Florida cracking down on travel club companies

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Attorney general secures temporary injunction, shutting down several Florida operators

Summer is normally the season associated with vacation travel, but plenty of snow birds travel in the winter, usually seeking the warmer climate of Florida or the desert southwest.

That keeps lawyers and investigators in Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi's office pretty busy, as they try to protect consumers from shady travel promoters and outright scammers.

In December, Bondi's office took action to shut down three travel companies it said were deceiving consumers. Now, the attorney general has obtained preliminary injunctions against several other travel related companies she accuses of doing the same thing.

“Unscrupulous sales tactics”

The latest complaint filed by Bondi’s Office accuses Reservation Services International of knowingly allowing its two distributors, Map Destinations, LLC and Florida Beaches Destinations Club, LLC, which operated as Suite Journeys and Diamond Vacations International, “to employ unscrupulous sales tactics to induce consumers into purchasing its vacation club memberships.”

Vacation clubs are a common source of travel grievances. Very often they are marketed the same way timeshares are – requiring consumers to sit through long and sometimes intense sales presentations.

Jeanette, of Boca Raton, Fla., says she recently attended a presentation by a travel company called IIG Promotions.

“Like everyone else on here, we too sat through the travel presentation in Florida,” Jeanette wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “When we were there it looked like they had solicited people who had just retired through Social Security. They got a list somehow.”

Jeanette says she and her husband were pitched a travel package costing $5,000, but they declined.

Something for free

Consumers are often lured into attending travel club sales presentations by the suggestion that they can get something free, or at a reduced price. It hardly ever works out that way.

Bondi says the companies named in her complaint allegedly exaggerated the true savings, nature, and value of the club memberships. She said some consumers paid several thousands of dollars for these travel club memberships that the companies claimed offered deeply discounted wholesale pricing on hotels, condominiums, cruises, rental cars, and vacation packages.

After making the purchase, consumers reported to Bondi's office that they could have gotten the same or better pricing on other free publicly available travel booking websites.

Bondi says the temporary injunction against Reservation Services International includes the appointment of a monitor to oversee the operations. It also freezes company assets and appoints a receiver against the affiliate companies.

Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) cautions consumers to get plenty of details about the true status of promoted accommodations and promised benefits and, if you end up making a travel club purchase, always pay with a credit card.  

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