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District's Lawsuit Against National Travel Services and Ramada Plaza Resorts

Friday, November 19, 1999

District's Lawsuit Against National Travel Services and Ramada Plaza Resorts

How should I shop for a vacation?

Comparison shop. Compare different travel offers carefully. Beware of unreasonably cheap prices - you usually get what you pay for! Free trips or travel "prizes" often require attending a high-pressure sales pitch for real estate or other products or services. A free hotel room or cruise may require you to pay for your own transportation to get there. Or a person may be able to travel free but must be accompanied by a second person who is required to buy an overpriced ticket from the company's own travel service.

Above all, don't be pressured into making an immediate decision by claims that you have to act now. Be very suspicious of any company that requires you to make an immediate decision over the telephone.

How can I get help in shopping for a vacation?

A good travel agent can help you find the best deals and tell you about any restrictions that may apply. Look for reputable travel agents or tour companies. Ask if the company belongs to a professional association. Then check with the association to see if the company is a member in good standing and if it participates in any program that protects you in case there are problems. Contact the Better Business Bureau in the state where the company is located and ask about any consumer complaints against the company.

What should I learn before paying for a vacation package?

Make sure you understand the terms of the travel offer. Find out exactly what is included in the price and what isn't. Ask about the cancellation policy and get all promises in writing. Get the names of specific hotels, airlines, restaurants and other businesses that are part of a package deal. Contact the businesses directly to confirm that they have an arrangement with the travel service offering the package. Check out how the hotels are rated in an independent travel guide.

How should I pay for a vacation package?

Be careful if you're paying for travel in advance. It's not unusual to make a deposit or even pay in full for travel services before the trip, but you could be stuck if the company goes out of business or doesn't fulfill its promises. The safest way to pay for travel may be by credit card because of your right to dispute the charges if the services were misrepresented or are never delivered.

What companies were charged in the District of Columbia's lawsuit?

On July 13, 1999, we filed charges against National Travel Service and Ramada Plaza Resorts, both of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, regarding their travel promotions. These companies advertise their Florida, Bahamas, and Caribbean vacation packages by mail and on the Internet. Mailings from National Travel Service have featured television personality Robin Leach.

What did these companies do?

We have filed charges in court, but it is up to the court to determine if the companies have violated the law. We have accused the companies of telling consumers that they have received travel vouchers entitling them to $1600, or some other large discount, off the price of travel arrangements. We allege that the amount of the discount shown on the travel vouchers was greater than the total retail value of the travel arrangements being offered.

We also accuse the company of representing that overnight accommodations were "world class" even though the accommodations were not "world class" as that term is commonly understood by consumers. In addition, we argue that the company's mailings should have disclosed to consumers up front that the travel arrangements being offered would require consumers to attend a sales presentation regarding an opportunity to invest in time-share real estate.

If the court finds that these companies have violated the District of Columbia's consumer protection law, then some consumers may be eligible to receive compensation.

What if I have a complaint against a company?

If you are a District of Columbia resident, or if the company is located in DC, you may make a record of your complaint by writing to the Consumer Unit, Enforcement Division, Office of the Corporation Counsel, 441 4th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001. Based on the seriousness or number of complaints received against a company, the Office of the Corporation Counsel may open an investigation to determine whether the company should be charged with violating the law.