On March 19th, my wife and I attended a sales presentation at Branson, Mo. sponsored by Vacation Services of America. One of their top salesmen, Tony, spent about an hour enticing us with incredible travel deals that only their club (Vacation Travel Club) could provide. Amazing deals on cruises, condos and vacation packages were written on the boards surrounding our meeting room. We do a lot of online research finding the best travel deals, so we know good deals when we see them.
We were told that travel agents and the online travel sites like priceline, travelocity, and orbitz were not able to beat the prices available through the Vacation Travel Club. This is because VTC is only one of three companies that has figured out how to buy travel that has been marked up only 5-15% and pass it on to club members at this same price - bypassing wholesale and retail markup that can be anywhere from 50-200%. Some other deals they promised were:
Get a $120 hotel for $75
Get a $90 hotel for $50
Get a $60 hotel for $35
2 excursions and ocean view rooms are included with all discounted cruise deals
You can call and reach someone 24/7 to plan your trip
All of the above promises turned out to be false.
The presentation was very convincing and they even showed my wife a printout of their Better Business Bureau "good" (A or B) rating after she and I were skeptical about their credibility.
At the end of the meeting, the salesman wrote on the board that we could join the club today for $10,000. Then several salesmen and women came around to each couple in the room and negotiated with them to join the club. Our salesman, Harry Launder, continued to convince us that the incredible deals were real, pulled right off the VTC website and that we should easily be able to save on every trip, since we use the online travel companies like priceline and travelocity to find deals.
We felt like they were telling us the truth, but the price way too much for us. We were still skeptical about joining, so after telling them we were not buying today - the salesman offered his final deal of $3000, but said we had to buy today or we can't join for another 4 years because of some technicality that I don't remember.
We decided to leave the building and take a walk to think and pray about the decision. If the savings were really as good as they said, we felt like $3000 for a lifetime of exceptional travel savings that can't be found anywhere else was well worth it.
So, we joined the club for $3000 on Thursday afternoon around 1pm. By Monday, I had called in and received my VTC member number over the phone and started comparing deals. On my first call to VTC, I asked to reserve a Radisson hotel room in Fort Worth, TX. They transferred me to a travel agent that does not work for the club and quoted me the same price that I could get from Radisson's website. When I asked the agent why she couldn't beat that price, she said that I had to use one of VTC's "choice hotels." We were not told this in the presentation. So I compared their choice hotel prices, and also found no savings - in fact hotels.com could beat their prices at choice hotels. (Quality Inn, Fairfield Inn and others). These were not the savings we were promised. I found the club's prices for cruises and airline tickets more expensive than what I could find by going directly to the Carnival.com or AA.com.
We decided after several more attempts to find cheaper deals, that we had been sold a lie by Vacation Services of America. We called and asked for a refund. The receptionist had the manager, Tom Wood, call us back. We asked him to compare prices with us online, but he said he couldn't do that, and that we must have heard them wrong or were not doing something right. He offered us $500 or a free weeks stay at Branson to appease us, but refused to give us a full refund. We turned him down, and he said that we could fight it out with his attorney.
Big Sandy, Texas