing to disclose, at fairs,
that a purchase was required.
||misrepresenting the company’s
vacation package offer as a special offer and highly
discounted, when in fact the offer was ongoing and was
figured from hotel "rack rates" that consumers
could easily obtain at a discount from a local travel
||failing to disclose that
consumers had to take a time-share tour in order to take
advantage of the vacation package offer.
||failing to afford Vermont
consumers their right to cancel the telephonic purchase
of a vacation package within three days.
A court order requiring the defendants to
comply with Vermont law, refunds for Vermont consumers, civil
penalties of up to $10,000 per violation, and other legal
relief is being sought.
Diamond Holidays Travel called me to let
me know I won a cruise including 4 nights and 3 days in the
Bahamas with hotel, but I have to send them a check for $77.00
for me and the second person plus port charges of $99.00
a person.I have four days to call them back. Is
this a scam?
One spammer offering vacations in both English
and Spanish formats and which are accompanied by timeshare
presentations is Valued Guest at www.valuedresorts.net
See also: TimeShareBeat's Vacation Club Scams.
Have you ever heard of Sundance Vacations
out of Pa?. Their deal started at $10,000 for 20 vacations
which included excess inventory and other enticements but
I kept saying no.
Final deal, $5000, unlimited vacations,
excess inventory plus. Seemed too good to be true. Walked
out. Hope I receive the free weekend which was the
Live Wire Shorted Out
10/24/02 Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan filed suit against Live
Wire Systems, 2425 Commercial Boulevard, Suite
400, Fort Lauderdale, and James P. Davis with
violating the Automatic Telephone Dialers Act, Uniform
Deceptive Trade Practices Act and the Consumer Fraud and
Deceptive Business Practices Act.
The defendants are charged with placing more than 10,000
autodialer marketing calls since at least July 2002 to individuals
and businesses across Illinois using prerecorded messages
that invited consumers to purchase low-cost Disney vacation
To confirm their invitations, consumers were instructed
to call a toll-free number that provided the details and
conditions of the trips.
The lawsuit alleges that they misrepresented the nature
of the offer by failing to disclose that consumers are required
to tour timeshare resorts as part of the package and that
Walt Disney Company is not a sponsor of the trip and has
not approved use of their name.
In the suit, Ryan is seeking a permanent injunction, restitution
to consumers, costs, a civil penalty of $50,000 and an additional
penalty of $50,000 for each act committed with intent to
Vacation Club Telemarketing Sales Script from Diamond Prize Center - pdf
Articles on Vacation Scams.