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Florida Travel Companies To Pay Refunds to Metro Area Consumers Under Court-Approved Settlement With District of Columbia

Friday, January 28, 2000

Florida Travel Companies To Pay Refunds to Metro Area Consumers Under Court-Approved Settlement With District of Columbia

Two Florida-based travel companies have agreed to pay refunds to area consumers under a settlement agreement reached with the District of Columbia government. Last July, the District of Columbia Corporation Counsel charged the companies, National Travel Services and Ramada Plaza Resorts, with deceptive marketing of their vacation packages. The settlement agreement resolving the case has been approved by the DC Superior Court.

National Travel Service and Ramada Plaza Resorts, which are based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, advertise Florida, Bahamas, and Caribbean vacation packages by direct mail and on the Internet. The mailings from National Travel Service have featured television personality Robin Leach, who has urged recipients to "Pack your bags!"

On July 13, 1999, the Office of the Corporation Counsel filed its complaint charging the two companies and their owners with violations of the District's Consumer Protection Procedures Act. The District alleged that the defendants would inform District consumers that they had received a travel voucher entitling them to $1600, or some other large discount, off the price of travel arrangements. In fact, the District alleged, the amount of the discount shown on the travel voucher would be greater than the total retail value of the travel arrangements being offered. The defendants were also accused of misrepresenting the quality of overnight accommodations, and not disclosing to consumers up front that they would be required to attend a sales presentation regarding an opportunity to invest in time-share real estate.

Other states with pending lawsuits against these companies include Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin.

The proposed Consent Order and Final Judgment ("Consent Judgment") to resolve the District of Columbia's lawsuit contains injunctive provisions prohibiting future misrepresentations and requiring disclosures of the terms and conditions that apply to travel offers. In addition, the Consent Judgment includes restitution for consumers who have purchased vacation packages from the defendants. By agreeing to entry of the Consent Order, the defendants neither admitted nor denied the allegations of the District's complaint.

The Consent Judgment requires the defendants to "refund the total price of the vacation package" to each consumer who (1) purchased a vacation package from National Travel Service or Ramada Plaza Resorts, (2) has not used the vacation package, and (3) complains in writing to the District of Columbia Office of the Corporation Counsel or to the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan Washington on or before March 28, 2000. Although the defendants are permitted to offer the consumer an alternative to a full refund, the consumer is entitled to reject the alternative and receive a full refund of the amount paid. Consumers who did not use their vacation packages are eligible to receive full refunds even though they do not reside in the District of Columbia.

In addition, a District of Columbia resident who has purchased and used a vacation package from National Travel Service or Ramada Plaza Resorts may qualify for a partial refund by mailing a notarized complaint to the Office of the Corporation Counsel or to the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan Washington, postmarked no later than February 26, 2000, citing "specific instances where the vacation accommodations were not as represented or portrayed" by National Travel Service or Ramada Plaza Resorts. The complaint need not be notarized if it is signed as follows: "I declare (or certify, verify, or state) under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct. Executed on (date). (Consumer's Signature)". The partial refunds for District of Columbia residents who used their vacation packages will not exceed $200.00.

Consumers may submit written complaints to the Office of the Corporation Counsel at:

Vacation Package Refunds
c/o DC Office of the Corporation Counsel
Enforcement Division, Civil Branch
441 4th Street, NW Suite 450-N
Washington, DC 20001