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Luskin's travel promotion won't fly, state charges


Luskin's Inc. is facing administrative charges brought by the Maryland attorney general's office, which is charging the Columbia-based consumer electronics store chain with deceiving customers through a travel promotion that offers free airfare to popular vacation destinations.

According to the charges announced last week, Luskin's offer of airfare to Hawaii, Florida and the Bahamas was loaded with expensive conditions that the state contends were unlawful.

According to the charges, Luskin's required consumers to buy $200 in merchandise from the retailer to get free travel certificates issued by Florida-based Vacation Ventures Inc. Then, to redeem the certificates, travelers had to make hotel and other arrangements through Vacation Ventures at costs ranging from $470 to $1,875, the charges say.

The Consumer Protection Division of the attorney general's office alleged that Luskin's advertisements promoting the airfare offer failed to disclose the full terms and "complicated" conditions placed on the certificates. The state also contends that the promotion broke the law by requiring a purchase to obtain the "free" airfare.

Luskin's chairman Jack Luskin said yesterday that the terms of the offer were "all very clearly delineated" in the company's advertising and on the sales floor.

"We have had no complaints from consumers -- zero," Mr. Luskin said. "The only complaint the attorney general has had is from a single competitor."

Mr. Luskin said the promotion offered consumers "an outstanding value if they care to use it." He contended that the lodging rates offered by Vacation Ventures were below-market prices at "top" hotels.

"I think we simply have a couple of underlings in the consumer division who are frustrated," Mr. Luskin said.

According to Attorney General J. Joseph Curran's news release, Luskin's has filed suit in Harford County Circuit Court seeking an injunction to block the state's enforcement action.

According to the release, the retailer contends that it changed its initial airfare offer, but the attorney general's office described the changes as "semantic" and said they would not make the offer lawful.

If Luskin's motion for an injunction is not granted, the matter would go to a public administrative hearing, which is scheduled for Nov. 13.

Luskin's, well known for its ads claiming to be "The Cheapest Guy in Town," has had acrimonious dealings with state consumer protection officials before.

In 1981, Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs brought suit against the chain, charging violations including bait-and-switch tactics and selling used merchandise as new.

In 1985, without admitting wrongdoing, Luskin's settled the suit.

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