KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The hook that reeled in Lois Rausch and her husband was a free weekend stay in a Kansas City hotel and water park Great Wolf Lodge. They planned on giving the freebie to their grandkids, which is why they attended a travel seminar at an Overland Park motel.
They never planned on buying a thing, but then they heard the pitch.
"We really got to visiting with the main guy," Rausch said.
That guy convinced the Paola, Kan. couple to buy a membership in a travel discount club called American Travel Planners. They were promised that by joining they would get exclusive deals, like paying as little as $99 for a weeks stay in hotels and condos across the world.
At first the Rauschs declined, but then the American Travel Planners salesperson offered them a free Alaskan cruise if they joined the vacation club at a cost of $5,593. An Alaskan cruise was something the Rauschs had always dreamed of taking.
The Rauschs had one year to use the free cruise, but nearly a year later they've never been able to book it. None of the dozens of dates they provided American Travel Planners was ever available and now no one is returning their emails or their calls.
"I feel so stupid," Rausch said. "To think we were had."
That's not all. Remember the free stay at Great Wolf Lodge, the water park in Kansas City, Kansas, they were promised for just attending the seminar? They never got that either.
Even the travel club's promise of low-cost hotel rooms turned out to be fake. When Rausch called the club's reservation service to book a room, she said she was told by an operator "I won't get it any cheaper than you can on the Internet."
So who's behind American Travel Planners? It's not easy finding out. The address on the brochure is in Washington D.C. and the reservation agent is supposedly in South Carolina. But according to a lawsuit filed by the Colorado Attorney General's office, the entire operation is in Colorado. It's run by four members of the Wunder family: Andrew, Stephen, Christian and Bethany.
The attorney general is trying to shut down the company. The lawsuit accuses the Wunders of fooling the public into joining their travel club by offering vouchers for one-time deals that don't exist.
When people try to cancel their memberships within the 72-hour legally required cancellation period, employees are ordered not to return their phone calls, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says that American Travel Planners used to go by the name Sea to Ski Vacations, but changed its name shortly after becoming aware of the attorney general's investigation.
FOX 4 Problem Solvers made multiple attempts to contact someone at American Travel Planners. We never reached an actual person and none of our messages were returned.
But there is some good news. FOX 4 Problem Solvers contacted Great Wolf Lodge where the Rauschs were supposed to have received that free weekend stay. Great Wolf said it has received so many complaints about American Travel Planners that it now has changed the terms of its business relationship. Then Great Wolf did something American Travel Planners never did, it is giving the Rauschs a free weekend for their grandkids.
And it gets even better. Princess Cruises wants to help the Rauschs fulfill their dream of an Alaskan cruise. It's giving the couple a free week-long cruise on Alaska's Inside Passage, which the Rauschs can enjoy in the cabin with a balcony.
The Johnson County District Attorney's Office is now investigating American Travel Planners and would like to hear from you if you purchased a membership.