You already know the horror stories of owning a timeshare vacation. Salespeople sold you with lavish promises of exotic vacations that never quite come true. They trapped you with a high pressure sales pitch for hours. You feel nickel and dimed by all the fees you have to pay to use it. You can never recoup the money you spent when you try to resell. After you’ve bought the timeshare, you can either regret the purchase doing everything you can to get rid of it or you can use it to its fullest. I’d like to open your eyes to the possibilities that you can still enjoy your purchase and hopefully make you a happy timeshare owner.
More than likely, during a vacation in your not so distance past, you were happily walking down the street or checking into your hotel, when somebody asked you, “Would you like to make $100 for 2 hours of your time?” or “How would you like free tickets to the show tonight?” You accepted the invitation and later found yourself in a room full of people who also accepted the invitation. You watched a video telling you about all the great things you can accomplish if you’ll just buy this timeshare. You then took a tour of the units, with the salesperson telling you this is the number one vacation destination in the country. Then you went back to a conference room where you spent the next few hours trying to get out of the presentation so you could get your $100 and return to your vacation. You looked at the numbers they gave you and for some reason they made financial sense to prepay all your future vacations. Then you came home and realized you’ve created a huge financial liability and start to regret the purchase. It got worse when you started researching online, finding all the horror stories people tell about their timeshare experience.
The regret really comes from the mismatch between reality and what the sales team told you. Basically, you took the sales pitch at face value. When they showed you those numbers, they presented them in the best possible light. “It’s a small maintenance fee, about $75 a month for upkeep so the resort remains a premium destination.” “The exchange fee is only $100.” “We’ll pay for the first year’s membership with the exchange company.” Realistically, it will cost me over $1000 to use my Marriott Vacation Club timeshare for one week this year. You probably realize by now that the same unit you just bought sells for half the price you paid on the resale market. You probably tried to use it, figuring you’d give it a chance and went to go trade it with one of the exchange companies. For some reason, your searches don’t bring up any of those exotic destinations they sold you on, like Hawaii. Your searches only return place like Orlando or Las Vegas. Maybe this wasn’t your experience, but I doubt you would read this article if it wasn’t close. You must remember that those salespeople are there to sell to you. They talk up all the good points and avoid the bad points.
With that kind of experience, does the number of dissatisfied timeshare owners surprise you? Some people will never get past the point of feeling they got ripped off. But what can they do, now? They could sell it on the resale market for half of what they paid for it. They could stop paying the maintenance fees and taxes, losing the rights to even use their property. They could continue to use it and feel the regret every time they paid their maintenance fee, the exchange company membership fee and the exchange fee. Or they could educate themselves learn some of the tips and methods to become a happy and successful timeshare owner.
The first step to happy timeshare vacation ownership is to consider your purchase price a sunk cost. You will never get all of that money back. This may be a painful shift in your thinking, especially if you financed it and are still making payments. If you did finance the purchase, you may want to look at alternative financing, like taking out a home equity loan on your residence to pay off the timeshare company’s note. This will at least save you some money on interest. In any case, the next step is to concentrate on making your timeshare a worthwhile investment. I’ve come to realize that even with my timeshare I do not save money on my vacations. Rather, I take better vacations for the money I spend. What do I mean by this? For my $1000, I’m not staying in a standard hotel room in the budget hotel a few blocks from the action. Instead I’m staying at a 2 bedroom condo, in the middle of the golf course next to the JW Marriott. It even comes with a kitchen. Yes, I drank the Kool-aid. Truth is you can’t be happy unless you’ve make that kind of comparison. If you only can think about how much you spend every year, then twist it around and start thinking about how much it would cost you to take that vacation on the open market. For instance, my Marriott ownership allows me to exchange for Marriott Rewards points, which I can use at Marriott’s hotels. I used this feature to stay at the Marriott Grand Flora Hotel in the heart of Rome. At nearly $400 a night, my $1000 that year was well worth the price. I can guarantee you that I would never dream of spending $3000 on a hotel room for my vacation. Many other modern timeshare companies have similar programs. You should explore these options. They might make more sense for your style of vacationing than just looking at exchanging or staying at your home resort year after year. Personally, I let my free membership with the exchange company lapse and never looked back.
If you stick with the exchange companies, you really need to understand how they work. They use secret formulas to match a timeshare trade with like for like. This means a studio unit in Boston for December will not match to a 2 bedroom unit in Hawaii in May. This ensures that when you give your unit to the timeshare company, they will only match your trade to a unit that’s similar in size and similar in quality with the unit you gave them. During my brief time as an exchanger, I figured out 2 ways you can use this to your advantage. The first: become an obsessive planner and figure out where you want to go on your vacation about a year in advance, possibly even 2 years. Reserve the best highest demand week you possibly can, such as holidays or spring break. Then place your trade request as early as you can. Keep in mind, the weaker your position, the more flexible you need to be. If you have a low-demand week, you can’t expect to get the size or date you really want. It may happen, but don’t expect it. The second way to take advantage of the like for like rule: look for the window of time when those formulas no longer apply, usually within a month or two of the unit’s check-in date. You need to be very flexible to use this method. Think what would happen if a Hawaii timeshare owner cannot use their unit next month and deposits their 2 bedroom unit. Since the check-in date on the Hawaii 2-bedroom is so soon, the formulas don’t apply and you are eligible to make this trade, no matter what kind of unit you deposited. If you are diligently searching for this kind of trade, you can increase your probability of reserving that 2-bedroom unit.
Of course you can do other things with your unit, such as renting it out, donating the week to charity or any number of uses. Unfortunately, the timeshare companies don’t spend much time teaching owners the ins and outs of using their timeshare. You need to take control and do some research to find out the many ways to properly use your timeshare. If changing your thinking and learning how to properly use your timeshare still results in failure and you’re unhappy with your timeshare. There’s really nothing you can do to make you feel good about the purchase. On the other hand, you’re now forced to take a week away from work every year. Is that really such a bad thing? I used to take a vacation every other year. Now I alternate between an annual international trip and a domestic trip. Remember you now have the privilege of taking incredible vacations for the same price you used to spend on budget traveling.