Troubleshooter revisits vacation club problems

February 22, 2013 2:58:26 PM PST
After an undercover ABC11 Troubleshooter report last November on "vacation clubs" popping up in our area, we received more complaints and new information.

It starts with a postcard and then a sales pitch offering free cruises and discounted travel.

However, couples started contacting me saying they were out thousands of dollars and were not able to cash in on those promised discounts.  Since then, one company's gone out of business, another's opened up, and new complaints are coming in.

"I've paid for a discounted vacation, and there is no discount," said Pam Booker.

Booker said she found that out after she and her husband shelled out more than $8,000 for membership to a vacation club.

"I feel very much taken advantage of, and I just wish I had never gotten that card in the mail," said Booker.

Many believe the postcards, which promise a free cruise plus roundtrip airfare, are just too good to be true.  But some aren't true as we found in November after multiple complaints led us to East Coast Travel in Apex.

We heard loud music and lofty promises.

"So for $4,700 versus $14,000 our members get to cruise at the bulk rate with no mark-up," said Randy, a salesman.

Randy told us how they cut out travel agents and websites, buy vacations in bulk, and then pass the savings onto anyone who joins their club. However, club membership came with a steep price -- more than $8,000. Organizers claimed that price was usually paid off in one to three trips for the average member.

Pam was initially concerned about it.

"We thought that was very expensive, but then when you said, 'You know, within three trips you'll have that saved back,'" she said.

So, like the couples we profiled in November, the bookers joined the "club," which they then learned was called "A2Z Vacations".  But, once they got home and tried to book a trip to Hawaii, they got bad news, which was later verified in an email. There were no savings on airfare, which she later found also on A2Z's website.  There was also bad news about the hotel.

"I could book it on the internet the same price as I could through A2Z," said Booker.

It sounds crazy, but we tried it and it's true. Using the Bookers' membership number, we searched for Hawaiian hotels using A2Z's website.  We picked a random date, and were quoted $329 a night. We then went to Expedia and found the same hotel on the same date for the same price. The same price the hotel advertised on their website.

"No savings. No extra savings," said Booker. "No five, 10, 15 percent and that's low compared to what they said. They said it would be 60." 

And, remember, they paid $8,000 for promised "vacation club" discounts.

"We eliminate the middleman, never pay retail again," said Randy on hidden camera. "Members save on average 30-70 percent in all areas of travel." 

We found other examples where A2Z's prices weren't any cheaper than other online travel websites. A2Z quoted us $299 a night at the Westin San Diego, but we found that exact same price on Expedia, Priceline, Kayak, and the hotel's website. It was the same story for the $269 a night Marriott New Orleans. 

At an all-inclusive hotel in Cancun, A2Z quoted us $137 a night, which was the same as Priceline, but Kayak actually offered it for $12 less than the A2Z quote. 

"I can go and book my own vacation and get the same, basically, discount as I could for paying the $8,000, which got me absolutely nothing," said Booker.

We tried to get answers, but no one from A2Z ever got back to us.

This is how East Coast Travel reacted back in November when we tried to get answers.

Diane: "Can you talk to me?"

A woman with East Coast Travel said,  "Nope, oh he's not allowed."

Diane: "None of you guys can answer any questions?"

The woman said, "Nope." 

Diane: "What are you trying to hide?  If you're not hiding anything, you can turn that off."

Three months later, East Coast Travel is gone.

The Bookers say they wish they'd never gotten the postcard in the first place.

"I'd like to get my money back, because I do not plan on renewing my membership next year," said Booker. "There's no sense in it. There's no value to A2Z Vacations or East Coast Travel."

Even though, A2Z and East Coast Travel wouldn't talk to the I-Team, they would talk with Booker. She said each company blamed the other, and neither would give her a refund.

Meanwhile, I recently got another postcard from a new company in Cary which promised free vacations if you come and listen to a sales pitch for a vacation club that costs you thousands of dollars to join.

The best advice, before agreeing to pay membership into any club, take the time to research it and see what others are saying about it.

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