With four children, family vacations are expensive for Frank and Jen Wlad from Auburn. When they received a postcard with Jet Blue's logo stating they had been selected to receive two round trip airfares anywhere in the continental U.S. and two nights in a hotel, they thought it was worth a call.
"I figured they had teamed up with Jet Blue and they were going to team up and offer that kind of package," said Frank Wlad.
At worst, the Wlads thought they would have to sit through a timeshare sales pitch.
"Wow - free trip just for going to a presentation," said Jen Wlad.
Frank and Jen were given an appointment at the Auburn Garden Hilton Inn. The couple says that on March 2nd, they sat through a sales pitch for American Travel Planners. It is a members only travel club and Jen Wlad took notes as salespeople talked about incredible discounts they could receive on travel if they joined.
Jen's notes show her surprise when they were told it could cost more than $9000 for the family to join. At first the Wlads assumed the $9000 cost covered the cost of several vacations - but the Wlads say that according to the sales pitch, airfare and hotel costs were not included. Salespeople said the membership would just let the family in on discounts.
"They had done their homework and research on how to get the consumer to reason with them and agree with what they were trying to sell," said Frank Wlad.
Jen was skeptical and slid a note over to her husband saying - "What's the nine thousand for?"
"Once they saw we weren't biting, they just kept on pressing," said Jen Wlad. "They knocked the price down from $9000 - which they thought was a great deal - to $3000 and he actually asked what's stopping us from pulling the credit card out now."
Frank and Jen decided to leave. They say a sales person walked them into a hallway and gave them cards with offers for round trip airfare and hotel stays. Both offers require hundreds of dollars in non refundable fees and deposits and have a long list of restrictions.
No phone number is listed anywhere on the cards and both require you to send money to a post office box before you can even make a reservation.
"With that, I think if you sent your money in, you would never see it again," said Jen Wlad.
Similar postcards have been showing up all across Central New York over the past year.
Last June, a travel seminar selling American Travel Planners memberships at booked a conference room at a Cicero hotel for a month. A day after CNYCentral found the salespeople and asked them questions about the use of the Jet Blue logo on postcards and how the membership worked, the salesmen cancelled appointments and left town three weeks earlier than the hotel expected.
An almost identical postcard to the one showing up around Central New York is included in a lawsuit filed by American Airlines against American Travel Planners. American Airlines got right to the point in court paperwork - stating it believes American Travel Planners and the postcards to be a scam.
The Colorado Attorney General's office also is suing a company called "Sea to Ski Vacations" for deceptive business practices. Sea to Ski Vacations has the same ownership, management and address as American Travel Planners.
Ed Thompson from the the New York State Attorney General's office in Syracuse says the AG's staff has also been investigating these travel club salespeople that pop into town and leave a few days later. "When we go after one of these companies, they come back in a different form, a different name, a different logo. different tactics - move from location to location," said Thompson. American Travel Planners did not return multiple messages we left for them at different numbers. . The company has an "F" rating on the Better Business Bureau's Washington D.C. website. American Travel Planners did answer one BBB online complaint by saying the memberships are sold by independent contractors and American Travel Planners is just a travel agency only receiving money when members book a trip through them. According to the response posted on the BBB website, American Travel Planners says it does not make promises of free airfare or a guaranteed travel discount, just a 110% price match on advertised travel from other travel sites. We are not sure what a "110 percent" price match is, since the company does not explain it on its website. Frank and Jen Wlad are worried postcards appearing to be from a major airline may have convinced others to pay thousands for services available to anyone at a travel agent or through websites like Expedia or Travelocity. "Several people we know have gotten one. my daughter is 17, she got one," said Jen Wlad.