An investigation by BBB in Dallas finds that postcards and letters with "award notices" for airfare or cruises are invitations to sales pitches for travel clubs that don't deliver, reports Herb Weisbaum, "The ConsumerMan," on CNBC online. These "award notices" often include the names of major airlines and well-known hotels, but the real companies have nothing to do with the notices, he said.
"These are invitations to a high-pressure sales pitch for an expensive membership in a travel club," warned Jeannette Kopko, senior vice president for communications at the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Dallas.
The story notes that membership can sell for as much as $10,000. Kopko said those who join often have difficulty booking trips and they don't always get the promised savings.
"This is not the way to take the vacation of your dreams," cautions John North, president and CEO of the BBB in Dayton, Ohio.
One couple in Rockwall, Texas, complained to BBB after they wound up buying a travel club membership for $4,000. The salesman kept offering freebies: a free cruise, plus a weekend getaway with free airfare and hotel room. He kept lowering the price until they finally signed. The customers said the travel club was "too good to be true" and they couldn't get the business to cancel and refund the membership fee.
A consumer in Mesquite, TX, got a postcard promising "a complimentary cruise and two airline tickets," if she attended a presentation. She went but didn't buy and collected her cruise voucher for showing up.
When she tried to book the cruise, she was told there was a charge of $815 per person to cover taxes and fees. She was told the cruise was "complimentary, not free." She did not pay.
"It's not like we read the postcard wrong," she told NBC News. "It was intentionally designed to confuse."
BBB serving Dallas and Northeast Texas investigated the deceptive travel club offers, and in a report released last month, laid out the network of companies behind the postcards.
Weisbaum said: "One company sends out the notices; another company books the appointments. When you go to a sales pitch you are dealing with a distributor. Your club membership is managed through a separate company. And if you try to use the travel voucher, you're dealing with a gift fulfillment company."
Law enforcement has investigated travel club membership promoters, but their efforts are stymied by how the companies frequently change their names and addresses.