Two companies will refund travel club fees to more than 70 customers and another nine will get discounts and travel incentives as part of a settlement reached with the Delaware attorney general's consumer protection unit.
Since June of last year, customers complained that Serenity Travel of Newark, Del. and related business Destination Vacation International promised discounts if they attended marketing programs held by Serenity Travel, but then the company allegedly didn't come through with the promised incentives or made the attendees pay undisclosed fees. Consumers also complained they were pressured into joining the travel clubs before they had a chance to research the companies and weren't given travel price quotes.
Managers at Serenity Travel could not be reached for comment. Neither company admitted any wrongdoing in the settlement, Delaware public information officer Jason Miller told Consumer Ally.
The companies have 30 days to refund customers the travel club membership fees -- $2,000 to $4,000, Miller says. Others will get the travel discounts they said they were promised as incentives, but never received. As part of the settlement, the companies agreed to clearly disclose all its terms and conditions to consumers and stop opening credit cards on behalf of customers. The cards were offered to members as a way for them to pay for their club purchases.
Consumers with related complaints have until May 26 to contact Delaware's Consumer Protection Unit. Call the attorney general's office consumer hotline, 800-220-5424, or fill out a complaint form at www.attorneygeneral.delaware.gov.
"We will make sure these companies follow through on this agreement and that consumers receive the refunds they deserve," says Timothy Mullaney, director of the Fraud and Consumer Protection Division of Delaware's Department of Justice, in a statement.
The Better Business Bureau in Delaware suspended Serenity Travel's accreditation because of a failure to uphold standards. It received 13 complaints during the last three years -- including billing, contract and customer service issues. All but one complaint has been resolved.
The best way to guard against hidden fees in travel promotions is to do your homework, says the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. Ask questions before signing up for anything and don't feel pressured into buying until you know exactly what you're getting. Be skeptical of unsolicited emails or promotions offering "deep discounts." Get all terms and conditions in writing. Once you have made travel plans, double-check reservations on your own.
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