Update from Ralph Bristol Morning News - BBB Middle Tennessee can be heard Fridays at 7:40am on the Ralph Bristol Nashville Morning News, WTN 99.7 (FM Radio)
Consumers verified to receive free airfare and hotel certificates felt misled
[November 12, 2010 Nashville, TN] Ahhhhh, the thought of relaxing with a refreshing drink on the beach with a loved one is something we all long for. To make that dream come true, BIG World Vacations has been sending direct mail pieces to consumers throughout Middle Tennessee that state the recipient has been verified to "receive TWO ROUND TRIP AIRFARES to a major International Airport in the CONTINENTAL USA!" Decorated with balloons and a birthday cake, the mailer entices the consumer to believe that in celebration of his or her birthday he or she has been chosen to receive free airfare and hotel stays, but complaints on file with BBB indicate there is no celebration only hefty fees, restrictions, and frustrations.
Consumers who respond to the offer are required to attend a 90-minute sales presentation on vacations and timeshares and upon completion are presented with an "Airfare and Hotel Getaway Certificate." What consumers did not expect were amount of taxes, fees, and restrictions that applied. In order to redeem the certificate and proceed with the scheduling of airfare and hotel stays for two, the customer must first pay $350.00 to cover processing fees, hotel taxes, airline taxes, transfers, airport fees, travel agency fees, etc. Some complaints allege the fees were much higher than $350.00. The next hurdle was to book the vacation 90 days in advance excluding dates near holidays and during major conventions, and it excludes the weekends! Check is in usually on Monday or Tuesday, and by the way, meals and all other miscellaneous charges are not included with the offer.
Most consumers felt the offer was misleading as the airfare and hotel stay was not free. In fact, some consumers researched the cost of the vacation without the getaway certificate offer and found airfare and hotel stays for less money. One customer said, "Their sales/advertising hook is just that, a hook and they don't deliver what they offer for attending their sales pitch."
Several consumers said the company's sales presentation led them to believe the company was BBB Accredited with an A+ rating; however, BIG World Vacations is not BBB Accredited and has never maintained an A+ rating. In fact, BIG World Vacations currently maintains an F rating due to a volume and pattern of complaint, advertising issues, and unanswered and unresolved complaints on file with BBB.
BBB offers the following advice when responding to a vacation promotion:
- Contact your Better Business Bureau for a reliability report on the company providing the vacation certificate and any other company involved in an offer that requires you to listen to a sales presentation or purchase a product. Until you receive complete details in writing of the total cost, terms, conditions and restrictions do not offer any payment to the company.
- Determine all costs involved in using a vacation certificate. It will be your responsibility to pay for anything not specifically mentioned. Do you pay for:
- Hotel, timeshare resort, or other lodging? Meals?
- Transportation from your home to the resort? Do you have to travel to a distant location before the company pays for "free" travel?
- Transportation from the airport to the lodging accommodation?
- Additional fees for the peak tourist season? When is the peak season?
- Before traveling, confirm all arrangements directly with the:
- Airlines, cruise lines, etc.
- Hotel, timeshare resort, etc. (By requesting descriptive brochures directly from the lodging you may avoid any unpleasant surprises once you arrive.)
- Business sponsors such as restaurants or resort attractions offering discount or other coupons. Determine any restrictions on the use of these coupons.
- Ask questions - What happens if the hotel or other accommodations are completely booked. Find out what the company will do if it cannot match your request with a specific vacation time. Can you get your money back?
- If "free" travel is offered, can you make your own travel arrangements, or do you have to use a specific travel agent? Is the rate competitive with rates available through other travel agents, airlines, etc.?
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The BBB of Middle Tennessee, Inc. was founded in 1961 as a non-profit Tennessee organization serving 38 counties in Middle Tennessee and 7 counties in Southern Kentucky. The first BBB was founded in 1912. Today, BBBs serve communities across the U.S. and Canada.
Serving as the 'ethical gatepost' of our communities, BBB fosters and promotes ethical business practices and self-regulation standards that build consumer trust in the marketplace. BBB services include business reliability information, complaint resolution services and consumer and business educational information. In 2008 BBB Nashville handled over 4.0 million services requests via our web site www.nashville.bbb.org.
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