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#363 Consumer Rights: Vacation Certificates

mp3 #363  (mp3 file)

If someone offers you a vacation certificate, you may find yourself taken for a ride rather than going on a trip. A good rule of thumb, as far as vacation certificates go is to avoid them.

Vacation certificates are often offered during prime spring and summer vacation times. Usually looking like fancy gilt-edged high school diplomas, these certificates most frequently offer reduced rates for food and accommodations in "luxurious" hotels in Southern California or the Nevada gambling centers. The certificates are publicized as promotional programs for the hotels offering the reduced rates. But in reality, the certificates are hardly ever offered by the hotel; they are promotional devices of third parties who want to make money from selling the frequently worthless pieces of paper.

The certificates are normally offered over the phone by a smooth talking promotional firm employee. You may be told that you have been selected out of many others to take advantage of this terrific offer. You may or may not be told that the certificates have a "service charge." Even if you are told about the service charge, it may still sound like a good deal to you. After all, how many luxurious hotels can you stay in for only a small fee for the weekend?

If, over the phone, you suggest you are interested, someone will rush the certificate to your home. If you hesitate when this person arrives, the employee may imply that you have already entered into a contract and are obligated to pay the "service charge".

The certificates may also be offered through a direct mail approach which offers to send you the certificate after you send the service charge. This approach is even more dangerous than the first technique because you may never receive the certificate. Vacation certificates also signal numerous other problems. What look like "luxurious" accommodations may actually be third c1ass hotels. The hotel names on the certificate will often be similar to the famous vacation hotels and at first glance appear to be the same. In addition, your certificate may only be valid for a limited time period so if your vacation schedule changes, you may not be able to use the certificate.

California law requires that any business that is involved in mail order or accepts money mailed to a specific address because of an advertisement must deliver your goods \ within six weeks or return your money. If the mail was used to advertise the certificate, or if you sent money through the mail, you can direct your complaint to the U.S. Postal Service (look in your phone book under "United States Government") or visit them on the web at Your local post office will forward your complaint to the appropriate Postal Inspector.

You should also report any certificate that does not accurately represent the offer it is making to your District Attorney or the California Attorney General. The Attorney General's website is

Unfortunately, though, you often won't get your money back because the seller has gone out of business by the time you discover the misrepresentation.

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