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.

79 thoughts on “Phoenix First would like to give me a free holiday”

  1. Hi,
    Thanks for the message Gary but it looks like there’s not much that can be done. Also rang the Taste festival people as it doesn’t make them look very good. Paul, who I spoke to said that they had been receiving calls and they had checked out the company – thoguh very hard as they kept changing their name. His summing up was ‘disreputable’. Too right!! Still got to get in touch with the credit card company but then it would be us breaking contract and not Gold Crown – oh the joys!
    Hope this sorry tale will at least stop some poor sucker from shelling out hard earned cash!!
    Kate

  2. Kate, one option may be to claim that the terms of the contract were misrepresented. It’s definitely worth speaking to the credit card company on this.

  3. Kate, this link might help:

    http://www.timeshare.org.uk/holicon.html

    It’s also worth trying the credit card voluntary code, also known as the claw back, but you need to do it within 10 days. The procedure is:

    * Write to the holiday company cancelling the contract and explaining why. You need proof of postage for this.

    * Copy the letter, proof of posting and the contract to the credit card company and ask them to do a claw back.

  4. Is the claw-back voluntary? I thought that sort of thing was all covered in the Consumer Credit Act 1974? (No, I don’t generally remember the years of acts — just that one, for some reason.) If you pay by credit, you have the right to sue over sub-standard products and you have the right to back out if you change your mind within a short time. From Wikipedia:

    Cancellable agreements have a cooling-off period starting on the day the customer signs. This period is 14 days for goods bought from a mail-order catalogue. Otherwise, it is five days from the day the customer receives either a second copy of the agreement or a separate copy of a notice of cancellation rights.

    Hope it’s not too late for you, Kate.

    > one option may be to claim that the terms of the contract were misrepresented

    Or simply unreasonable. Contracts that fall foul of the Unfair Contracts Act are unenforceable.

  5. If I remember correctly there is a rule about pressure sales too. something about a contract not being binding (in terms of cancellation) if you are put under any pressure to sign.

    I’m not sure about the definitions of a “holiday club” compared to a timeshare, but they brought in a timeshare act in 1992 which enforced a 14-day cooling off period and I think it also extended that period indefinately if you were not informed of it at the time of signing.

    http://www.opsi.gov.uk/ACTS/acts1992/Ukpga_19920035_en_1.htm

  6. Cancellable agreements have a cooling-off period

    Holiday clubs don’t come under that. Deliberately so.

  7. If they’re selling in Britain, they are bound by British laws.

    > Holiday clubs don’t come under that. Deliberately so.

    I don’t think they have to: they’re not the ones giving credit here, so the Consumer Credit Act isn’t about them. It’s your credit card company who have to give you a cooling-off period. I think.

  8. >>If they’re selling in Britain, they are bound by British laws.

    Bit harder to prosecute though, unfortunately, as they are not registered with companies house and as such you cannot easily find out company details and the like.

    >>> Holiday clubs don’t come under that. Deliberately so.

    >>I don’t think they have to: they’re not the ones giving credit here, so the Consumer Credit Act isn’t about them. It’s your credit card company who have to give you a cooling-off period. I think.

    I think Gary was talking about contracts in general and whereas you are talking specifically about credit. These companies do not have to have a cooling-off period as they are not covered by the consumer credit act. You’re both right. ;-)

  9. Ah. Here we go:

    An advantage of using a credit card is that, under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, customers who have a claim against a supplier for breach of contract or misrepresentation will generally have an equal claim against the card issuer. …

    There can be problems if the card is accepted by a different business from the one that provided the goods and services. We see this situation most frequently in connection with timeshare and holiday club membership, where it is not unusual for the timeshare or holiday club company to use the credit card facilities of another business. The business accepting the payment may simply be acting as agent for the supplier, in which case section 75 will not apply. In order for section 75 to apply, the business that accepts the payment and the supplier have to be ‘associates’, as defined in the Consumer Credit Act. …

    Section 75 does not, in itself, provide grounds for a claim against a supplier. Customers must have a valid claim of breach of contract or misrepresentation under other law, such as the Sale of Goods Act or the Misrepresentation Act. If they do, then they have a like claim against the card provider for the full amount of the claim.

    The claim is not limited to the amount of the credit card transaction. Customers can claim for all losses caused by the breach of contract or misrepresentation. And this applies even if all they paid by credit card was the deposit.

    Hmm.

  10. No, the card company has to give you a cooling off period when you sign the credit agreement with them, not when you use the card for a purchase. There is a cooling off period for timeshare, distance selling and contracts signed in your home, but the holiday clubs know that and deliberately run things so they’re not affected by any of that legislation.

    The cocks.

  11. S2, the answer’s in the bit you’ve posted – it only applies if there’s misrepresentation.

  12. Yes. Hence the “Hmm”.

    You know, though, if they’re not guilty of misrepresentation, Kate should be about to get her money’s worth, and there’s no problem.

  13. That’s the other bit of advice. If you try and get these deals and you don’t get them then they are in breach of contract anyway. If you get the deals then you haven’t lost owt.

  14. Yes, and that’s where the Consumer Credit Act comes into its own: if the firm are complete scammers and not only break the contract but then also declare themselves bankrupt in order to avoid giving you any money back, you have the right to sue your credit card company for a full refund. It’s the credit card company’s legal responsibility not to allow con artists to accept their cards in the first place.

    So the three options are: (1) get what you paid for and enjoy it; (2) get your money back from the firm for breach of contract; or (3) get your money back from the credit card company for the firm’s breach of contract. Brilliant.

  15. Guys – as everyone has been saying, we just got a call today and it was the most exciting thing that happened this year…until we saw this…haha!!
    When i contacted “phoenix first” about this scam, they assured us it was not a scam, there would be a sales pitch in order for us to use them again. When i enquired about an ABTA registration – i was given the line, no we are not, but we are registered with the American equivalent as they were an American company.
    I asked what this American equivalent was…and the supervisor couldn’t tell me!
    After a bit of to and fro’ing, he came back to say Phoenix First were ABTA registered and he could supply the ABTA number “If i was interested in getting it”.

    Of course i’m bloody interested…haha!
    F362X was the number supplied – which, can you believe it – is registered by Vacation Trvel in Blackpool (01253 299044).
    So much for an American company, and not knowing if they were ABTA registered!

    Think we’ll give the presentation a miss, and await a phone call from them to ask where we were!

    Now i’ll go back to being depressed about not getting a holiday this year! :(

  16. Yes we got the letter from Phoenix First for an appointment at the Glynhill Hotel in Renfrew on the 28th of July. Seems like wife and a few others that filled out the survey forms at the Scottish Open Golf at Loch Lomond have also won holidays…….
    Free holiday????Aye right!!!

  17. Some excellent detective work there, Robert.

    no we are not, but we are registered with the American equivalent as they were an American company.

    Of course, even if that were true it wouldn’t provide you with any consumer protection whatsoever.

    registered by Vacation Trvel in Blackpool

    Who seem perfectly legit, and completely unconnected to Phoenix First.

    Ross:
    Seems like wife and a few others that filled out the survey forms at the Scottish Open Golf at Loch Lomond

    Credit where credit’s due, at least they’re tenacious. It does seem that you can’t have any sort of event in Scotland without them turning up.

  18. Well thanks to this site you are gonna save me time today. I was going to go the Lichfield at 3 this afternoon. I too got a call from a scots lass sounding very similar to the lass at the NEC at the Good Food/Homes/Garden show. Saying I was one of ONLY 30 to have ‘won’ the holiday. Said details would be sent in the post but did not receive anything. I got a call during this week to confirm my appt. When told I had not received anything the details were emailed to me. I got the letter in the post today and now I have the company name of Phoenix I thought I would have a look on the net and stumbled across this. So … instead of going to it I will spend some quality time in the pub with my husband. Looks like the company are spreading their wings.

    On another note I would have though that the BBC would vet exhibitors at their shows.

    I would like a free holiday so if anyone out there knows how to get one without having to endure a long sales pitch then let me know tee hee!

  19. Hi. I work in Trading Standards and can advise you that, unfortunately, these firms are very difficult for us to catch out. We know all about their dubious sales tactics and know what they offer on the day is not what is said on the contract. READ THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS BEFORE SIGNING ANYTHING. The only proof of what they say to you on the night is what you tell us. That will never be enough to take them to court. Or, if you are subject to a phone call to say you’ve won a holiday, tell them you don’t own your house. You will be lucky even to get a ‘goodbye’ from them.

    Good luck people. Roll on 2010!

  20. Thanks for posting this story. Whether or not Gold Crown resorts as such is crooked remains to be seen, but what is sure is that people such as Phoenix and Vacaciones Wide Plus, the crooks they use to resell their holidays (at HUGELY inflated markups) are con artists of the highest order. I was scammed by VWP in Mallorca and bought into the Gold Crown scheme, but soon realised it was a scam and had a hell of a time trying to cancel and get my money back. Persistance does pay off, I got £600 of my £950 back, guess I’ll have to chalk that one down to experience. Could have been worse, could have lost £11,000 if I had took out a loan to pay them off. I was so furious about what happened to me that I made a animated warning video on YouTube – check it out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i36A0jfTzOs and it shows in detail what happens at these presentations .

  21. Emails not being answered. Registered letter delivered to 278 St Vincent St then taken to 287, then returned to sender. Abbey Bank employee(287) said 278 SVS now vacant????

  22. Hmmm, interesting. I’m sure they’ll pop up again though – it’s trade show season.

    (update, 28 Sept) And they’re back! Calling from 0141 248 8717.

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