Phoenix First would like to give me a free holiday

Mrs Bigmouth was at a baby show the other week, and entered a few prize draws. And she won a holiday!

Well, not quite. What she did win was the opportunity to be ripped off by a bunch of bastards. Nice of them to go after pregnant women and tired new parents, isn’t it?

Let me explain. Phoenix First called her and said she’d won a free holiday – all she needs to pay is the £32.50 admin fee for each of us. Bong! Scam sign number one!

The next step is to choose the destination – there are 28 to choose from – and pick up the tickets. They can’t do that by phone, internet or post, we have to go there in person. And by “we” I mean both of us. Bong! Scam sign number two!

The company is based in 278 St Vincent Street in Glasgow, but the pickup won’t happen there or during working hours, and we can’t just pop by. It’ll be a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, in a hotel. Bong! Scam sign number three!

And so on. So here’s what I know courtesy of Mr Google.

Phoenix First is a marketing company, not a holiday company – so when they claim on the phone that they’re a travel agent, they’re lying. More importantly they aren’t ABTA registered, so you don’t have any of the consumer protection you get from traditional travel agents and reputable online ones. They aren’t a limited company – if Mr Google is correct, they’re a trading name of a limited company whose director has been involved in similar things before, which were forced into liquidation – and while the wee nyaff says they aren’t selling holiday clubs, that’s essentially what they’re doing. The registered office of the parent company is the address of a company formation firm – a holding address, in other words.

Here’s the pitch. And by all accounts it’s a long pitch – nearly three hours. You go to a presentation and you’re offered an unbelievable deal: amazing discounts on holidays for the next X years. All you need to do is pay a joining fee (just under two grand) and then a membership fee (several grand more). And then all your holidays are cheap!

Not as cheap as you’ll find through Mr Internet, though. And remember – no ABTA protection, and because you’re paying by cheque (Mr Google suggests that Phoenix First either doesn’t have credit card processing facilities or has had such facilities revoked by the banks) you have no consumer protection either. Even if the deal is as good as it claims to be, which it isn’t, if Phoenix First disappears tomorrow, so does your money.

And the free holiday? This is the nicest thing I’ve found anybody saying:

For the totally free option (apart from the “admin” charge of about £50-£70) each, you might be offered somewhere you don’t really want to go, leaving from an airport miles away from your home. When you decline this offer you can normally upgrade to the next option, where you pay for your flights.

If you get a call from these twats, report them to trading standards. If you want a cheap holiday, book it on the internet.

Update, 9th June

Phoenix First isn’t the only firm running prize draws at shows in order to flog holiday clubs: I’ve also been contacted by a firm called Hospitality Scotland Promotions, and it’s the same story (although in my experience at least, the callers are less aggressive). Once again the promise of a “free” holiday is there in order to get you to a high-pressure sales presentation. Until 2010 the timeshare laws that enforce a cooling-off period don’t apply to holiday clubs, so attend these things at your peril.

You’ll find a long discussion, advice from trading standards and relevant links in the comments.