They promised us Paris, but $18,000 later …

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By Christopher Elliott

Even if the vacation club she bought didn’t work out, and even if the “free” trip to Hawaii never materialized, Tali Buchman figured she’d always have Paris.

Buchman and her husband attended a timeshare sales presentation by Shell Vacations Club, a timeshare club operated by Wyndham.

“When we got there, we were received by one salesperson who sat with us for one hour at a table,” she remembers.

If they invested in the “club” now, the rep promised he’d sweeten the deal. “He offered us 3,500 points per year, as well as two bonus round trip airfare flights anywhere in the US, as well as 15,000 bonus points. We were told that the 15,000 points would be enough to take our family of four to Paris for two weeks, and still have points left over,” she says.

The points, the salesman explained, could be used for airfare as well as hotel during our stay. But the bonus points needed to be used during the first year. The points system is explained on this FAQ page.

But wait! There’s more!

The club also offered them a “free” Hawaii vacation.

The Buchman’s decided this was too good a deal to pass up. They shelled out $18,000 for a club membership, thinking they’d be going to Paris in a few weeks, and maybe Hawaii later in the year. (Here is our ultimate guide to joining and leaving a travel club.)

They thought wrong, and now Buchman wants me to help her retrieve the money.

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“When the time came for us to book the tickets and hotel, we learned that 15,000 points was not enough to fly us all there, let alone stay in a hotel for two weeks,” she says. “This was of great concern. It was the only reason we bought the plan in the first place.”

Timeshare troubles

Of course, after a timeshare investment is not the time to find out something like this. Also, it’s crucial not to buy solely for the bonus points. You should make the purchase because it’s a sound investment. The bonus should be … well, a bonus.

“We spent hours on the phone with Shell asking them for a refund based upon the fact that we were grossly misled by our salesman,” she says. “They offered us nothing other than an extra few months to use the 15,000 points, because those expire within the first 12 months.”

Buchman says she is “very unhappy” with how they were treated.

“To top it off, the free trip to Hawaii was hardly a trip at all. The offer requires you to depart on a Tuesday and come back on a Thursday. Additionally, the stay cannot exceed one week. So, I guess they want you to fly there and fly back immediately? It’s a joke — except the joke is on us,” she says.

Once more, it’s important to discover the limits of such an offer before signing the contract. But Buchman already knows this.

I asked to see the paper trail

The result was even more maddening than the offer of a “free” trip to Paris or Hawaii; a representative simply restated her complaint without offering any kind of resolution.

The Buchmans could have taken the $18,000 and booked a nice Hawaii vacation, followed by a trip to Paris, and had money left over to go shopping. But the Shell Vacations offer was simply too enticing to pass up. I can see their point. The membership allows them a certain number of days at a network of 24 resorts, which, I admit, looks like a great deal.

At this point, the family has several options. More appeals could result in a supervisor giving the Buchmans enough points for their Paris vacation. I’ve seen that happen in similar cases. They could dispute their credit card charges. However, it’s likely that their contract is airtight, and the promises from the sales presentation aren’t documented.

Or my advocacy team and I could get involved, contacting Shell Vacations to push it for a full refund. (Here’s a recent case we got involved in. After you read it, you’ll probably understand my reluctance.)

Here’s my problem

I think when I hear Shell’s side of the story, it will tell me it delivered exactly what it promised in writing. It will probably tell me that the promised vacations in Paris and Hawaii were “misunderstandings” between the salesman and the Buchman family.

I had a lengthy conversation with the operator of one of the largest vacation club operations in America. He mentioned that every customer interaction is recorded. “Customers lie,” he told me, adding that a “vast” number of his club customers were “totally satisfied.”

And there’s the problem. We don’t have Shell Vacations’ side of the story yet. I haven’t decided what to do with this case.

So what would you do?

Should I mediate Tali Buchman's case with Shell Vacations Club?

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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. He is based in Panamá City.

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