Without proof of cohabitation, your case is a lost cause

BookVIP.com offered Dorothy Pullen an unbelievable $599 rate for five nights at the Sandos Playacar Resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Turns out, she shouldn’t have believed it.

While we couldn’t help Pullen obtain a refund, this case is important for the two lessons it offers: to always read the terms and conditions before you accept them; and to never carpet-bomb with threats a company holding your money.

Pullen received a promotional email from BookVIP.com, a website operated by Resort Vacations International. When she called to book the package, taxes were added, bringing her total to $728.

The representative also added a requirement to Pullen’s purchase — she and her companion would have to attend a 90- to 120-minute vacation club sales presentation during their stay at the resort. When she paid for the package, Pullen says she told the representative that she would attend the presentation, but she would not be purchasing anything.

Pullen was also asked if she was married to or cohabiting with her companion and she responded that they are cohabiting. She said that when she received the email confirmation it had a button to agree to the package, which she clicked to finalize her reservation. She didn’t have an opportunity to read the terms and conditions until after she had confirmed the purchase. But even when she had the opportunity to review the terms, she didn’t.

The day before departing for Mexico, Pullen received a text message from BookVIP.com reminding her if she didn’t attend the sales presentation she would be required to pay an additional $150 per night for not meeting the requirements of the package she bought.

So Pullen packed her bags, grabbed her passport and headed to Mexico.

On arrival, she was informed that an appointment had been made for her to attend the club vacation presentation the next morning. When she arrived at the tour desk, she spent two hours trying to check in for the presentation. When the staff asked for her and her companion’s IDs, there was a question about whether or not Pullen and her companion were indeed cohabiting because they were unable to produce any documentation showing they shared an address. The staff said if Pullen had a utility bill that would suffice, but Pullen doesn’t travel with utility bills.

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The resort staff told Pullen she would either need to pay additional money for her stay or find another place to stay. She paid an additional $994 and was assured by the staff that BookVIP.com would refund the $728 it charged her. The staff even tried to contact BookVIP.com to process the refund immediately but could not reach their contact. Pullen stayed the full five nights, attended the presentation and returned home to an email from BookVIP, asking how she enjoyed her stay at Sandos Playacar.

Before we get to that email and Pullen’s response to it, let’s compare her account of events with that of BookVIP.com.

According to BookVIP.com, the “highly trained representative” who spoke with Pullen by phone would have told her that she and her companion would need to prove that they were cohabiting by presenting IDs or other documentation proving they reside at the same address. The company also claims Pullen would have received the email confirmation while she was on the phone with a representative and would have had to verbally review the terms and conditions before agreeing to them online.

We have no way to confirm whether Pullen’s or BookVIP.com’s story of the booking is correct. Everything happened by phone and BookVIP.com apparently doesn’t record their calls. But we can confirm that proof of cohabitation is noted in BookVIP.com’s terms and conditions listed on its website. Had Pullen read those terms and conditions before (or even after) she confirmed her booking, she would have known that either they weren’t eligible for the promotion or they needed to bring sufficient documentation to satisfy the requirements.

While Pullen should have made herself aware of BookVIP.com’s requirements and not confirmed her package without knowing what they were, the requirements do seem to be unusual for a traditional resort booking. If no one verbalized the requirements, as Pullen claims, and she had never participated in a vacation club package, why would she have anticipated such strange “qualification” rules?

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Only married or cohabiting couples between the ages of 30 and 65 or single women qualify for the promotional package. Married couples must either have the same name or otherwise prove they are married by producing their marriage certificate or children verified to be theirs. A credit card with a minimum of a $2,000 open limit must also be produced upon check-in.

I understand financially prequalifying people for a purchase before allowing them to book a promotional package, but specifying marital status and excluding single men seems discriminatory.

Now let’s talk about Pullen’s response to BookVIP.com’s email asking if she enjoyed the trip.

In addition to telling the company that she had a terrible time at the resort because of the way she was treated upon check-in, she bragged about their previous travels, staying “at Peninsula Hotels & Four Seasons hotels all over the world,” and made several threats should BookViP.com not refund her $728 within 24 hours.

Know this: I will not rest until I get a full refund on this promotion scam. We will tell everyone we know about our experience with your organization. We will post a negative review about BookVIP on TripAdvisor and every social media travel website that we can find. I will call the Better Business Bureau and inform them of this scam. I will file a dispute with my credit card company as we did not receive the services for which we paid through BookVIP. Indeed we were forced to pay a much higher rate.

Unless I hear from you within 24 hours of the time stamp on this email, I will begin the campaign to put your company out of business in the U.S. for making our much needed vacation such a hassle.

We’ve repeatedly advised that your best chance for a positive resolution of a dispute with a company is to start with a politely worded email to the customer service department. Wait seven days and then escalate your case. Taking an approach that is rude, demeaning or threatening will only serve to make the company more determined to not work with you.

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And that’s what happened in this case. BookVIP.com denied her request for a refund.

When Pullen reached out to us, we contacted BookVIP.com on her behalf. In its response the company not only denied that it had any responsibility for Pullen’s “misunderstanding” of the terms, but it also claimed that it did Pullen a favor by not charging her the additional $150 per night for not meeting the requirements of the promotional package.

In its terms and conditions BookVIP.com only claims to charge an additional $150 per night for not attending the sales presentation — nowhere in its terms and conditions does it assert it will charge for the failure to meet any other term. So I don’t think the company did Pullen a favor — I think it abided by its terms.

In the end, Pullen still paid at least $800 less than the prices listed on the Sandos Playacar Resort website for a five-night stay. Since she admits she didn’t read the terms and conditions of her stay — terms which are easily accessible — and alienated the business, we can’t help her and will have to file this as a Case Dismissed.

We will take this opportunity to remind everyone once again: Read those terms and conditions, and if something goes wrong, ask for documentation and be polite in your attempts to resolve it. Otherwise, we won’t be able to help you, either.

Should BookVIP.com return Pullen's $728?

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Michelle Bell

Michelle worked in the travel and hospitality industry for almost two decades. Born in Germany, she has lived in 15 states and two foreign countries, and traveled to more than 35 countries. After living and working in Southeast Asia for several years, she now resides in New Orleans. Read more of Michelle Bell's articles here.

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