If someone invites you to join a travel club, don’t go, run away!
But if you’re reading this, you probably haven’t. You fell in love with the offer of a free cruise or vacation. You watched the presentation, with its laughable, high-pressure sales tactics. And you ended up with a worthless travel club membership. Now you’re trying to find a way out of your travel club.
You will need all the help you can get. Travel clubs pass off timeshares as charities when it comes to their contracts and policies. It’s possible to leave a travel club, but the combination of questionable benefits and one-sided contracts means the best course of action is not to join in the first place.
What is a travel club?
A travel club, sometimes also called a vacation club, is a monthly or annual membership program that offers discounts on airline tickets, hotel rooms, or rental cars. Many travel clubs market themselves as Costcos or Sam’s Clubs for travel. They are not. Instead, they are memberships of negligible value and sold through questionable tactics.
What does a travel club offer?
A typical club will offer an annual membership and may also charge an “initiation” fee. You will receive a membership card and a login for the company’s website, which promises you special negotiated travel rates.
Benefits may include:
- A discount of 50% or more on travel.
- Buy one/get a free plane ticket or accompanying certificate.
- A “free” cruise.
- A two-day “free” vacation.
- A discounted access card that offers a special offer on non-travel related items, such as restaurants and attractions.
Expect! My travel club is different
Terms like “travel club” and “vacation club” can cover a variety of travel products. But don’t be confused. For example, the Disney Vacation Club is not really a “club” in the traditional sense. It’s a timeshare program, and even though it’s one of the best, it’s still a timeshare program. Spirit Airlines’ $9 Fare Club, which costs $69.95 a year – that’s right, and I don’t know why they don’t call it the $69.95 Fare Club – just gives you access to certain discounted Spirit Airlines flights.
A real travel club is different. It takes your money and may give you nothing of value in return. Yes, some are more scammers than others. But in the end, you can get the most out of your dollar by carefully researching the best deal and purchasing your airfare, cruise, or hotel room on the open market. No need to be a member of a club.
Are travel club offers legitimate?
Travel clubs can give you deals, but how good are they?
- The discounts are usually no better than what you’ll find on Expedia, Orbitz, or Travelocity.
- The companion certificate requires you to purchase a full-fare economy class ticket, which costs double what you would pay for a normal coach seat.
- Access to discounts does not offer better discounts than your AAA or AARP membership.
- And then there is the “free” vacation or cruise. Let’s dive right into that one.
Is this “free” cruise real?
Many vacation clubs try to hook you into a presentation with the promise of a “free” cruise, but it’s not a free cruise. Trust me. It’s not. I have received many complaints from travelers who thought they had received a legitimate offer, in the mail, of a free cruise or vacation in exchange for an introduction for a travel club.
Carefully read the fine print on the travel club app. The offers are very restrictive, even fraudulent. You will have to pay to get to the port and cover unspecified “charges” which can total more than the cost of a cruise you would buy from a regular travel agent. Additionally, blackout dates apply to the offer. Once you’ve jumped through all the hoops to grab the “free” vacation, chances are you’ve spent more money than if you just booked an old-fashioned cruise – plus, you could be a member of a useless travel club.
What about affiliate stations?
My advocacy team recently heard from clients of travel clubs associated with resorts, such as the Palladium Travel Club.
These clubs operate similarly to independent travel clubs in the United States.
The pitch is simple: while you are on vacation, you receive an invitation to attend a presentation. There you are offered a club membership which offers discounts on future vacations at other hotels operated by the same company.
Travel clubs are vague about their benefits. For example, they offer “special” offers without details. They give you “priority booking” access when the benefits of having priority booking are completely unclear.
In other respects, these travel clubs are identical to their American counterparts. You get a relentless sales pitch followed by a contract you don’t have enough time to read. And, because of foreign termination laws – or more accurately, a lack of foreign termination laws – once you sign on the dotted line, you’re obligated to pay thousands of dollars.
Is there a legitimate travel club?
Travel clubs are among the most fraudulent products in the travel industry. No one likes their high pressure sales tactics. Travel agencies hurt themselves when they market their products in this way. They may make short-term gains, but they will alienate many long-term customers.
I know of only one legitimate travel club: AAA. Its membership rates are reasonable, you can cancel anytime, and you get real benefits.
How to survive the pitch?
Most travel clubs use direct mail, with free vacation offers, to lure you to one of their outlets. Presentations usually take place either in a rented space in a strip mall or in a hotel conference center.
These high-pressure pitches put the timeshare industry to shame, both in terms of the pressure they apply and the huge promises they make. At the same time, because travel clubs are so mobile – they’re not usually tied to a particular product or real estate in the same way as timeshare sellers – they can get away with almost anything, and they do.
If you go, gather a little information about the club. A simple Internet search of the name of the club, along with keywords like “scam”, “fraud” or “scam”, can reveal a wealth of useful information. Remember that travel clubs change their names and locations often and use sophisticated search engine manipulation techniques (sometimes called reputation management) to make sure nothing bad comes up. when looking for them.
Here’s a tip: Search for club owners, not the club itself. I’ve seen travel clubs that looked spotless online, but their owners… not so much.
What to do at a travel club presentation
Secure your prize before the pitch. If you can claim your “free” cruise or vacation before the action starts, great. No price, no presentation.
Repeat after me: “I’m not ready to buy.” Never, ever buy a travel club in a presentation. If you have to, give yourself some cooling off time to think about the offer. To do this, you must leave your credit card and checkbook at home.
Train with me now: “I’m not ready to buy.”
Beware of the “plants” in the public. A favorite tactic of travel clubs is to plant agents in the public. They applaud and ask enthusiastic questions to which, inevitably, there is a ready-made answer. (“How do I know if I’m getting the best deal?”) Ignore those around you. As far as you know, you may be the only prospect in the room.
If you think you are interested in the club, ask to review the contract. Like timeshares, travel clubs have ridiculously convoluted deals. Ask your salesperson if you can take the contract home to review, which is a perfectly reasonable request. Better yet, say you want to show it to your lawyer. Chances are your associate will balk and tell you it’s not allowed. This is your sign to direct you to the exit.
Prepare for a closer that won’t take “no” for an answer. You must be ready to walk through the door. Closers will continue to reduce the price of the club or offer to waive the initiation fee. It is a sign of despair. Prepare to be “guilted” for accepting the “free” cruise regardless of the club. Go away. I repeat: leave.
Why you won’t get 60% off your next travel purchase (even if you’re part of a travel club)
it helps to understand how products are priced in the travel industry. It’s true that airlines, cruise lines, and hotels offer discounts on their products, and often aggressively. But they also have contracts with online travel agencies and computer reservation systems that prevent their fares from being discounted too far from their listed prices in order to block excessive discounts. In other words, the savings promised by a travel club breaches a contract or, more likely, does not exist at all. Either way, run!
Can I get out of a travel club?
Your options for escaping the clutches of a travel club are limited. You can have an “out” in your contract, but like before, you need to pay attention to what’s in your contract, not what a salesperson tells you.
If you paid with a credit card, you can dispute the charge, but you’ll need to show you didn’t get what you paid for, and that can be tricky once the travel club shows your super contract. restrictive. to your banking litigation department. Small claims court or your state attorney general are other options, but by the time the law catches up with a travel club, it’s usually long gone, and for you that’s a costly lesson.
What’s the bottom line on vacation clubs?
Travel clubs are a scam, for the most part. Responding to the direct mail offering you a free cruise or vacation is like falling into a trap. You better throw the offer in the trash and never look back. Remember that there is no free ticket.