|By Jerry W. Jackson, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Aug. 13, 2005 - Fairfield Resorts is being sued by time-share buyers in federal court in Orlando seeking class-action status for thousands of people who have purchased vacation time from the Orlando-based time-share giant.
Fairfield, which is owned by the Cendant Corp., is the nation's largest time-share company and has been in business since 1966, growing to become a more than $500 million a year powerhouse in competition with Marriott, Hilton and other brands.
But Wendell and Sandra Grimes of Albertville, Ala., and Robin and Barry Dillard of Danville, Va., contend in the suit filed July 18 that their purchases of Fairfield vacation time in recent years have proved virtually worthless.
Despite repeated attempts to reserve time in their favorite resorts, among some 70 operated by Fairfield, the families claim they have been told that space was not available.
"We could never get reservations. We tried and tried," retiree Wendell Grimes, 64, said in a telephone interview Friday.
A spokesperson for Fairfield said Friday that the company had no comment on the lawsuit.
Grimes said he agreed in June 2002 to pay Fairfield $14,200 plus about $440 in closing costs, but has yet to stay a single night in the Fairfield Smoky Mountain Resort near Gatlinburg, Tenn.
Grimes said he always vacationed in the Smoky Mountains and wanted to stay in that resort and was assured by the Fairfield sales staff that his family could stay there. "We ended up staying in a motel," Grimes said, despite repeatedly requesting a weekend in the Fairfield resort, even more than a year in advance.
The suit contends Fairfield Resorts has "diluted" the interests of fee-simple purchasers such as the Grimeses in recent years by aggressively expanding into the "points-based" system.
The fee-simple model is the traditional time-share method that typically guarantees one-week for life at a resort of the buyer's choice, with possible options to use other affiliated resorts. The newer points-based system adopted by Fairfield and other companies offers more flexibility, to divvy up the time in weekends or other increments.
But the net effect of programs implemented by Fairfield since it was acquired by Cendant in 2001 is to make it virtually impossible for many of the fee-based buyers to get into resorts of their choice, said Steven Berk, an attorney representing the families for Cuneo Gilbert & LaDuca law firm in Washington, D.C.
While there may be space at some Fairfield resorts at any given time, Berk said, Fairfield now has too many people eligible, and clamoring to stay in, popular resorts such as the Smoky Mountains property.
"The system might not be oversold systemwide, but certain resorts might be," Berk said. "I know for a certainty that their interest has been diluted."
Berk said that he thinks the case has a good chance of being certified for class-action status because it is not the typical time-share suit that challenges the marketing techniques of a company. "This is not a he-said, she-said case," Berk said.
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Anne Conway.
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