Online Vacation Deal Turns Out To Be A Dud
By Jennifer Kraus
Consumer Investigative Reporter
NASHVILLE, Tenn.- Those online websites that offer daily deals seem to be all the rage these days.
Sometimes, the specials they offer sure sound too good to be true. And, sometimes NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered, that's exactly what they are. We found a deal that hundreds of people bought thinking they were getting a great vacation at an unbelievable price. But that online deal turned out to be a dud.
It sounded like a cheap vacation getaway: a four night hotel stay for just $135, and you had your choice of four cities.
Blake Osteen told NewsChannel5 Investigates, "I thought it was a great deal. I've been wanting to go on vacation."
The vacation package was featured back in May on Sharing Spree, the latest daily deal website offering special buys on products and services, much like the popular Groupon and LivingSocial sites.
Osteen says, "I bought two of them. My girlfriend, she bought one for her parents. And, then my other friends bought two or three for themselves."
It was the most popular deal ever offered on the site. Sharing Spree sold more than 1,800 of the deals and took in nearly a quarter of a million dollars.
NewsChannel5 Investigates asked Osteen, "Anybody you know actually get a vacation?"
Just days after the deal closed, customers were already complaining online that they couldn't book their trips and they couldn't get answers from either Sharing Spree or the company behind the deal, a website known as CoolVacationDeals.com, which we discovered is run out of a Bellevue apartment by Korey Conner.
Conner told NewsChannel5 Investigates, "I'm not booking the vacations. I'm not doing it. Absolutely not."
Conner says his deal with Sharing Spree fell apart soon after the online vacation deal was posted. And, he says he never booked any trips because he wasn't paid what he was owed.
"I got exactly $8,000. I was supposed to get almost $125,000."
Whitney Crisp with Sharing Spree explains, "You can't give someone $125,000 if they don't show that they can hold up their end of the deal.
Crisp says Conner told her he had all sorts of experience in the travel industry.
NewsChannel5 Investigates asked Crisp, "He told you that he'd booked vacations before?"
"And, it was your understanding that he was going to book the vacations?"
Crisp answered," Oh, absolutely. He was booking the vacations through, you know, his parent company, I guess."
But Conner insists, "That was never said to Sharing Spree."
Conner told NewsChannel5 Investigates he's no travel agent and never has been. Yet, he does claim to have sold online vacation packages like this before.
"I didn't invent this. This has gone on for a long time. There are other people making money on this right now," he explained.
Conner sent Sharing Spree customers a travel certificate from a company based in California. And we found that for just $99, Conner was able to print off as many of these travel certificates as he wanted to. The company though behind the certificates says these certificates are never supposed to be re-sold, as they were here. And, while a lot of folks bought more than one of these vacation deals, they were never told that you are only allowed to book one trip a year.
NewsChannel5 Investigates asked Sharing Spree's Crisp, "But you didn't know this when you did the deal?"
"Oh, absolutely not," she told us. "We had no idea."
Sharing Spree now admits they didn't check out Conner's background before the deal or even his website which we discovered was launched just two weeks earlier.
"But, you went ahead with the deal?" NewsChannel5 Investigates asked Sharing Spree's Crisp.
"We did. We did."
Korey Conner, the man behind the vacation deal, says, "The truth of it is, you know, that Sharing Spree didn't do their research."
And, while Conner maintains he's done nothing wrong.
Sharing Spree says the same thing.
Crisp explained," Your money is always safe with us. You're always going to get it back if you're not satisfied."
Yet, while Sharing Spree confirms the deal with Conner is off, the company is still holding only customers' money, all, we found, while leading customers to believe they'd be getting their vacations any day.
NewsChannel5 Investigates asked Sharing Spree, "You're sitting on nearly a quarter of a million dollars and waiting for people to ask for their refund. Why not refund everyone's money?"
Whitney Crisp responded, "At this time, and probably until this past week, we were still trying to make sure that it (the deal) was done."
But it's been nearly two months now and, in that time, not one person has gotten a vacation, leaving customers wondering if they've been taken for a ride.
Blake Osteen who bought two of the deals told NewsChannel5 Investigates, "It's just messed up how they've done it all."
Sharing Spree says it has sent refunds to about 300 or so people who have specifically asked for their money back. The company says it hasn't refunded everyone else's money because it's been trying to come up with another similar vacation package to offer these folks.
Sharing Spree also now says it paid Korey Conner $8,000 hoping that he would then at least book some of the vacations. But, he told them it was all or nothing. Sharing Spree tells NewsChannel5 Investigates that they have not decided yet whether to go after him for the money.
And if you're wondering how companies make money offering these great online deals...it's that they're counting on people buying them but never using them. As it turns out, about half of all people who buy deals like this end up never using them.