Lynda Shirley thinks she’s been scammed.
She invested $10,000 in a travel club called My Southern Journeys, which promises to “turn your dreams to reality.” Presumably, that would be your travel dreams, but once I started listening to the soundtrack on its website, I was open to other possibilities.
Shirley contacted me after trying to book her first trip with Southern Journeys. None of her many calls were returned, even though she left messages.
Finally, she reached someone in the sales department who agreed to assist her. She told the associate that she wanted to book a trip to Jamaica in December.
No can do, the employee replied. “She told me that seldom, if ever, does a property come up in Jamaica,” says Shirley. “She was able to give me several other islands in the Caribbean and there was one choice for each island, but [she] knew very little about the properties.”
Eventually, she was put through to another employee. She continues,
First, she said she could get us a place in Jamaica, but only in July and August. The place was the Grand Palladium Jamaica Resorts and Spa. This is an all-inclusive resort.
To stay there you must pay $179 per guest, per day. In other words, almost $3,000. This did not include a high season surcharge ($30 per day) and the booking fee of another $400.
In other words, she’s out $10,000 for a membership fee and another $3,000 for her first vacation.
That’s some bargain.
Shirley decided to phone the resort directly.
“I was able to book a junior suite, all-inclusive for two people, for $1,863,” she says. “Rounding off these numbers I find that traveling with Southern Journeys I will pay $1,500 more than booking on my own.”
Hmm. She wondered about some of the other promises made during the Southern Journeys sales presentation.
My husband and I specifically asked about Aberdeen, Scotland, during the sales presentation, and again when speaking privately to the salesman, since our daughter lives there and is expecting a baby.
We were told, “No problem, we can go anywhere in the world with the exception of Africa and a few others.”
The employee cleared that up. There are no properties in Aberdeen and no guarantee that we will ever be able to stay there.
By now you’re probably wondering if Southern Journeys is a scam, too. It’s almost as if the company anticipated the question because right there, on its “frequently asked questions” page, it says:
Is Southern Journeys a scam?
Southern Journeys is not a scam.
The company then explains that people are really asking if its cruise sweepstakes is legit, and that the reason people think it’s a scam — I’m not making this up — is because the word “scam” has fewer characters than “legitimate.”
“I have $10,000 invested in this travel club, plus annual fees and travel fees,” says Shirley. “I have not been able to book the locations I am interested in and, in fact, may not be able to book these trips. Can you please help me? I am afraid we are victims of a scam, or at least a travel package that is not at all what it was represented to be.”
This does indeed look suspicious, but Shirley neglected to do one thing — she’d spent all of her time on the phone instead of putting her grievance in writing. I suggested that she should do that and give Southern Journeys an opportunity to respond to her.
Shirley contacted the company in writing.
“It seems that by mentioning your name and column the company has decided to give me a full refund,” she says. “I appreciate your guidance.”
I love a happy ending, but it doesn’t change my mind about travel clubs. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — the only travel “club” worth belonging to is AAA.