I need help un-joining a travel club

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By Christopher Elliott

The letters between Michael Lefelstein and Island Trader Vacations are increasingly desperate.

There’s one complaining that he couldn’t redeem his travel rewards. Another says he couldn’t get the service he’d been promised. And finally, there’s a letter asking for a full refund of the $4,600 membership fee and $199 annual fee.

You guessed it — Island Trader Vacations is a travel club.

Disclosure: I’m on record as saying the only legitimate travel club I know of is AAA. I’ve mediated numerous cases involving unhappy consumers who had purchased pricey travel club memberships and intransigent companies that refused to refund their money. This case does little to change my opinion.

Lefelstein says he wants me to help him get a refund, but I think the real reason he wrote to me was so that I’d write about his situation. I’m happy to do so, and if enough readers want me to pursue this case, I will also reach out to Island Trader Vacations to see what they have to say.

Island Trader doesn’t make any specific promises on its site. For example, if you try to get information about the “benefits” of your $4,600 membership, you’ll find this answer on its site:

Q: What does my membership entitle me to? Also, are there any guidelines I can refer to?

A: Your membership includes many wonderful perks and facets of savings! You can consult your Acknowledgement and Bylaws form that accompanies your membership materials. You signed and initialed this form as a part of opening a new membership. It extensively details the many facets of your membership. You may also check out your Certificate of Membership for additional information on membership benefits.

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Well, that’s a non-answer.

What are Lefelstein’s specific complaints?

Where’s my “rebate”? He made two reservations — a trip to Monterey, Calif., and to Long Island, NY — and had been promised a “rebate” for the trip. He never received it.

Yosemite, not Joshua Tree. Lefelstein asked the company to send him information about a Yosemite trip. Instead it sent him information about packages to Joshua Tree. Oops, wrong park. “So much for knowledgeable agents,” he says.

I’m calling the media. Finally, an exasperated Lefelstein threatens to call a local TV station if Island Trader doesn’t cough up a refund. But it appears a deadline set by him has already come and gone.

Island Trader hasn’t responded to any of his letters, he says.

My first thought was that Lefelstein could either invoke a rescission period or initiate a credit card dispute to get out of the club, but a review of Island Trader’s information and his timeline suggests that’s not possible. The club takes its time (10 to 14 days) to send over membership material that could just as easily be sent electronically.

A skeptic might say the company is trying to run down the clock on any possible credit card dispute, but I will leave that for you to decide.

I receive emails from readers several times a week after they’ve attended a presentation for a travel club. My answer is always the same: Don’t walk away — run!

I also dedicate the last chapter of my most recent book to travel clubs. The advice is the same.

I’d love to help Lefelstein, but I’m also weary of warning travelers against these offers. Will a $4,600 refund change anything? To Lefelstein, maybe. But these schemes will continue as long as the law allows them — and readers continue to fall for them.

Should I take Michael Lefelstein's case?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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