The letters showing up around Central New York say you have been selected to receive two round trip airfares to anywhere in the Continental U.S. It also entices you with two nights in one of over 1000 Marriott hotel locations. No return address or company name is provided.
The national Better Business Bureau has called other letters it has seen around the country with the exact wording "a scam". Marriott Hotels says its attorneys are pursuing legal action against the company who sent out the letters in Central New York.
"Generally, when you make these phone calls or you attend one these seminars with this offer, you will find out there are hidden fees so you have to respond with extreme caution,â?? says Better Business Bureau spokesperson Peggy Panders.
For this particular letter received in Central New York, the people who called were given an appointment for a sales pitch by a travel club called "Endless Access" at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Syracuse.
Endless Access gave me permission to attend the sales pitch. Normally, only couples with an invitation can get in, and only if they have photo ID and a credit card.
Our TV camera had to stay outside, but I was allowed to use my cell phone camera.
Seven couples were in our session. We were told Endless Access is an exclusive travel club allowing members to use its website to book travel deals. The presenter lets us know two things up front: the company does not provide discounts on airfare since those prices are set by airlines, and the cost to join the travel club is $9000. That doesn't get you any travel, just the right to buy trips on their website.
A presenter showed several slides with impressive discounts on hotel or resort deals in vacation spots around the world. Tom O'Neil and his wife Mahala were there. They did not intend to buy, but were impressed by the examples they saw.
"Very good presentation showing all the money you would save for all the vacations. If we had the money we probably would have taken it,â?? Tom Oâ??Neill said.
The travel club is called Endless Access, but on each table was a Better Business Bureau summary for a company called saveonresorts.com.
Endless Access has only been in business for three and a half months. Scott Brown, a representative from Endless Access, says saveonresorts.com provides the software they use to make travel club reservations.
"Everything goes through save on resorts,â?? said Brown in a phone interview. He also said, â??I don't know that much in-depth about how they operate their business."
Save on resorts did not return messages we left for them by e-mail.
Endless Access is too new to be accredited by the BBB. The company's BBB page has no complaints and no positive reviews. Save on Resorts has an A+ rating on the BBB's website. In response to one of 23 complaints related to travel clubs generated over the past two years, Save on Resorts said it "has no part in the marketing, selling, management or administration of these clubs and programs."
Tom Oâ??Neil tells us he was confused as to why salespeople for Endless Access showed a BBB report for a different company.
â??Kind of going in a circle, telling us the Better Business Bureau likes this company but they are definitely another company then,â?? Oâ??Neil said.
At the end of the presentation, salespeople sat down with each couple. Multiple couples tell me the $9000 price tag was lowered at that time.
"We wanted to sleep on it and you can't. You have to say yes today,â?? Tom Oâ??Neil said.
Endless Access allowed cnycentral.com to remotely look at their website while they conducted searches for us.
The website layout is very similar to Expedia, Travelocity or Orbitz. On two of three vacation searches we requested, Endless Access quoted lower rates for hotels than other sites, but when we asked for a quote for a Boston hotel, the Endless Access price was more expensive than the hotel's own website. Scott Brown from Endless Access says the travel club is not always the best deal but "people who vacation more get more value.â??
Brown says his company is legitimate, but acknowledged travel clubs have developed a bad reputation. He believes "there needs to be some regulations. Licenses or something."
He also apologizes for the marketing letters and said they were sent out by a contractor. "That is a problem for sure,â?? he says.
The sales pitch did not convince Tom and Mahala Oâ??Neil. After they walked out of the seminar we showed them the BBB warning and Marriott's concerns. They said they like a good deal but this one was not right for them.
"If it is too good to be true, it probably is,â?? Tom Oâ??Neil said.
Scott Brown from Endless Access Travel says he knows other travel clubs have run into problems with the airlines and attorney general's offices across the country. He says he wants to make sure any and all marketing materials being sent out by Endless Access have company information and full disclosures right up front.