By all accounts, Sabrina Cousins’ trip to Puerto Vallarta was amazing. She had such a wonderful time that she ended her stay by purchasing an expensive Palladium Travel Club membership. But back home, Cousins quickly came down with a terrible case of post-vacation regret. And she wants us to help pull her out of the travel club mess into which she and her husband find themselves.
But is that possible?
Cousins is just one of a long string of consumers who contact our advocacy team in a panic after returning from vacation with an unplanned timeshare or travel club contract in hand. She discovered, just like the others before her, that these agreements are easy to sign, but breaking them isn’t.
Buying a travel club by surprise
Cousins’ fiasco began when a representative from Palladium Vallarta asked her to attend a travel club presentation. She did. And to her own surprise, she was suddenly agreeing to buy a membership to said travel club.
Sabrina and her husband paid a $2,200 deposit and agreed to continue monthly payments for ten years as part of their new Palladium Travel Club membership.
“At the time, the offer sounded amazing,” Cousins told me. “But now, we have realized this offer is not something that we can afford. What can we do?”
When I first read Cousins’ plea for help, I wasn’t sure that we could do anything for her. Most of these travel club and timeshare cases are not possible to resolve. After all, having post-vacation regret is not a legal defense that will allow for the breaking of a contract.
But I had a little bit of good news for Cousins.
What kind of travel club members does Palladium want?
Just before I had received Cousins’ request for help, I had a conversation with an executive at the Palladium Travel Club. He assured me that they are not in the business of trapping travelers into memberships. In fact, the company doesn’t want any members who feel that they’ve been tricked into a Palladium Travel Club membership.
And my previous cases involving Palladium Travel Club supported this executive’s statements.
Charles Berger asked for our help to mediate his complaint about his membership. As a result, Palladium refunded his down payment of $12,000 and canceled his membership. And when Philip Paul came down with his own case of post-vacation regret, the company agreed to break his travel club contract. Similarly, after arriving home in Canada, Rowena Cruz developed a severe case of buyer’s remorse after signing a Palladium Travel Club contract, and her request for help landed on my desk. I encouraged her to politely ask Palladium to release her from the deal, and the company subsequently agreed.
I can’t say that we have had the same experience with any other timeshare or travel club company. Once you sign on that dotted line, you’re typically out of luck.
Is post-vacation regret a valid reason to break a legally binding contract?
When Cousins reached out to our advocacy team, several weeks had already elapsed since she had signed the travel club contract. Time was of the essence. The longer a consumer waits to attempt to correct the problem, the less chance there is for a positive outcome.
The first step for a traveler in this situation is to make a written cancellation request to the company.
To begin, I gave Cousins a helpful customer service executive contact at Palladium Travel Club and some tips about how to compose her letter to the company.
It’s important to remember that company executives receive many requests for help every day. The letters that get the most favorable attention are short and sweet. These pleas should never include insults or insinuations of employee trickery — those complaints often end in the virtual garbage can.
Our advocacy team sees all manner of insulting and accusatory letters come across our computers. And it’s hard to grasp what the consumer hoped would be the outcome of such a communication. But the results are always predictable.
Asking Palladium Travel Club to cancel this contract
Armed with all of the information that I gave her, Cousins made an official request that Palladium release her from the contract. I reminded Cousins that since she had a lovely time at the resort, she should even throw in a compliment.
Initially, Palladium began a bargaining phase with Cousins. If she would keep her new travel club membership, the company offered her lower monthly rates but with less vacation time over the next ten years. Cousins started to waver. She sent me the new offer and asked for an opinion.
My opinion? Since Palladium had not outright rejected her request to cancel, things looked hopeful. I suggested that if what she really wanted was to cancel her travel club membership, then she should stay firm and make that clear to the company.
Post-vacation regret relieved
Cousins went back to Palladium and made it clear that she wished for a cancellation and not a modification of her travel club contract, if possible. Very soon, she received confirmation of the termination of her membership.
Palladium has now refunded her deposit. Cousins is relieved that she’s no longer facing a financial burden that she feared would last for the next ten years, but she hopes her experience serves as a warning to other vacationers.
That’s a hope Consumer Rescue holds as well.
How to avoid getting caught in a travel club in the first place
Not all companies are as flexible as Palladium. For every consumer like Cousins who is released from a timeshare or travel club contract, many others are just stuck.
On its website, the Federal Trade Commission offers advice about timeshare and vacation club memberships.
The most important tip that can’t be restated enough is: Don’t act on impulse. All the consumers who have contacted our team who have come home from vacation with unwanted expensive purchases (like jewelry, timeshares, travel clubs, and art, among other things) have one thing in common: They acted impulsively while their brains were on vacation mode.
Timeshares and travel club memberships are long-term financial commitments that should only be purchased after careful consideration. Making such a sudden decision while on vacation often leads to a giant, likely irreversible financial headache once you arrive home. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)
*Before you go: Check out Consumer Rescue’s guide to timeshares and travel clubs.