I sat through the timeshare presentation so where is my free cruise?

There’s no such thing as a free lunch — or in Mark Spurgeon’s case, a free cruise.

Spurgeon fell for a notorious timeshare sales pitch: In exchange for attending a sales presentation by Sunny Palms International, a brand of the Villa Group timeshare company, Spurgeon was promised a free eight-day cruise.

His story stands as another warning to beware of this sales ploy — and to research the company making the pitch before sitting through the sales presentation. Had Spurgeon done so, he might have saved himself $1,391.

Spurgeon decided to travel to Mexico for five days to attend the sales presentation, which lasted three hours. When he returned home, he filled out and sent the paperwork to claim a certificate for the cruise from Sunny Palms International. He received the following response:

We have added your name to the cruise certificate waiting list today and this will be sent out to you in due course. The certificates are sent out on a monthly basis and can be 2 – 3 months behind. Please be patient.

But after three months, Spurgeon had not received the certificate.

Spurgeon called Sunny Palms’ customer service again, and was told that it would now take the company four to six months to issue the certificate. At that point, Spurgeon contacted our advocates for assistance. He wants either the cruise certificate or $1,000 of the cost of his trip back.

Says Spurgeon:

I now believe that Sunny Palms International is a front for The Villa Group out of San Diego … which operates a number of timeshare properties in Mexico.

The Sunny Palms International people call you and entice you to come to Mexico for five days and four nights at one of their properties where you go through a timeshare presentation. The reason you take their bait is that you think you are getting two vacations for the price of one since your bonus, once you complete the Mexico trip, is a one-week cruise certificate that [is] good for anywhere with any cruise line.

I further believe that Sunny Palms International was a new front at the time of their call to me, as I did some online research on the company, including The Villa Group, and saw either no or very few complaints. In fact, TripAdvisor had the resort in Mexico rated 4+ stars; this is why I did the deal.

Now, when you go online, you see a ton of complaints, and The Villa Group is rated an F by the BBB [Better Business Bureau].

But we think the cost of his trip to Mexico is sunk.

We don’t have executive contacts for Sunny Palms International or The Villa Group in our database. Sunny Palms’ website contact page lists a toll-free number, an email address for customer service, and a fax number. The Villa Group’s website contact page lists a number of resorts and contact information for their general managers, but there is no mention of Sunny Palms International anywhere on its site.

The internet contains a large number of complaints about both companies, as Spurgeon mentioned. We wish — and presumably so does Spurgeon — that he had researched Sunny Palms International and The Villa Group before booking his trip to Mexico, because he might have decided that the trip was not worth booking. The email he received advising him to “be patient” was a bright red flag that it was very unlikely that he was ever going to receive the certificate.

Our advocates reached out to Sunny Palms International, but have received no response. We can only agree with Spurgeon that the company is a scam and warn our readers not to fall for it. The best way to take a cruise vacation is to pay for it without sitting through a worthless timeshare presentation.

Update: Spurgeon has notified us that he has received his cruise certificate from Sunny Palms International.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org.

  • Rebecca

    Just because he received a “certificate” does not mean he’ll actually go on a free cruise. The next step is for them to require him to send money orders as “reservation fees” or to pay for “taxes and fees” or as a “certificate guarantee” or something.

    Then he’ll be asked eventually to “choose his preferred dates”. None of them will ever be available. He’ll call back/write back with new dates, and round and round they’ll go. Often, they require another money order to “secure your requested date”.

    Most people give up at various points throughout the process. They just milk people for money orders, stringing them along until they give up.

    I know all about this scam. As it stands, he hasn’t sent any money to anyone to use the certificate. He needs to rip it up and throw it away.

    His phone number is now valuable to people running all kinds of travel/vacation club/timeshare scams. Hang up the phone! It’s always too good to be true!

  • When I see the words “time share” I run away as fast as possible.

  • Altosk

    Time Share = Scam

  • Bill___A

    If Mexico is allowed in NAFTA then there should be some continuity in legal systems and these scams should be put out of business. That said, I don’t know why people don’t stay away from them.

  • greg watson

    I hope that you will follow up on this case. He may have been the only person to receive a cruise certificate, because of your involvement. Let us know if he actually took the cruise, & if he had to pay anything upfront. Verrry interesting. We could see a company name change in the near future.

  • Hanope

    I’d be very wary of any time share offereing that big of a “prize.” I’ve sat on a couple, while already on vacation, that gave me a free snorkeling trip w/lunch, a free dinner cruise, 3 free days of rental car, and credit on a resort/amenities bill. While I enjoyed the free stuff, I’m not convinced the experience was worth it, as the time-share stuff is a pretty hard sell. I was always able to say no with the excuse that my parents already have a time share (and I was using one of their weeks) and I didn’t need to buy one as I could use theirs.

    And now that I own one of my parents time shares, I can say that its not for everyone, and doesn’t really save all that much money. Perhaps some, but after all the fees involved in maintenance, depositing and exchanges, I’d be surprised if it saved more than $100. Usually the exchange places are pretty nice (only had 2 I’d say were not so great), but I’m still not sure I’d recommend one to anyone.

  • Lindabator

    and timeshares are run the very same right here in the US

  • BubbaJoe123

    I would never do the “listen to the presentation to get something in the future.” A friend has done several of the “get the really cheap vacation, so long as you listen to the presentation during your vacation” timeshares. It’s a pretty hard sell. He says what worked really well to cut the process short the last time was when he sat down for the presentation and very obviously pulled out his cellphone and started to record it. Turns out, the staff really didn’t like the idea of having their entire sales pitch documented for future reference.

  • jim6555

    My friend and his wife take an annual vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. He used to brag that they could attend two or three of timeshare presentations each year while there and walk away with enough of their incentive cash to cover most of his trip expenses. I asked him what he did about the high pressure sales tactics that always accompany the presentations. He said that he had become a pro at being able to say NO and there was nothing that they could do to make him sign a contract. That was before last year. When he returned from Mexico last Spring, he seemed very upset and, at first, would not tell me why. After a couple of days, the truth came out. A sales agent at a timeshare property that they had fallen in love with had indeed convinced him to sign a contract and put down a $2,000 deposit. He tried to cancel before he left Mexico, but they refused to give him his money back. He eventually did get out of the contract and received a refund, but that was after he hired an Attorney in Mexico who charged him $800 in legal fees. The lesson to be learned from my friend’s experience is that no one is immune from the high pressure tactics that these sharks use. Don’t get sucked in to attending one of these presentations, no matter how much money or how spectacular the free trip that is being offered.

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