VACATION CLUBS: PITFALLS TO AVOID
Michigan Credit Union League - Your Money Matters
Now that we've endured a few months of hearty Michigan winter, many of us are ready to start thinking about warmer climates. I confess that I'm personally planning to visit the snow and ice glories of the Upper Peninsula, but others seem drawn to beaches and sunshine. Whatever attracts you, vacations are vital breaks that help us maintain balance in our lives and the last thing we need is a vacation-related headache. I recently heard of a horrible story about some Michiganders who got taken by a bogus vacation club so I thought I'd pass the information along to you. The City of Detroit's Consumer Affairs Department called it one of the worst such cases they'd ever seen.
A Farmington Hills-based company called American Vacation Ventures was calling people and telling them they'd "won" a trip to Disneyland. While on the phone, winners were asked about their income. One of the Michigan residents lured in by the call said now he can see that there were red flags all over the place. Even so, the man went ahead and joined the vacation club at a cost of $3,000. Here's what he found out.
The "free" airfare offered by the club came with a string attached: our friend had to stay in a certain hotel, at his own expense, in order to fly free. He also discovered that the club's real goal was to get a total of $8,000 out of him. Others report that they couldn't get accommodations in certain destinations because it was "peak time." Our friend finally figured out that he was being conned along with about 400 other folks who also responded to this American Vacation Ventures offer. Some people have gotten their money back but our friend hasn't gotten his yet. On top of all this, the Michigan Attorney General's Office has opted out of suing the company, saying the action would only drive American Vacation Ventures into bankruptcy court, leaving those who got ripped off with nothing.
American Vacation Ventures continues to operate today, but is now giving new customers a three-day period to get out of their club contract. In its own defense, the company says a bit more than 300 complaints out of a pool of 10,000 customers isn't really that bad. This isn't the only company running these schemes. It's important to be suspicious of unsolicited phone calls offering deals that seem too good to be true. The sad truth is that deals that seem too good to be true, usually are.
There are legitimate vacation clubs around (I've used them before and been very satisfied), but do your homework to find out which are legit. Check with your local Better Business Bureau or your state or local consumer affairs department. Read all the fine print and don't be dazzled by slick sales presentations. Ask lots of questions and don't stop until you're completely clear on all the details. Vacation clubs generally represent a big investment, so take your time before taking that vacation!