Local News

Judge grounds discount travel firm

Posted September 12, 2008 2:37 p.m. EDT

— A judge on Thursday ordered a travel club that charged members thousands of dollars but didn’t provide promised travel discounts to stop doing business in North Carolina.

Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner's order prevents Michael Mitchell and Lexington, S.C.-based Vacation International Professional Services LLC, or VIP, from drafting fees from consumers’ accounts or charging their credit cards. The order also requires the company to maintain all records of its operations in the state and prohibits the firm from transferring its assets or spending any money collected from North Carolinians.

Attorney General Roy Cooper said he is seeking a permanent injunction against VIP, refunds for consumers and civil penalties.

“It’s hard enough for families to afford vacations without travel clubs ripping them off,” Cooper said in a statement. “Pushing people to make a hasty decision and failing to live up to your promises is bad business.”

Cooper alleged that VIP called consumers or sent them post cards promising two round-trip airfares to anywhere in the U.S. People who responded to the call or mailing were offered free airfare, a $100 voucher for gas and a free vacation package if they would attend a presentation at a local hotel, he said.

According to consumers who attended, VIP’s presentations included a high-pressure sales pitch to join its discount travel club. The company promised discounts on travel costs and four free weeks of vacation a year at 12,000 resorts worldwide in exchange for joining the club.

People paid an average of $3,500 and as much as $7,500 to sign up but did not get the discounts and vacations that VIP promised, Cooper said. Consumers who tried to book trips were told by VIP that the hotels and flights they requested were not available, and airlines would not honor the discount codes that VIP gave customers, he said.

Kent and Darlene Wilhelm of Pinehurst said they lost $8,600 by joining VIP's discount travel club. Their case was featured on WRAL in May.

Since then, Kent Wilhelm said he completed and returned a release form to the company to get a promised refund. A company representative told him in late May it would take 15 days to process the refund, but Wilhelm said Friday he still hasn't received any money.

Sixty-two North Carolina residents complained about VIP to the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General's Office, and 144 complaints nationwide were registered with the Better Business Bureau.