Sunshine Promotions accused of offering 'free' travel with hidden cost

A Nevada-based travel company that allegedly told people they would be given free trips and travel vouchers but didn't tell them about added costs, travel restrictions or their required presence for a sales pitch are settling a lawsuit with the attorney general's office in the District of Columbia.

In a complaint filed in D.C. Superior Court, Attorney General Peter Nickles also alleged Sunshine Promotions LLC offered discounted travel club memberships during sales presentations at hotels throughout the District and at its office at "one time offer" prices when "lower prices have been offered to others."

But when trying to redeem the free vouchers, people found that travel restrictions limited their use and came with required payments of deposits, surcharges and taxes.

"The court order will put a stop to these tricky promotions," Nickles said in a statement. The company and Nickles signed off on the settlement, which now awaits court approval.

Sunshine Promotions agreed to the proposed settlement without admitting liability. The company also agreed to pay $90,000 to the District's consumer protection fund and be more transparent in its marketing.

UPDATE (Aug. 21): Stephanie Turk, Sunshine Promotions customer services manager, sent the following statement to Consumer Ally:
..."the consent judgement is not an admission of guilt or proof of wrongdoing, nor has Sunshine Promotions broken any laws. We decided to settle the case because we did not want to incur the significant costs and disruption to our business that a trial would surely entail.

It is our express interest to get back to the business of continuing our operation, which is to provide memorable travel opportunities with significant savings for consumers. I also believe it to be pertinent to bring to your attention that the performance of the Gold Crown Resort travel product has not been brought into question, but rather the focus of the inquiry was focused on the marketing practices and an instance of selling practices. Having said this, we feel strongly that we would like consumers, such as your readers, to know that the Gold Crown Resort travel product is a solid program and a leader in the travel club industry."

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission tells consumers to investigate travel deals before buying and offers tips including:
  • Be skeptical of low-priced deals because few businesses can afford to give away products and services of real value.
  • Don't feel pressured into immediately buying -- a good deal today will usually still be good tomorrow.
  • Ask detailed questions, including what the price covers and what is not included. Also ask about additional charges, cancellation and refund policies. Get the names of the hotels, restaurants, airports and airlines included in your package.
  • Don't buy part of the package, such as airfare or hotel, separate from the rest. It could be hard to get a refund if the deal isn't what you expected.
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