Too good to be true

"That vacation club didn't deliver what I thought I was getting!"


Linda Burbank
November 18, 1999 10:00PM (UTC)

I signed up with a company called Players Vacation Club (PVC). I
authorized a one-time transfer of $29.95 from my checking account, and
the $59.95 balance was to be paid any way I saw fit. But PVC took two
$59.95 payments from my account, and when I called the company, it
informed me I had two more payments scheduled, and that I couldn't
cancel without returning the membership materials first. I put a stop
payment on the account, which cost $20, and waited to get the membership
kit in the mail in order to return it. I'm still waiting for my money
back.

Your wait is almost over, and your refund of $119.90 is on the way -- but
you're out the $20 in bank fees and the $29.95 for shipping and handling
of your membership kit. PVC's director of operations says the company
acted in good faith, but that you must have misunderstood the membership
terms and the bank-transfer authorization you gave.

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I'm not surprised: PVC's telephone operators run hard-sell tactics. I
had trouble getting any information from them about what exactly the
company does (much less the cost and refund policy) because they were
so busy trying to extract my bank-account number.

PVC is a Georgia travel club that says it finances 80 percent of
members' vacation packages, offering a $2,000 "credit line" at 12.9 percent
interest. Membership costs $239.80, which PVC takes in four
installments, plus the $29.95 fee.

Members pay for 20 percent of their trips upfront, and PVC deducts monthly
payments from their checking accounts for the balance. To sweeten the
offer, PVC says it will even send travelers on their first trip with no
finance charges.

Sound like a good deal? Take a closer look: All travel
must be booked through the company, which concedes it doesn't always
have the lowest rates or even guaranteed availability -- all big warning
flags for travel deals.

So why bother? PVC says it caters to the average American with dreams of
exotic vacations, but who can't afford to travel. That's why it takes
monthly payments from travelers' bank accounts, rather than accepting
credit cards, which it assumes they either don't have or have already
maxed out. The lure is low monthly payments for tropical vacations -- but
the reality is travelers may end up paying much more for that
convenience, if they can manage to book the trips they want.

You're not alone in your troubles with PVC. The company's tactics -- and
resulting consumer complaints -- attracted the attention of the Georgia
Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs, which handed a "Notice of
Contemplated Legal Action" to the company's president in May. PVC may
have violated several sections of Georgia's Fair Business Practices Act,
including misrepresenting consumers' ability to cancel their contracts
and get refunds, failing to deliver goods that consumers paid for in
advance, and deceptively withdrawing funds from consumers' bank accounts
without authorization.

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The office of Consumer Affairs is negotiating a written "Assurance of
Voluntary Compliance" with PVC to settle the allegations. Consumers from
any state can add their PVC complaints to this file in Georgia, but they
must do so in writing. Consumers can download a complaint form and mail it in.

You can also file complaints with the Attorney General's office in your
state, or with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which regularly
launches high-profile crackdowns on travel companies. Call 877-FTC-HELP, or fill out a complaint form online.

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The FTC offers these tips on avoiding trouble with travel companies in
general:

  • Be cautious of high-pressure sales tactics.

  • Don't give out your bank-account information, unless you're familiar
    with the company and understand exactly what you're agreeing to pay for.

  • Beware of "affordable" offers and deals that sound "too good to be
    true."

  • Check out the company before you buy. You can get information online
    from better business bureaus around the country. Check
    the record of the company both in your area and where it's
    headquartered. (PVC's Atlanta BBB record indicates that the company has
    not responded to customer complaints.)

  • Ask detailed questions about the costs -- and the promises. Get specific
    hotel names, for example, and keep an eye out for disclaimers like "or
    similar property."

  • Get all information in writing before buying anything, and look out
    for hidden charges.

  • Linda Burbank

    Linda Burbank is a consumer reporter who has worked for Consumer Reports Travel Letter and the Center for Investigative Reporting. If you have a complaint about a hotel, tour operator, airline, cruise line or other travel-related company, send it to advocate@salon.com. If we think we can help you, we will!

    MORE FROM Linda Burbank


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