Vacation Club Investigated - KYTX CBS 19 Tyler Longview News Weather Sports

The Investigators: Vacation dreams or financial nightmares?

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TYLER (KYTX) - Tina and Clay Tompkins' ordeal started with a postcard. It promised a complimentary 7 day cruise.

"He said there is no obligation to buy and come by and win a free cruise," Tompkins said.

All they had to do was attend a sales pitch for "Travel Services Unlimited."

"We decided a chance to win a cruise we'll spend an hour to do that," he said.

The Tompkins went to the pitch at a Tyler hotel where the vacation club temporarily set up shop.

"When we first sat down I looked the gentleman in the eye and said is this a scam? He said 'Sir, I'm a cancer survivor I had jaw cancer and life is too short to cheat anyone,' Tompkins remembered.

Then, Clay Tompkins said they were made another promise.

"Access to some very deeply discounted vacation packages, cruises for $300-400 each," he said. "It's priced so that you could quickly see that you could save money over very few years."

All they had to do was become a member of the Travel Services Unlimited club. The Tompkins were offered three different packages ranging from $5000-$7000.

"They said if you do it tonight you can get this special discount," Tompkins said they were told.

So they signed up for a "discounted" rate of $2593. They would also have to pay a $399, one time registration fee and an annual fee of $199 to access the membership.

But they noticed their contract was with a different vacation company, International Vacation Services.

"It's almost like they silently transitioned into another company," Tompkins said. 

But the Tompkins signed anyway.

"I thought this was something that was going to be great for our family," Tina Tompkins said.

But the Better Business Bureau calls this vacation club pitch unethical and deceptive. They say they've received dozens of complaints since the company has been in town. So the investigators sent a team undercover to the same pitch the Tompkins went to. Kenneth Dean pretended to be engaged to a woman who works at the BBB of East Texas.  They recorded audio of the presentation.

"This is about vacation and saving money. Everybody okay with those two subjects," you can hear the sales manager, Terry Blevins, said on the recording.

During the pitch, the undercover couple was offered deals similar to those the Tompkins were offered. They were even told if they gave back the "free" cruise they were offered on the post card they could get an even deeper discount.

"We like to buy that trip back from you. So I would give you a thousand dollars off that price," one of the sales representatives said.

But the Investigator couple told the sales manager they couldn't afford it. So Mr. Blevins offered them a 'special' deal.

"You have to keep it secret, secret," Blevins said. "No one else in this room gets this."

It was from a vacation club with yet another name, Coral Reef International.

"Your dues are only $99," Blevins said.

The Investigator couple still declined but left with a voucher for the complimentary cruise.

But when we called the cruise was anything but complimentary, so our cameras rolled as the Investigators confronted Mr. Blevins.

"There is no free cruise, as you all put out there?" the Investigators asked.

"It's not free, it's complimentary," Mr. Blevins answered.

To our surprise, Mr. Blevins actually continued with that argument.

"If you get an airline ticket and a cruise for $700 is that a bad deal?" Blevins said. "Nowhere in that paperwork does it say this is a free cruise, if you have a problem with that cruise you need to take it up with that company, not our company. That is a marketing tool."

One of Blevins other "marketing tools"was touting his company's BBB rating, during the sales presentation.

"We're not members, but we have an A rating. So that's even better," he says to our undercover couple.

But when we checked with the BBB on the day we confronted Mr. Blevins,  International vacation services had an F rating.

"All the BBB in my opinion is legal extortion, because all they do is they want you to pay them a fee to get a good rating," Blevins said.

"Travel scams always tend to be in the top 25 percent of the most complained about industries across the United States," Mechele Mills said.

Mills heads the BBB in East Texas. She says deciphering which vacation clubs are legit can be hard to do.

"A lot of these companies know how to work the system," she said. "As soon as enough complaints get built up they'll change their name and say they're somebody else."

That's how the Tompkins say they were misled. They were first told the presentation was by travel services unlimited which has few complaints online.

"We were researching during the presentation on our iPad, but they were using a different company's name than we were looking into," Mrs. Tompkins said.

So Mills says the best thing to do is use a credited BBB club or hire a travel agent.

"I don't believe someone should have to pay any amount of money to have access to book travel. Whether they book through a travel agency, or on line they should not have to pay an up front fee to have access to book travel," Travel Masters owner Sharon Howell said.

Howell said you can find the same great deals on your own or through an agency like hers.

"When we do a comparison, apples to apples we do not find they are any less expensive," she said.

The investigators told the Tompkins what the BBB told us.

"I was very disappointed," Mrs. Tompkins said. 

So they asked for their money and paperwork back. They got it because there was a three day buyers remorse clause in their contract.

Now they want to offer advice to others.

"That's why I'm doing this right now is hopefully to help someone else to alert them to watch out for things like this," Mr. Tompkins said -- so vacation dreams don't turn into potential financial nightmares.

Since we confronted Mr. Blevins the rating for IVS was upgraded to a C- because they had a complaint resolved. But the BBB in South Carolina tells the Investigators that they have numerous more complaints so that think that C- rating may not last long.



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