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Debbie Dujanovic reporting
Produced by Kelly JustLawsuits, complaints and stressed-out customers -- all in a vacation club?! Members pay thousands of dollars to get great travel deals, but now they tell us instead of great get-aways, they wish they would have just stayed away.
Their adventures began when they got postcards offering free trips. All they had to do was sit through the company's 90-minute sales presentation.
Couples flock to the Murray office of GreatESCAPES for a presentation. The travel club says it offers members deep discounts and amazing get-aways. So is it a ticket to paradise or a train-wreck? Here's what we found.
GreatESCAPES customer Dan Adams said, "We just got a quick $5,000 yanked out from under us."
A former customer said, "It was a nightmare. And I've told all my friends; I still feel like going down there and picketing their building."
Nancy Tippets, another customer, said, "I wish I could stand at the door and scream at these people, ‘don't go in, don't go in.'"
What happened to these customers led us to investigate. Customers say the presentation convinced them their ship had come in. To get the best deal, they had to join that day.
Some customers say when they tried to use their memberships, they got caught in so much red tape, they couldn't even get out of Utah. So we asked a couple to sit in on a presentation, with a hidden camera,
The pitch is packed with promises.
"There's not a way to travel for less than through GreatESCAPES."
"It's literally hundreds, thousands of dollars you can save on your vacations through GreatESCAPES."
The presenter says members can save $1,500 on a Caribbean cruise or tour Paris and London for eight days for $887. There's also Maui in a two-bedroom condo on the beach at just $229 for the entire week.
Another salesman says the only way to get the best deal is to buy today.
"Anyone in your family can use this program; anyone who does any travel with you can use this program. It's only available today," the pitch continues.
Dan and Jaime Adams want their $5,000 membership fee back. Jaime says the company didn't live up to its promises. It's not that trips aren't ever available; they just find many "great deals" sold out, and destinations aren't always desirable.
Those prices no one could beat? The Adams did their own leg work and found better ones. Dan said, "You feel like you are walking through a room in the dark, full of mousetraps."
Nancy Tippets claims she was pressured to upgrade her contract, told to sign for her husband, and couldn't get the Lake Powell houseboat trips the company promised.
"I think the club is to gather money, so those who own the vacation club can go on vacation, and those of us who don't, we go camping," Tippets said.
Debi Carillo had to sue to get out of her deal. She said, "I felt like I was being sold a Mercedes Benz, and when the car showed up on my porch it was a Suzuki Sidekick."
We found several other lawsuits. Our search of Utah's Better Business Bureau turned up 40 complaints in the past three years. State investigators say the allegations appear to be violations. They'll add our cases to complaints they're already looking into.
Francine Giani, with the Utah Department of Commerce, said, "They are receiving a line, in essence, to make the quick sale, to make the purchase, to make it today."
By phone, GreatESCAPES stood by its sales practices. The chief operating officer said the company has an 85 percent customer satisfaction rating. She dismissed the Adams' claims as buyer's remorse.
The company also disputes Nancy Tippets' allegations of high-pressure and forgery but agreed to let her out of the contract.
GreatESCAPES also emailed us a statement saying, for 10 years it has provided quality vacations to Utahns and takes complaints seriously and is responsive to problems.
One other problem the company will have to respond to is the free trip offers that get people to the sales pitch. Some consumers say the trips were hard to get and not always free.
When asked about it, both Delta and Continental airlines said they have no connection to GreatESCAPES and didn't authorize the use of their logos. The state is looking into that as well.
To see GreateESCAPES' response to KSL, click the related link.