Hey Travelzoo, you call that a winery tour and gourmet lunch?

Alexander Chaikin/Shutterstock
Alexander Chaikin/Shutterstock
Bob McIntyre and his wife have just suffered through the worst meal ever at a struggling winery. Can they get their money back?

Question: I purchased a $29 “local deal” winery tour from Travelzoo. It included a tour, signature wine glasses, and a gourmet lunch for $29. The list price on it was $62.

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I called several days before we redeemed the voucher to make a reservation. When we arrived, there was only one other couple in attendance. A young woman offered us a tour of a withered collection of staked vines. Most of them were not alive.

We then returned to the main building — a converted biker bar — and viewed an empty room that was to have contained last year’s crop, which had been eliminated by a cold snap in May.

We sat at a table and were presented with a tasting menu that cost an additional $24 a couple. It included three tastes of wine, about six ounces. They were very stingy in filling the glasses — about one ounce per taste.

We decided to not participate in this ad hoc wine tasting so they removed our two free glasses. There were also three microscopic pieces of cheese to taste.

Finally it was time for our $62 “gourmet” lunch. We each received one half a ham and cheese sandwich on rye bread. There were also two small pieces of bread crust with crushed nuts and a slice of cucumber.

Nothing else was offered. I spent an additional $11 to buy my wife a half a glass of wine. This was the worst meal deal we have ever seen.

I called Travelzoo that afternoon, and was given a ticket number and promised a call back within 24 hours. I waited two days then called again. A representative promised to “escalate” the issue, but no one has followed up.

We would appreciate an intervention on our behalf and a credit for our miserable experience.

Bob McIntyre, San Antonio, Texas

Answer: You’re absolutely right, that’s no gourmet lunch. It sounds more like a cynical effort to monetize someone who wanted to save a few bucks. Travelzoo should have done a better job vetting this “deal” before selling it on its site.

But I think you made several missteps when you discovered you were about to be served the “worst meal deal.” When someone says half a ham sandwich is worth $62, don’t walk away – run! Consuming the meal and a tiny shot of wine means you accept the deal, and makes it far more difficult to secure any kind of refund.

The other problem, of course, is that you did this by phone. As a reminder, when you call a company, you’re giving it every advantage. It can record your call (but doesn’t have to share the transcript with you unless you sue it). There’s no meaningful record of the conversation, and it can safely ignore you. Which is exactly what it did.

I recommended you send a brief, polite email to Travelzoo through its website. An email creates a reliable record and can’t be ignored as easily. I list the names and address of the Travelzoo executives on my site.

You did that. Travelzoo refunded your $29.

Does Travelzoo vet its offers closely enough?

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75 thoughts on “Hey Travelzoo, you call that a winery tour and gourmet lunch?

    1. You’ve never heard of Travelzoo? No wonder you think it’s a good thing, because if you like to travel, you don’t know what they’re missing! No company is perfect; don’t judge them on this alone, especially since this is a “local deal”. I’ve never had anything but good experiences with Travelzoo’s main site. Do yourself a favor and familarize yourself with them, you won’t regret it. And no, I’m not an employee. 🙂

    2. I’ve also used TravelZoo and had nothing but good experiences with them. That being said, before I book anything I review the offer and research the resort or hotel or whatever on-line before booking their deal. I view TravelZoo solely as a portal that links me to deals, and I do the vetting myself. It’s worked great so far.

      1. These companies are a dime a dozen, so not knowing about many of them isn’t that unusual. I only heard about this company a few months ago myself. By the time you hear about them, they are on their way out anyway.

          1. Well I just heard of them and they are located nearby. But that isn’t new when these companies are a dime a dozen, especially in the Silicon Valley and aren’t ones that my industry deals with.

  1. It really seems like a sad story if you read between the lines – of people trying to establish a winery and failing after a bad harvest. But perhaps I’ve seen the movie Jean de Florette too many times.

  2. It’s hard to answer the poll because there is not enough historical information about past experiences. Was this the first offering? Had the winery done the tour in the past that would have met the expectations but because of the destroyed crop? Regardless of the past experiences, Travelzoo definitely dropped the ball on this when the OP called them and then failed to follow through.

  3. The offer obviously did not meet the OP’s expectations. Without seeing the offer language, its hard to know if the expectations were reasonable or not. Based on the narrative, I’m inclined to believe that offer did not live up to its billing. However, I also agree with Chris’s statement “Consuming the meal and a tiny shot of wine means you accept the deal.” If you’re in a restaurant and there’s an issue with your meal, you don’t lick the plate clean and then try to argue you should get your meal for free. You call the manager over as soon as you realize there’s an issue and handle it then or you eat the meal and never return.

    I couldn’t vote today.

  4. Well, Travelzoo certainly didn’t vet this offer. Then again, how many sites, newspapers, other media actually go out and vet their advertisers (which this vineyard is). I would guess they all take a chance on new advertisers, assuming everything will be fine until it’s not.

    1. I’d say the major difference between the Washington Post or Elliott.org accepting advertisers without vetting an offer in an ad and Travelzoo is who accepts the money.

      In this case Travelzoo accepts the payment. Basically, they’re marking up something offered by another party. In that situation, Travelzoo has a duty to look at the quality of the product they sell just like JC Penny, Walmart etc has a duty to verify the quality of anything they sell.

      1. TravelZoo thinks otherwise. Part of their agreement. Sorry, its in all caps on there and I don’t want to go through and change it, so please don’t think I am yelling 🙂


        1. No worries on the all caps…

          I think most legal minds would say that by accepting the money TravelZoo has a duty to insure that whatever is advertised is delivered. I think CC companies would agree too…

          Completely different if they bounced you to another site or didn’t bill you.

          It maybe why the rolled over so quickly on refunding the OP’s payment.

          1. Alas, most legal minds would not jump to that conclusion.

            It all depends on the relationship that Travelzoo has with its suppliers and its customers as well as what Travelzoo holds itself out as.

            It appears that Travelzoo considers itself primarily a distribution site, hence the language.

          2. I keep coming back to this, but what is one to do, then? It seems that, by carefully worded disclaimers, a company can legally disavow anything. Seems that there should be some legal way to hold a supplier, vendor, etc. to the “spirit” of their advertisement.

          3. In TravelZoos case, the winery was the supplier/vendor. In fact, according to the term, the vendor is required to give a cash refund to the purchased for the full purchase price under quite a few situations. TravelZoo’s main objective is to help people find sales, but they are legally buying it from the supplier, who is responsible for fulfilling it.

          4. I found some more wording wording on their site. Ill paraphrase since it wordy and all caps. Basically it says the service provider or restaurant is the holder and issuer of the voucher, and TravelZoo’s only role is advertising and processing the transaction. The service provider or restaurant is solely responsible for the content and service begin provided in accordance with the advertising and TravelZoo does not vet the claims made by the service providers and restaurants.

            I think its Funny everyone is comparing TravelZoo to GroupOn. If anything, it should be the other way around. Travel zoo has been doing this since 1998 and I have been a subscriber since 2003. In my opinion, they merely consolidate good offers and let people know about them. I think their model is actually better than GroupOn, and GroupOn is merely a copycat.

  5. Recently I attended a “women’s conference” — held in various cities, There are prizes, exhibits, samples, etc. I WON A PRIZE. It was a “simple teeth cleaning” worth over $100. Day before I had my appointment I had a call that I must have x-rays before the cleaning or I could get my x-rays from my regular dentist. No time — but $50 is not a “free teeth cleaning.” They told me it was a “state law” Not true. I finally found the people who hold these conferences and wrote a letter. In minutes I had an answer back — sorry that happened to you, and that dentist would not be allowed to exhibit at their next conference. Great response and satisfactory answer. Occasionally, things work out just fine when you complain.

    1. I know of one state that does have a law that requires a person going to a new (not their prior) dentist for the first time have an x-ray, or have x-rays transferred, before their teeth can be cleaned. This wasn’t in Wisconsin by chance?

      1. Seriously? Just to get teeth cleaned? Just today on one of the morning new shows, they said we get too many xrays, especially dental and that they aren’t needed that often….like every 5 years.

        1. Yep. It’s some kind of liability law. It protects the dentists from lawsuits.

          I agree on too many x-rays. Especially involving the TSA 🙂

  6. First, this couple doesn’t sound like they’ve ever been to a wine tasting before. “They were real stingy with the pour”. Uhm hello! It’s a wine tasting, you don’t get full pours at a wine tasting. Were they expecting full glasses? Also, when doing wine tastings you don’t usually get huge pieces of cheese or other food parings. It’s just NOT how it’s done. I think their expectations were too high for the wine tasting or they’re trying to make their case sound worse than it is.

    Now, to the valid gripe of the so called “gourmet lunch”. Yes, that absolutely sounds like a bad value and don’t believe under any circumstance that a cheese sandwich is a gourmet meal. Their complaint should stick to the paltry “gourmet” lunch.

    As for travelzoo, I don’t think it’s possible nor 100% their responsibility to vet ever detail of the promotions they offer. They’re essentially an advertiser. Their job is to sell a deal offered by a vendor. It’s up to the vendor to fulfill their end of the deal. That being said, since they’re accepting the cash, if a customer isn’t happy then they should be able to refund them and dock the vendor in instances like this.

    1. I wonder if the sandwich was a “Croque-monsieur.” Then it would be gourmet (in name, anyway, but is really just a grilled ham and cheese sandwich.)

  7. Chris, you always recommend emails. I’d like to recommend follow-up snail mail as well, particularly if you do not get a response to the email. In some states, an offer by email is not legally binding but an offer in a letter is.

    1. That email story used to be the case, but that’s changed pretty much everywhere from what I have read. Every state now has some form of an electronic transactions act which allows for electronic documents to equate to their paper counterparts so the only holdouts would be places that didn’t include email=paper in their respective act, which seems like an unlikely occurrence given that’s basically the whole purpose.

      What you may be referring to are the instances where people send out email with stipulations like “I don’t want to be contacted and if you ever contact me in any way and fail to cease contact instantly on discovering it is me, you owe me compensation of $10 million.” The courts have repeatedly held those do not constitute contracts.

  8. I once bought a groupon for a massage and the place went out of business bout a week later. To groupons credit, they did issue me a refund after a couple of back and forth emails. You can’t even call it a cash grab by the business because the business receives only a fraction of the amount the service would normally cost.

  9. TravelZoo is basically the same thing as Groupon. No, I don’t think they do vet the offers at all. They have local salespeople and they get paid on commission, so they want to sign up as many vendors as possible.

    We bought a Groupon a while back for tree service. For $79 we would get 4 man hours of labor and removal of anything cut down. The retail value was claimed to be $250. We had a dead tree we wanted to remove. We had done research and it looked like it would normally cost about $200 to remove the tree, so we figured the Groupon should cover it.

    The guy arrived to look at the job. He immediately started in on a big spiel about safety regulations, time to climb, danger of this particular job, etc. He quoted us $750 plus the Groupon for the job. We were shocked and told him we would be in touch. We called one of the local large tree outfits and they quoted $200 for the job, which we accepted and they were out there and done in 2 hours. I figure the other guy was using Groupon for a bait and switch scam.

    We emailed Groupon. They did refund the purchase, but as a credit on Groupon. Do you realize how long it takes to spend $79 on Groupon when most of the offers are $15 meal packages?

    1. Wow, I want to know who did your tree for that price? I just spend weeks months getting quotes for a tree removal and the prices ranged from $800 to $1,200. It took 4 people 6 hours to remove the tree. They had to put up safety hoists for the climbers. They tied a rope to each branch so it wouldn’t fall when it was cut. It was a lot of work to do everything safety. There was one place that gave me a $300 quote, but they would not provide proof that they were licensed or insured.

      1. Our tree was much less of a problem than yours, I’m sure. It was about 20 feet tall and dead. They brought out a bucket truck and just started from the top and worked down. No climbing was involved at all. They tossed the logs into a shredder as they cut them down. Never cut anything he could not handle by hand. This price also included removing a branch from another Birch tree. The company is a major tree company in the area. They do lots of utility work and are licensed and insured.

        Our neighbors had four very large pine trees removed using the same company. Took two days to do it and I have no idea what it cost (a bunch, I’m sure). Again, they used a bucket truck and never climbed anything. They did take larger sections and did tie them off before cutting.

        1. Yes, your tree company was defiantly trying to rip you off then. Our tree was a 75 year old Walnut, so it was probably about 35 to 40 feet high.

  10. I voted no. I have had some amazingly great deals through Travel zoo. But so many of them that come through sounds shady as well. I always research them first, and don’t do the shady ones. Best one I took so far as a food truck walking tour where we got free food at each truck and it cost $11 a person.

    As far as the OPs case, the lunch sounds disappointing, but the tasting and prices seem very reasonable in my opinion. I visit California wine country quite often and some of the wineries I visit are $40 per person for a tour and 1oz taste. Some are more, some are less. A lot of the gourmet lunches are very small, but very gourmet food. I would have to see the OPs food to make a judgement call on theirs. I have paid $29 a person for 2 pieces of brochetta, 2 small finger sandwiches, and a few pieces of cheese along with three 1/2oz pours at a a very nice winery. I thought the portions were ridiculously small, but the food was very gourmet. Also, grape vies do appear to be dead most of the year. As far as the converted biker bar, a lot of wineries will re-purpose old buildings. One of the best wineries I went to was in a converted trailer. While I am glad the OP got his money back, I wonder if his expectations didn’t match reality. Then again, it could have been very bad as well. Hard to say without being there.

    1. I also say no. I look at Groupon and Living Social and similar sites for personal care (massages/facials/nails) but always vet the place that is having the special. Usually places signing up for these specials are either start up companies trying to get some foot traffic or companies at the end looking for a quick cash inflow to tide them over. You can get a great deal and find a nice new place or you can get a bad experience not worth even the discounted price. It’s your money and you should be careful and spend it wisely.

    1. I would totally purchase this if I were in the area, even after hearing the OPs story. Looks very nice and its still a great deal.

    2. Love it:

      “After the tour, savor a gourmet picnic lunch consisting of two
      chef-inspired sandwiches, cheese and fruit skewers, pita chips and a
      dessert while taking in panoramic views of the 32-acre vineyard and Hill
      Country landscape”


      ” There were also three microscopic pieces of cheese to taste.

      Finally it was time for our $62 “gourmet” lunch. We each received one
      half a ham and cheese sandwich on rye bread. There were also two small
      pieces of bread crust with crushed nuts and a slice of cucumber.”

      Seems like the OP left on some select, unimportant words. A “gourmet picnic lunch” is a far cry from a “gourmet lunch” IMO.

  11. I’m researching an article on social buying, and I don’t think they’re any different than the classifieds. It’s still up to the buyer to check out the value of the deal. Personally, I’ve gotten some awesome deals via TravelZoo, but it’s very much a case of buyer beware. Or at least, buyer, do your homework. TravelZoo probably helps with the photos and writing of the text based on what the vendor tells them, but if you think the salesmen are personally doing every activity, meal, massage on these social buying sites, you’d be dead wrong.

  12. I am not familiar with Travelzoo and what all they offer. I know that a someone on FB posted a ‘great deal’ in the wine country area where I live to all their friends that Travelzoo was offering. I went to the hotel’s website and it is the regular rate. So just because you buy it online, doesn’t make it a deal.
    What does the website say for this tour that they got at a discount? What is the lunch description? Is a glass of wine included? While a 1/2 of a sandwich isn’t my idea of a gourmet meal, the wine tasting sizes are very standard that they got.

    1. This particular tour states that it includes a tour of the vineyard, a wine education class, two glasses, and a gourmet picnic lunch. It also states that it does not include any wine and wine may be purchased separately.

      Here is the lunch description:

      After the tour, savor a gourmet picnic lunch consisting of two chef-inspired sandwiches, cheese and fruit skewers, pita chips and a dessert while taking in panoramic views of the 32-acre vineyard and Hill Country landscape


      I actually would take this tour, being a very frequent winery visitor all over, I would consider this a good deal.

      1. The only issue I really see is that the winery took back the two glasses which were to be a souvenir. There’s nothing in the description that says the buyer must buy wine in order to keep the glasses. I have found some great deals with Travelzoo so I appreciate they refunded the couple’s money although they could have issued a credit.

        1. I’m wondering if that was an oversight and the OP didn’t ask for them back. When I have done similar tastings, they actually take back the tasting glasses anyway, and give us boxed glasses at the end of the tour to take home. That could have been the case as well. I wish the OP had asked for the glasses, I think he would have gotten them. I totally agree though, it was very good of Travel Zoo to issue a refund. They do care about customer service.

  13. This guy sounds like a rube that expected portions the size of a Texas Applebee’s. Complaining about a one ounce pour? Has he ever been to a real winery? It isn’t a chug fest. And dead vines? Um yeah, they look like that after harvest. He got what he paid for. I’m surprised you entertained him.

  14. As a former employee at a Texas vineyard and winery, let me tell you that the ones whose names you don’t recognize are not giving anyone any deals. Unless you are in true wine country, paying for a tour is a giant ripoff — some Texas wineries haven’t much to show because many of them are very small concerns, some vineyards don’t have production facilities attached, and some wineries don’t grow their own grapes. And some of their wines are overpriced — $62.00 for a tour & a lame picnic is way too much. $30.00 is more reasonable, but better to take yourself out for lunch beforehand and then tour the facilities.

    1. Is there really much wine production in Texas?

      I remember going on a winery tour near Seattle, which isn’t exactly conducive toward growing high quality wine grapes. The grapes are sent in from other parts of the state. It was free and they were actually quite generous with their pours – at least a good 2 oz every time. My kid even got a cup of Concord grape juice just to keep from being left out. Even though it was free, some people paid for the privilege. One group on our tour hired a limo service that took people to different wineries so they wouldn’t be driving after consuming alcohol. Even with that, they only took the free tour and tasting.

      They had vines growing near the entrance, and our guide indicated that they weren’t wine grapes. He said that they were table grapes grown there for visual effect, and that they made jelly with the fruit.

      1. Mostly in central Texas, but it’s not huge. Most Texas wineries about 20 years ago were still trying to get people to take them seriously, so tours were free and tastings were as well.

        Better wineries tend to also grow their own grapes, but be wary of any Texas vineyard that doesn’t stick with the specific varietals that do well in Texas….basically, I think Texas wines are weak and boring. I wouldn’t pay more than $10.00-15.00/bottle in most cases (Texas wines, not in general).

        1. The free tour we went on was Chateau Ste Michelle in Woodinville, WA. They are the largest producer of Riesling in the US, and their grapes come mostly from around the Columbia River or Walla Walla. They only process whites there, with their reds produced at other wineries in the southern part of the state.

          They have no issues with name recognition. We saw people who were there on the tasting where they were charged a fee ($10 to $50), and those visitors were tasting wines from $80 bottles. I think the main reason for the free tastings is that it brought in people who might buy their wines after their tastings.

          I’m not a big wine drinker. I live close enough to several wine growing regions but have never been on a tour around here. I have driven past vineyards, where the roads can be really nice for spirited driving.

  15. It didn’t vet this offer closely enough. Whether or not it vets others closely enough, maybe. This seems to be a case-by-case thing.

  16. In the world of online Travel Services, You get what you pay for. Bob, research…research…..research! The Zoo is to travel as Allegiant and Spirit are to airlines; they are horrible ripoffs. Extra every thing except the initial price. Fools and their money.

  17. At Travelzoo we take customer service very seriously, and consider our subscribers’ experience using our website and the deals we publish to be paramount.

    We research and vet the deals we publish to ensure that the offer is the best possible experience for our subscribers and offers up great value. There are many deals that don’t meet our standards for quality and, as a result, we do not publish those deals. Over our 15-year history, the trust level we’ve built with our subscribers is something we’re very proud of, and something we know that we must safeguard at all times. We know that we’re only as good as the last deal our subscribers used.

    As a publisher, and not the merchant, we don’t control the end product that our subscribers experience, but we go to great lengths through secret shopping and other avenues to “keep an eye” on our deals as much as possible.

    In the particular scenario outlined above, we were in contact with this customer a few times over the period of five days. After the initial call on July 29, we advised the customer that we were escalating the issue and that our turnaround target for this was 3 to 5 business days. When he called back 2 days later, we did not have a resolution yet, but we emailed him two days following (on Aug. 2) to offer the refund.

    We ask each subscriber that redeems a voucher deal through us to rate their experience using the deal we published, and this deal received a 94% thumbs up rating for this particular deal. We also use that feedback to inform future decisions about whether we work with a merchant again.

    1. I don’t know how your company works, so I need to ask about the word you used, subscriber. That usually means a fee. So for people to use your ‘deals’, that is only available to people who pay you to get these specials?

      1. Travelzoo is a free service. You can subscribe to our emails to receive the newest travel, entertainment and local deals that we publish, relevant to your region. We publish a weekly Top 20 email newsletter of the best deals each Wednesday, as well as other emails throughout the week, alerting our subscribers to new deals they might want to check out — whether it’s a new airfare sale, a fun dinner out at a top-rated restaurant nearby or a discounted vacation. We have more than 26 million subscribers worldwide, and publish in 11 countries including the U.S., Canada, UK, Germany and China.

        1. To clarify a bit further — subscriptions are free. Obviously the deals we publish have a cost attached if you want to take advantage, but as I said earlier, we go to great lengths to make sure these deals are best in market and have strong value — we’re not selling dog walking or teeth cleaning.

          The deal outlined in the above post was a Local Deal, in which the subscriber purchased a voucher through us for the experience, and then redeemed it from the merchant.

          1. Yes, of course these would cost, but it is between the customer and the vendor, not you. However, do you let your subscribers know what you make off each of these purchases? Are you paid a commission or are some marked up and you get a cut?

        2. Thank for your prompt reply.
          I do have a comment. A while back someone posted on a friend’s FB page about a ‘deal’ on a local hotel in our area. It wasn’t a deal as it is was the regular rack rate for low season, which was when the comment was made. What does Travelzoo consider a deal?

          1. Sometimes it’s in the eye of the beholder, but what we try to explain to our audience is when they can get the best value for their travel dollar.

            The current rack rate at a hotel may very well be a deal — because you’re getting a 4-star experience that sometimes goes for $300 or $400 for $99/nt. Seasonality comes into play in some cases, but the amenities at a top resort or hotel don’t disappear just because it’s not peak season.

            We’re not going to take it to extremes. If we were, every NYC hotel deal we published would be qualified against the New Year’s Eve price — and we know that’s over the top.

          2. Actually when I see something advertised as a ‘deal’ I expect more than what I would find at the vendors website.

          3. 9 times out of 10 it is. Keep in mind that the hotel “rack” rate may actually be the new rate we negotiated with the hotel, and before the deal started, the rack rate was much higher.

          4. My only experience with your company was that one hotel posting and since I know the hotel, I knew it wasn’t a deal, just a seasonal rate. But considering what the high season prices are, the low season rate, if you can wait are quite a savings.

    2. 3 to 5 business days to get an unsatisfied customer a refund of $29 is unacceptable.

      I just called LLBean and complained about something I bought. A replacement item was in my hands in two business days, no cost to me. That’s a tangible purchase, not a pig-in-a-poke-travel-lunch.

      1. There is a bit of a difference between your LLBean experience and Travelzoo. When LLBean gets a complaint, they only have to deal with themselves. Travelzoo has to deal with a 3rd party and that can take longer depending on how quickly the 3rd party responds.

  18. Red Flag #1: Winery near San Antonio? I have found some great getaway deals on Travel Zoo that exceeded my expectations, and I have returned later to stay at regular rates because they took such good care of us in hopes we would become regular guests. As with everything, trust, but verify by doing a little bit of homework first. I’ve passed up several “Deals” that really were not what I was willing to pay after some basic research.

  19. 1oz is the standard amount of wine you are poured at a wine tasting. It’s also standard that a tasting is not included in the price of a tour. $62 does seem high for a tour, two glasses and a bad lunch, though.

  20. For people who are going through a tough economic crisis, their home is usually the
    last item of consideration to sell. With the economy these days, a lot of
    people are depressed and don’t want to think about losing their possessions.

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