Watchdog raps travel club over 'free' hotel rooms that cost HK$164,000
Consumer Council acts to publicly sanction travel club after it received 75 complaints against Carefree Travel for failing to honour its offers of free accommodation during 2013
A travel club named and shamed by the consumer watchdog for repeatedly failing to honour its offer of complimentary hotel rooms has agreed to extend its customers' memberships for free.
Carefree Travel blamed heavy demand and a shortage of staff after the Consumer Council said it had received 75 complaints against the club involving HK$164,397.
"I am disappointed at the handling of complaints by the club and am worried," the council's chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han said yesterday.
The Lai Chi Kok club, which recruits members by direct telephone sales, offered two nights' accommodation in a superior room of an international chain in Macau for an annual membership fee of HK$2,388. Other benefits included a free buffet and a welcome kit with coupons and a membership card.
Complainants said that while they were promised free accommodation all year round, when they tried to make a reservation through the club they were told no room was available. They were persuaded to pay extra for an upgrade or rooms in other hotels, the council said.
One complainant bought five memberships for HK$10,940 but was able to book a hotel through the club only once.
Of 67 cases referred by the council to the club last year, 12 had been settled by August by full refund, partial refund or redemption of coupons. The watchdog said the club had been more willing to settle in the first half of last year, but since then, it had become difficult to reach.
Council vice-chairman Philip Leung Kwong-hon said seven complainants had joined the club after amendments to the Trade Descriptions Ordinance in July extended the rules from goods to services.
Six were referred to the Customs and Excise Department, one to police. The club was not registered as a travel agency and therefore not regulated by laws governing agencies. Police and customs are investigating.
No one answered when the Post visited the firm's office yesterday. But secretary Cindy Leung, contacted later, apologised, saying the company had about 38,000 members and that it would improve and extend customers' memberships for free.
She said the club had a contract with Sands in Macau for 200 rooms every month and blamed the problems on staff shortages and a high demand for rooms.
Sands denied having a contract with Carefree Travel.