DEAR TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER: We visited the Grand Palladium Jamaica Resort & Spa recently. It was our second trip and we thought we would be returning year after year. The resort presented us with an opportunity to save on future vacations through its travel club. My husband and I thought it made sense. We paid $1,599 for a down payment on a Palladium Travel Club membership.
However, after getting back to the room we realized it was not a savings at all, and they had not told us the true cost hidden in the fine print. We quickly alerted our credit card company and disputed the charge. Palladium has reached out saying we cannot cancel and the dispute cannot stand. We are reaching out in hopes you can help us.
— Meghan Allen, Cleveland, Tennessee
ANSWER: Palladium should have offered a no-questions-asked refund when you asked for one. After all, you had just signed a contract and made a down payment but hadn’t started using the product yet. What’s the harm in letting you off the hook?
But that’s not how travel clubs work. Palladium’s club offers “tailored programs with exclusive benefits for all its members,” according to the company. “Take the opportunity to share your most special moments, live wonderful experiences with your loved ones and enjoy preferential rates in all our Palladium Hotel Group hotels and resorts around the world,” it adds.
The travel club is a little vague about the benefits and the costs. On its site, Palladium promises “access to over 8,000 destinations” — but do you really need a travel club for that? It gives you “booking priority” — but is that worth $1,599 (as a down payment)? And it offers “personalized service” — but doesn’t the hotel chain offer good service to all of its guests?
Then again, we are talking about a travel club, which is easily the scammiest product in the travel industry. I don’t like the high-pressure sales tactics used by travel clubs. I think travel companies hurt themselves when they market their products in this way. They may make short-term gains, but they will alienate many customers over the long term. In fact, I’m only familiar with one legitimate travel club: AAA.
Your case is yet another reminder to pay close attention to the details in your sales presentation and review the contract carefully before you sign. Don’t wait until after you’re back in your room, or back from vacation, to have second thoughts. By then, it may be too late.
I list the names, numbers and email addresses for the Palladium Travel Club executives on my nonprofit consumer advocacy site. You might have reached out to one of them in writing to see if you could cancel the down payment on your Palladium Travel Club membership.
Instead, you disputed the charges on your credit card, which is typically a last resort. I think you would have lost the dispute since you signed an agreement to join the club.
I contacted Palladium on your behalf. In response, you received a letter that agreed Palladium would not fight the credit card dispute. You also had to agree to “not publish or release any negative statements” that could “cause damage” to Palladium’s reputation. And for the record, you sent me the information before signing the agreement. Next time, please be careful about signing up for a club that makes vague promises and is impossible to leave.