While in Branson my wife and I went to the presentation of Vacation Services of America in return for eight show tickets at around half price. The person who had signed us up for the presentation, who was located in the lobby of a local business, promised us "No timeshares, no individual meetings, no pressure, and no more than ninety minutes."
Upon arrival at the company's headquarters which occupy several suites in a mostly vacant strip mall, we were treated in a courteous and friendly fashion by different company representatives and, upon request, answered a questionnaire about travel preferences. Our answers to this questionnaire, despite the assurance of the person who signed us up, formed the basis for an interview with one of the representatives, an older gentleman who had been let go from a long-time job. The interview was prior to a presentation to the group of couples which had assembled at the same time and place as us, and for the same purpose.
The presentation was professional in all respects and included much information, every part of which seemed not only plausible but also, to a trusting person, convincing. The presenter was knowledgeable, polished, and witty to an extent that some of it was over the heads of many in the audience. After the presentation we were escorted to one of numerous small offices by yet another company representative, an attractive young lady.
The offer was any and all travel services and products with prices below what my wife, who has served as my travel agent during decades of business travel and for our numerous vacations, has been able to secure. There also was the promise that the company, "as a service to our clients," would "take any of your timeshares off your hands, even though we don't get paid anything for disposing of them." The price the representative quoted to us was $11,995.00 plus fees, and $199.00 per year to sustain our membership. We were told we could "suspend" the membership any time we wished, and pay only a reinstatement fee when we again desired to use the company's services.
Because already we were in the process of selling two of our Marriott timeshares, I inquired about other Marriott timeshares. "As a service to you if you sign up today," we were offered a "credit" of $4,000.00 for turning over any and all additional timeshares. We would have to fill in a form for each and fax to the company a copy of each deed. Then, in "90 to 120 days, you will be out from under your annual maintenance fees once and for all."
By now we were well past ninety minutes and my wife needed to get back to her computer in our resort to conduct business for which she is responsible as an independent contractor. We told our young lady that we needed to leave and would she please let us know "what is your company's absolute bottom line" for the membership.
At this she excused herself in order to "talk with my supervisor." Soon that person, an older woman, came into our room and gave us that bottom lines--$2,495.00. We offered to sign with the warning that we had not done our due diligence on the company ahead of time and that we would do so later that day. In the event that we did not like what we found, we would exercise our right of cancellation within the three-day period allowed to change our minds.
At this the representative left the room to draw up our contract, with the rejoinder that "only people who don't like us write anything on the Internet" and stating that "the Better Business Bureau gives us an F rating because we won't pay it in order to get a good rating....The more you pay, the higher the rating you receive."
Soon the contract was in front of us and we were back with the older gentleman who had interviewed us earlier, but this time in still another room. We reviewed carefully the relatively brief contract, noting the absence of any written pledges to perform any of the services promised orally. Still, we signed and placed the $2,495.00 charge on one of our credit cards.
So far everything had proceeded smoothly and in a friendly fashion, the only discordant note being our assertions that we had to get back to our resort to conduct business.
Back at the resort, after my wife had concluded her business, I began to check the Internet for information on Vacation Services of America--and also its parent company in Florida. That's when things began to go bad.
Over the course of hours I read report after report of problems with these companies encountered by persons who had paid for a membership--problems in regard to every aspect of their operations. On and on and on--dozens, scores, of unhappy experiences. Try as I might, I could not locate one happy encounter with Vacation Services of America or a single person claiming the company had performed as promised.
Instead there are tales of deception, promises unfulfilled, telephone calls and emails and letters unanswered, great deals never offered, exceptional prices never discovered, elderly people taken advantage of, claims of fraud, threatened legal action, and--truth be told--occasional partial refunds of the membership fee after the three-day period.
One crafty ploy of the company is to tell new members orally and in writing that the processing of their membership paperwork will require several days. This period of time, of course, takes the new member beyond the cancellation period. In only one instance could I find a party recovering all its money.
My time on the Internet with numerous Vacation Services of America sites, including this one, was fascinating, and also sad. It was clear to me that we had signed a contract with a company and with people we could not trust.
The next morning I telephoned the company to ascertain when the office would be open so that I could cancel my contract. Then I drove, alone, to the office complex. I was greeted warmly by numerous representatives in the lobby. When I announced that I wanted to cancel my contract, a large male representative walked quickly to me, telling me to go to an adjacent office where someone would be with me shortly.
Before going to the office I asked how long it would take and that I did not wish to listen to another presentation but rather simply to cancel the contract. "We have a procedure that we follow here," I was told, before being "escorted" to the office by another now-glowering large male representative.
More representatives were gathering and an angry man, their boss, emerged from among them and accused me of insulting his workers and, furthermore, saying that my wife and I had done the same thing the day before. Not true, I told him, adding that I want back our money, to which his response was, "You'll get it in seventy-two hours."
I replied that I wanted a charge-card credit slip as proof. "A credit in seventy-two hours is all you are going to get, the now-even-angrier man shouted at me, demanding the return of "all the materials we gave you yesterday and the letter the contract stipulated you have to write." He added, Who do you think you are? Do you want me to have the police throw you out of here? I've done it lots of times before and I'll gladly do it to you." I produced the letter and the small zippered portfolio we had been presented the day before (with, by the way, remarkably little information included in it). He demanded the copies we had received of all the materials, but I replied that I was keeping them for my record. On my letter, which he took from me, he wrote, "all materials accepted by (his name). refund 72 hours," (sic) and thrust my letter back into my hands.
Still shouting he told me to "Get out of my office, get out of my business, and don't come back." Advancing toward me he was flanked by three large males and a fourth large male opened the door as I left. Already I had been asked, again, if I wanted them to call the police, which I cordially invited them to do. At this I was told by the angriest man that "I'm going to charge you for the full price of those tickets so you won't get anything free from me. How do you like that?"
Heaping on insults, he sneered at me, "I'll bet you're a Christian. Yeh, you're probably a minister.... You hypocrite. You hypocrite Christians. You hypocrite ministers...."
Outside the office the angriest man again yelled at me that "the parking lot is my property and I want you off it." At this point an older man and woman were making their way hesitantly to the door, quite obviously concerned about what they were walking into. I warned them, "Don't trust these people; don't sign anything." Now everyone was yelling to "get out of here now," adding that "in thirty seconds the police will be on their way."
At the same time, this same man, whose orders effected instant responses, advanced on me shouting, but he never touched me physically. I have concluded that, when things don't go these people's way, apparently they resort immediately and solely to verbal and physical intimidation, but they stop short (at least in my case) of physical contact, liking knowing that a police report and legal charges would result.
At this I drove out of the parking lot and out into the street, turning into the next driveway to park in order to call my credit-card company to initiate a dispute with Vacation Services of America, in order to assure that it receive no payment. While doing so another angry male approached my vehicle, yelled at me that I still was occupying company property, gave me thirty seconds to leave, and violently struck my car window.
I was nearly concluded with my telephone conversation and, upon completing it, drove away. But not within thirty seconds.
In my experience, Vacation Services of America is a company that cannot be trusted. My advice is not to sign up for a presentation. If you sign up, don't sign anything. If you do sign, get out of the contract the next day. If you try to get out of the contract, be prepared for anger and intimidation. If you experience anger and intimidation, use the Internet to warn others to beware. There are lots of sites to choose from. What not employ all of them?
And, of course, there's still that Better Business Bureau. And the Attorney General's Office of the great State of Missouri....