Something about this deal just doesn’t smell fresh

By | February 19th, 2016

When Barbara Smidt bought a Cyber Monday travel deal on FreshTrips for a five-star all-inclusive resort in Cancun, she thought she was getting a bargain.

She got more than she bargained for. And worse, she didn’t know she was in trouble until it was too late. Smidt contacted us on Feb. 7, two days before her trip was supposed to begin.
But first, let’s rewind the tape to see what happened in November. Smidt saw the FreshTrips promotion posted as a Cyber Monday deal through Travelzoo, one of America’s largest travel websites. She booked the trip, which included a 10-day all-inclusive stay at The Royal Sands resort in Cancun, plus airport transfers, and received a confirmation email from the company.

But it wasn’t a traditional confirmation email. Instead, it displayed the amount paid, the dates, and the number of guests. What it did not display was a confirmation number from the resort. And curiously, the email said that she wouldn’t receive a confirmation until 30 days prior to her departure date.


You probably won’t be surprised to know Smidt’s credit card was charged immediately for the full amount of the package. She booked and paid for airline tickets separately, directly with the airline, so she had committed to specific travel dates.

And she didn’t know anything was amiss — until Jan. 9, 30 days before her departure date, when the promised resort confirmation number never arrived.

What she did next is the natural response to any travel booking problem: she contacted the seller, FreshTrips. Tirelessly, in fact. And because Fresh Trips says it is a “travel technology” company, and not a travel agency, they aren’t staffed with phone representatives, and only take phone calls for a fee.

You know, in addition to the thousands of dollars customers have already paid.

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The FreshTrips website smacks of a scam on a few levels. First, it says right in bold print: “OUR COMPANY IS VERY REAL and there’s no scam here!” Something about the all-caps vow of honesty written in purple font set on a backdrop of 1995 web design makes me feel like I’m visiting the blog of a 13-year-old girl — but rest assured, this business says it’s legit. Additionally, it name-drops Travelzoo all over the place, calling the travel giant its “partner” supporting their “mutual clients.”

Well, Smidt’s incessant emails to FreshTrips were met with vague reassurances of “just wait longer,” which understandably made her more nervous. She of course contacted the Royal Sands itself, which had no record of her planned stay. A TripAdvisor thread warning of the ongoing scam claim that customers who received confirmations were provided a physical resort address corresponding to a McDonald’s in Cancun’s Hotel Zone.

When Smidt contacted Travelzoo, surprisingly, she received emails written by its CEO Michael Stitt, who seemed to be in damage control mode. The emails addressed the debacle in vague terms, attempting to assure customers it would do everything it could to see that they were accommodated through another travel partner, Apple Vacations. Travelzoo was nevertheless trying to distance itself from the mess of a situation, which remains shrouded in mystery.

FreshTrips has issued an explanation — and a formal apology — not to its customers, but to Royal Resorts:

Our team at FreshTrips wants to issue a formal apology to Royal Resorts and their wonderful staff. A mistake was made between FreshTrips and a wholesaler we worked with on the Travelzoo promotion we offered on Cyber Monday.

We oversold the allotment of inventory we had surrounding the holidays, which was our fault and we take responsibility. We recognize that Royal Resorts is not at fault because we did not properly communicate this promotion, and we’re sincerely sorry.

We contacted Travelzoo, and in direct response to my inquiry, its CEO Michael Stitt explained:

We are upset about how FreshTrips has handled its promotion. We were in constant contact with the owners of FreshTrips in an attempt to help them fulfill their obligations in offering this deal.

Despite our best efforts, we determined that FreshTrips cannot, or will not, honor all of the bookings they have taken, so we switched our focus to securing a reliable, high-quality alternative.

On February 10, we notified all customers with upcoming travel of an alternative option that Travelzoo secured with Apple Vacations specifically for those impacted by the FreshTrips situation. The alternative offer is at the same price as the offer customers booked with FreshTrips.

Well, that’s nice.

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As a courtesy, Travelzoo will sell you a package at the same price as the one you’ve already paid for. And seeing as how Smidt’s trip was supposed to start on Feb. 9, an offer of help on Feb. 10 is what we’d call “too little, too late.”

Smidt reports that Travelzoo’s customer service supervisor contacted her at our urging, but Smidt had already arrived in Cancun and paid out of pocket for accommodations at the Royal Sands. Travelzoo told us it could not help Smidt, because she already booked other accommodations.

I contacted the Royal Resorts, the company that owns several luxury timeshare properties in Cancun, including the Royal Sands. I know they’re a legitimate company — in fact, my family has been vacationing with them since 1988.

About a week after sending an email to Royal Resorts’ member services office, I received a phone call from the company. Royal Resorts told me that the responsibility for the booking problem rests entirely with FreshTrips, who is “taking care” of its customers. When pushed to define what exactly that treatment entails, Royal Resorts says customers will either receive the accommodations, or obtain refunds, exclusively through FreshTrips.

Royal Resorts denied any knowledge of a scam.

What nobody has explained is how none of the three companies was able to help Smidt prior to her departure for Mexico? Surely, they weren’t waiting for us to get involved?

Today, Smidt is on vacation, but paying more than she bargained for. And because I’m an optimist, I imagine she is currently sipping a margarita poolside or enjoying a massage at the Royal Sands’ world-class spa. Or maybe doing both at the same time.

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Smidt told me she’d reach back out to Fresh Trips upon her return to the States, in an effort to pursue a full refund. As a last resort, she will file a dispute with her credit card company for the transaction gone bad.

All of the trouble, anxiety and time wasted on Smidt’s case should be a lesson to us all. When the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. But it is hard to know the difference between a credible seller and a scam artist, especially when the company is promoted by a known brand like Travelzoo.

We hope in the end that Travelzoo and FreshTrips come through for Smidt. Sometimes it’s better to leave those crazy deals to the next guy, and instead, go with a seller you know.

  • Molly

    You need the option of “All of the above”!

  • John Baker

    Boy does this really stink… Unfortunately the warning signs only came after she’d made the payment. I doubt she gets anything but her payment back and since it was a “really good deal,” she’ll probably be out something.

  • DChamp56

    Wow….. I’d be furious! Hopefully she gets her money back and them some.

  • Chris Johnson

    What a joke of a website they have. I never heard of this company wouldn’t touch them with a ten foot pole. I usually book my vacations directly with the providers directly anyway – it may cost more than through a reseller sometimes but the piece of mind is worth it and looking from what this woman went through, a reseller can end up costing you far more in the long run. If I was going to use a reseller, I’d use one I’d heard of – like Apple Vacations. I never heard of Fresh Trips.

  • sirwired

    Frankly, I have no idea why she didn’t file a credit card dispute as soon as she learned that the resort had no record of her reservation close to her departure date. By that point it was clear that she was getting scammed.

    It’s obvious this is not just a customer service snafu, as they are telling TravelZoo that the deal was “oversold”, yet the resort still had availability for direct bookings.

    TravelZoo is in a tight spot here, since they are just a deal aggregator; they don’t handle the money themselves, and we would not expect them to be on the hook for refunds, but certainly this is a big black eye. I hope they work out some sort of compensation; maybe a voucher for future vacations booked through the site or something.

    The resort is totally blameless here; they are at fault no more than the scammy travel clubs that send out mailers with an airline or cruiseline logo on them.

  • Extramail

    So, if travelzoo doesn’t want me to not book with them, shouldn’t they step up to the plate if fresh trips doesn’t? I’ve already quit booking with vrbo because of the terrible tales told here and elsewhere and we enjoyed their services at least half a dozen times before it got too big for its own good. I surely don’t want to do the same with travelzoo.

  • Extramail

    I don’t want vouchers. I paid in cash, I want cash back. But, certainly agree with you that travelzoo needs to do a better job of vetting. (So, this is where Chris got the idea for his 10-foot pole headline. Love that you found one for him. Wonder if he bought one?)

  • Charles Owen

    Has anyone else been bombarded with ads for Despegar through TripAdvisor? For a few days everywhere I went there was a TripAdvisor ad for Despegar or a Despegar ad directly. Thing is, the prices were like 1/3 of the prices everywhere else, so naturally, I did a search, only to find a thread on TripAdvisor, of all places, entitled “Don’t use Despegar” about how Despegar is a total scam, taking money and not making reservations at all. I don’t really understand companies like TripAdvisor being associated with operations like that.

  • Alan Gore

    Always, always book direct. You may pay a little more but the peace of mind is worth it.

  • Éamon deValera

    Fresh-Trips is a travel agency and registered as such in California. Here is the name and phone number of their CEO Timmy Wozniak, CEO 303-622-3155

    From the California Attorney General

    California doesn’t require a bond for sellers of travel (very unwise if you ask me) but does have (somewhat dubious if you ask me) Travel Consumer Restitution Corporation, click on consumer refunds on the right side of the AGO’s webage

    You may also file a complaint with the AGO on the same page, but frankly since they seem to not handle enforcement I’m not sure what good it will do.

    Timmy the CEO is also on LinkedIn
    Timmy is also on Facebook
    Timmy is on Twitter (not surprising) too
    Google Plus
    Of course you could email him at

    I worry when the CEO uses the diminutive of his or her name.

    One can’t simply say they’re not a seller of travel but a travel technology company when they’re registered as a seller of travel.

    If you could just say whatever you wanted to be then I’m a rhinoceros.

  • judyserienagy

    Why do people insist on giving their credit card information to a humanless website? Stop doing this, people, there’s no reason to continue to get yourselves into trouble. The internet offers many opportunities to check on companies you never heard of … please do so before you buy your next “bargain” online.

  • Tim Mengelkoch

    Isn’t there a 60 day time limit for making a claim to your credit card company? If she booked in November it’s too late now

  • Craig Clark

    This story just drives home the point to use a professional travel agent and make sure that you are covered by travel insurance.

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