Think twice if you are offered a membership in a holiday club while on holiday in Southern Europe. European Consumer Centres in Nordic countries have received in recent years hundreds of contacts from Nordic consumers who regret signing a holiday club agreement, and subsequently find difficult to get out of. Nordics encounter holiday club dealers generally in Spain. Consumers usually end up in exhaustive holiday club presentations in the hope of a lottery win or a prize.
Over the past three years nearly 800 consumers from Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland have contacted European Consumer Centres in Nordic countries regarding timeshare products. These include timeshare, holiday clubs and vouchers. European Consumer Centers in the Nordic countries wish to draw consumers’ attention to the problems with timeshare contracts.
The European Consumer Centre Finland has received during the same period of time a total of 136 complaints and/or enquiries from Finnish consumer who have signed a holiday club agreement in Canary Islands. The prices have been between 1500 – 8000 €. In most cases consumers seek information on cancelling the agreement.
– Holiday club presentations abroad can be very exhaustive. Afterwards consumers often feel cheated because they have not fully understood the content of a signed contract. The common feature that we encounter in timeshare/holiday club complaints is that the contract terms are vague and difficult to understand, says Director Leena Lindström from the European Consumer Centre Finland.
A typical story – an offer that is hard to refuse
Most of the holiday clubs reported to the European Consumer Centres Network are located in Spain. On average Nordic consumers have paid more than € 3,000 for membership. Consumers – often elderly couples carrying a credit card – are attracted to holiday club presentation by a Northern European seller, who speaks the consumer’s own language. In the holiday club’s office, consumers always encounter an intensive session with aim to get them to sign a timeshare/holiday club membership agreement.
Imagine Canary Islands: the sun is shining and all the daily problems seem far away when you rest on a sunlounger under the Spanish sky. Suddenly, a young blond woman approaches you speaking your language. She offers you exciting scratch cards. You accept the lottery ticket. Surprisingly, you win the grand prize: an iPad!
The woman – who introduces herself as Susanna- will tell you that you need to follow her to her business office in order to claim your prize. Next, you and your spouse leave your sunlounger and you pick up a taxi with Susanna. After a twenty-minute taxi ride you to come to the office. Susanna introduces you to his colleague Markus, who invites you to sit on the veranda behind the building. You discuss your holiday traditions with Markus while an assistant serves you cold drinks and snacks. You feel comfortable. Then Markus proposes a tempting offer: to join a holiday club that guarantees discounts for tours, flights and bargain for a stay in luxury hotels.
“It is a real bargain,” says Markus. The 2-year agreement guarantees four trips with great discounts. As payment you should make a deposit of 1000 euro now and two instalments of 1000 euro during the next year. Instantly you feel alarmed; it is a lot of money. But Markus is very convincing and gradually he makes you realize how affordable this agreement really is. He presents you with shiny brochures and an agreement to read twice, but your mind wanders, you may not understand every aspect of what you read. Markus tells you it is a one-day offer and hands you a pen. You look at your spouse. Should we sign the contract?
The contract is difficult to cancel
The consumer is entitled to cancel an agreement within 14 calendar days if the contract with the holiday club has duration of more than one year. The time limit of 14 days runs from the day you sign the agreement. The agreement should be cancelled in writing, e.g. sending an e-mail to the company, or using the standard form, if the consumer has received one.
– If the consumer did not receive information about the right to cancellation the period may well be longer than 14 days. If he/she has paid money to the salesperson in connection with signing the agreement, the consumer should ask to have this money refunded to his/her account, says Leena Lindström.
In reality it can be very difficult for customers to get their money back. Some holiday clubs are non-responsive to attempts to cancel, they refuse to refund a deposit they have taken, or they disagree about the right to cancel.
If the consumer has paid money to the salesperson and received neither a confirmation nor his/her money back within the 14-day period, he or she can ask the bank to refund their money if they made the payment using a credit card.
Tips before signing a contract
- Do not pay any money to the salesperson before the 14-day right of cancellation has passed. Never give the salesperson your credit card details.
- Ask to be allowed to think about the agreement in peace and quiet; otherwise, do not sign the agreement.
- Be sure to have all verbal promises are included in the contract.
Tips after signing a contract
- Respond immediately if you regret signing a contract – make sure you cancel the contract within the deadline.
- Read the contract terms – is there anything about a right to cancel?
- If you have not received information about the right to cancellation you may be entitled to a cancellation period longer than 14 days.
- Cancel the agreement in writing, e.g. send an e-mail to the salesperson.
- You can ask your bank to refund your money if you have paid with credit card.
If the holiday club is not cooperative, the consumer should contact the European Consumer Centre of his/her home country.
Our website provides a lot of information on holiday clubs.
Watch our video “Keep your head cool / Pidä pää kylmänä” (in Finnish) which describes the typical holiday club membership sales situation abroad.