Travel club left consumers going nowhere, complaints say
Posted May 15, 2008
Pinehurst, N.C. — Complaints from North Carolina residents against a travel club have prompted state Attorney General Roy Cooper to tell the company to hit the road.
The company, South Carolina-based Vacation International Professionals, or V.I.P., operated a Durham office last summer.
The Better Business Bureau shows 106 complaints in the past year against V.I.P. Both North and South Carolina have dozens complaints against them. 5 on Your Side has five complaints against V.I.P., including one from Moore County resident Kent Wilhelm.
Wilhelm, of Pinehurst, and his wife, Darlene, travel a lot since retiring. The couple has unlimited time, but not unlimited income, so they decided to take advantage of an offer from V.I.P. for travel during a seminar last summer.
“They had buying power with the major cruise lines, airlines, hotels, restaurants, golf that they were getting like 75 percent discounts” Wilhelm said.
A six-year membership costs nearly $8,600, including a $399 documentation fee and a $199 annual service charge, according to V.I.P. Travel’s contract.
The Wilhelms split the cost with another couple.
Wilhelm said the promised travels "deals" didn't materialize. For example, Wilhelm said, the company promised a 10-day Mediterranean cruise, including airfare, for $1,400. Wilhelm said that when he called to get it, it wasn’t available.
“It took them a month to respond, and the best deal they could find was $1,750 for a seven-day cruise, no airfare,” Wilhelm said.
When the couple booked a hotel room through V.I.P., Wilhelm said the hotel was “in the red light district.”
The travel club membership also came with two "free" domestic round-trip airplane tickets, but when the certificates arrived, Wilhelm said, the tickets weren’t free.
“It says in the small print that it costs $150 per person plus taxes,” he said.
Wilhelm said he called V.I.P. repeatedly, but was always directed to the same person who never called back. So Wilhelm contacted 5 on Your Side.
A 5 on Your Side investigation showed South Carolina's Department of Consumer Affairs filed suit against V.I.P. alleging "unfair, deceptive, and misleading practices" after receiving 64 complaints about the company. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has 45 complaints.
“We believed they were not offering product that helped N.C. Consumers and in fact … harmed them," Cooper said.
The complaints led Cooper to tell V.I.P. to stop doing business here.
Company spokesman Roger Helton told 5 on Your Side that V.I.P. left North Carolina voluntarily because they were having trouble getting in compliance with state laws.
Helton said most complaints have involved promotional items – like free air tickets – that Helton says are from other companies. The tickets have "compliments of V.I.P. Travel" printed on them.
Helton said the company’s attorneys are working with different agencies to resolve complaints.
Helton agreed to refund Wilhelm’s $8,600. Cooper said he thinks others will get refunds, too.
With the summer travel season approaching, Cooper is warning consumers to watch out.
“When people get into these travel clubs, they think they're going to save money. Often times, they lose money,” Cooper said.