After responding to a telephone invitation and hearing a presentation at Vacation Station in Vienna, Va., CoGo reader Robert Kleinworth of Alexandria agreed to pay $4,400 to join the vacation club that promised drastically reduced rates at resorts for four weeks every year for three generations, plus discount air tickets and prizes.
"It sounded good until it came time to get something," said Kleinworth, 74.
From late May to mid-July, Kleinworth said, he tried unsuccessfully to redeem the prizes and book a particular resort. Salespeople always promised to check availability, he said, but never called back.
Chris Winston of Vacation Station, a subsidiary of BlueGreen Corp., did return CoGo's call, saying, "We'd like to know if he has the names of the people who dropped the ball so we can stop bad customer service." Hours later, CoGo heard from company executive Mark Hillman in Kansas, who said that given Kleinworth's disappointment, he'd get a full refund.
Other dissatisfied customers have contacted the Better Business Bureau, said BBB spokeswoman Judy Tankersley, adding that Vacation Station has an "unsatisfactory" rating in Kansas City and Florida, where it is headquartered.
Mitch Katz, a spokesman at the Federal Trade Commission, said his office warns that consumers should carefully check out vacation clubs, and added that if someone pressures you to buy now, "consider passing."
Before buying from a company you don't know, check it out. CoGo found numerous comments about BlueGreen at two consumer sites: TheSqueaky Wheel.com and the Complaint Station (www.thecomplaintstation.com). Also check with the Better Business Bureau (www.mybbb.org) or call your local consumer protection agency.
London: Cool & Unusual
London's a very cool city these days -- so cool that CoGo ended up wearing a sweater, a fleece and a raincoat during a visit last week. That's all at one time. Weather in the British capital has been chillier and wetter than normal this month, with temperatures in the 60s and daily rainstorms, leaving locals griping and walking-tour guides wringing their hands. But British stiff upper lips remain firmly in place. "It's not that cold, it's just wet," guide Noel Curtin of London Walks told CoGo. "Our walks always go ahead anyway. Just bring a brolly."
Relief is allegedly in sight: The Met Office, which provides forecasts for the United Kingdom, says temperatures are expected to rise and rainfall to return to normal levels in the next couple of weeks.
CoGo wouldn't leave the umbrella behind just yet.
UPRIGHT AND LOCKED
If you're flying Alitalia, be sure you treat your boarding pass as if it's worth many times its weight in gold, because it is.
Annette Anderson of Wilmington, N.C., learned this at Dulles, before a flight to Milan. Somewhere between the security checkpoint and the gate, Anderson lost her boarding pass. Although she still had her paper ticket, she was told she'd have to pay $1,400 for a new one-way ticket.
With minutes to spare and friends waiting at the gate, Anderson paid, hoping to work out a fairer solution after returning home. Since returning in May, she has been seeking redress.
An Alitalia spokeswoman didn't return CoGo's several phone calls. Various U.S. carriers said their policy would have been to simply issue another boarding pass.
Heavily discounted fares for fall were announced last week by JetBlue, following on the heels of fall sales by Southwest, AirTran and ATA. Watch for others to match . . . A new travel provider for gay families launched with a cruise last week. R Family Vacations (866-732-6822, www.rfamilyvacations.com) is backed by former talk show host Rosie O'Donnell.
Reporting: Cindy Loose, K.C. Summers.
Help feed CoGo. Send travel news, road reports and juicy tattles to: firstname.lastname@example.org. By fax: 202-912-3609. By mail: CoGo, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.