Hot air balloon vouchers that will never get you off the ground - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Hot air balloon vouchers that will never get you off the ground

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - One of the most magical ways to enjoy San Diego or any city is through a hot air balloon ride, but some people have paid hundreds of dollars for gift certificates that will not get them off the ground.

Customers are learning they've been taken for a different kind of ride after purchasing hot air balloon rides, glider and skydiving vouchers from Soaring Adventures of America, a company based in Connecticut and run by Rob Wilkinson. Their website claims the vouchers will be accepted at hundreds of locations nationwide. Also on their site, the company touts being in business for 35-years and states that customers can "buy now, fly anytime."

Recently, a CBS News 8 employee received a $350 Soaring Adventures flight ticket for two as a gift. When she called local ride operators, she could not find one willing to honor the voucher - quickly realizing she had been burned.

CBS News 8 searched on Facebook, Yelp and Trip Advisor only to discover that hundreds of other paying customers had suffered the same fate.

One review called the owners of Soaring Adventures, "crooks and scammers" who allegedly will not return calls from people who claim they are out hundreds of dollars. A reviewer on Trip Advisor warned others that no one accepts the vouchers.

Denni Barrettt, a hot air balloon pilot who runs Magical Adventure Balloon Rides, said he used to accept vouchers from Soaring Adventures - which have been sold on Groupon and Living Social.

Barrett claims Soaring Adventures stopped reimbursing him for rides and made empty promises that the money was coming. "I think it was a Ponzi scheme. We would accept their tickets, fly their passengers, submit an invoice and they would give us $175 per-person," he said.

Barrett claims Soaring Adventures owed him nearly $10,000, and after he hired a lawyer he received a settlement payment. Others in the business have not been as lucky.

CBS News 8 tried reaching Soaring Adventures by phone and email, but did not receive a reply. By all accounts, the company continues selling certificates for rides.

The Soaring Adventures website displays an A rating by the Better Business Bureau, however, the BBB lists the company's accreditation as revoked - giving it an F.

Barret said he hopes those who are holding the useless vouchers can get their money back and still give hot air ballooning a try.

"Unfortunately their [customers] view is they paid for a balloon ride and they are not getting it, [so customers think] that the entire ballooning community are bad guys, not just the one company that tricked them," said Barrett.

The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection told CBS News 8 it has received 28 formal complaints against Soaring Adventures of America and has an open investigation into the company's unfair trade practices.

To file a complaint visit the Hot Air Balloon Gift Certificate Complaints website.

CBS News 8 also reached out to Groupon and Living Social. A spokesperson said, those who purchased a Soaring Adventures gift certificate through their promotions should contact them for a refund.

The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection and Denni Barrett with Magical Adventures both recommend booking a hot air balloon flight directly through the company and not to use a third party vendor.

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