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Jerry McManamon loves to travel and play golf abroad. But one thing he'd never done: "I've never been on a cruise, and neither has my wife."
So when a postcard arrived offering a free Caribbean cruise, McManamon was thrilled. The catch: In order to cash in, he had to attend a sales presentation for a travel club.
"A travel club is a club whereby a consumer can pay a fee to join and they are told that by joining they'll get to take advantage of special travel offers," said Alison Preszler, Better Business Bureau.
McManamon says he was promised up to 60 percent off on airfare and hotel rates. So he signed up. The price to join: nearly $4,800.
"If we could get a room normally $120 and we could get it for 60, that makes it a lot easier or more affordable for us to go," said McManamon.
But despite high hopes, McManamon feels like he was taken for a ride, and not the kind he expected.
The Federal Trade Commission says travel clubs are on its radar.
"The FTC has taken action against 17 different travel clubs over the past several years," said Lois Greisman, Federal Trade Commission. "Primarily, we've alleged that they have deceptively advertised what it is that they promise."
And the Better Business Bureau has logged more than 350 consumer complaints this year alone.
"We've heard from consumers who say that it was actually very difficult to book the travel that they wanted to through the company," said Preszler.
That's what happened to Tom Cross. He shelled out thousands of dollars to join a club. When he tried to book a condo, he found the travel club price was $500 more than if he'd booked on his own.
"That upset us and that's when we really started to question the whole operation," said Cross.
McManamon tried to book a flight through his club but says he only saved about five dollars. "It definitely wasn't any big savings," he said.
Before you sign up, the FTC says to read the club's contract carefully and know the cancellation policy. Also, be wary of high-pressure sales tactics. Of course you can check with the BBB for prior complaints.
In addition to the thousands of dollars to sign up for these clubs, many also have annual renewal fees too.
The Better Business Bureau says the number of complaints against travel clubs is up, with the organization receiving more than 350 this year alone. The agency also sent out a consumer alert on the topic: http://us.bbb.org/WWWRoot/SitePage.aspx?site=113&id=1869d6a9-82aa-49a1-8419-40a8251fa916&art=4945