Have you ever been to a timeshare presentation? I have. Five times, in fact, over the last 15 years, with two of them occurring quite recently.
On one hand, these sales pitches are not a great use of our vacation time (or the salesperson’s time) when I know I’m going to say “No” regardless.
On the other hand, they do compensate you for attending, I find the marketing tactics to be interesting, and I now have unlimited vacation time.
I’d like to review my past experiences, let you know what to expect, and provide you with some tactics to help you get to No, which is almost assuredly the correct answer.
Have you ever stayed on a timeshare property? The quality can obviously vary from one place to another, but the handful of places we’ve stayed were actually fairly nice.
The Wyndham property we reserved via Airbnb, we were guests of owners at BlueGreen at a very reasonable rate of $79 a night for a spacious 2-bed, 2-bath room place, and the Hilton Property was a 4-night introductory package for $249 with a mandatory sales pitch as part of the discount.
Each of these places had community pools and hot tubs, gyms, and game rooms, gas grills available, and offered large apartments with full kitchens. These kitchens are sparsely supplied, but you’ll generally have all you need to prepare and eat most meals on-site as long as you wash your dishes daily.
I’d say the grounds and furnishings of the places we’ve stayed were on par with that of a 3.5 to 4 star hotel — not the fanciest, but clean and comfortable.
Perks of Attending a Timeshare Presentation
I wouldn’t dream of sitting through one of these sales pitches if I didn’t get something in return. What do they offer?
In three of the five presentations I’ve sat through, the main perk was a prepaid debit card loaded with $100 to $150.
In Hawaii, my wife and I each scored Luau tickets that would have cost us $250 or so.
Finally, the Hilton Grand Vacations perk was 25,000 Hilton Honors points (a value of $100 to $125) plus a huge discount on staying at the property. We stayed 4 nights for $249 in a place that I would value at $200 or more per night if it were a comparable suite in a Hilton hotel.
If you’re married, typically both spouses must attend the presentation to qualify for the perks, and the sales pitch will typically last 90 to 120 minutes. Make sure you keep track of time and don’t be afraid to remind whoever is working with you that they’re running out of time.
If you’re only getting $100 and putting in 3 or 4 hours combined, that’s not the greatest hourly rate, so keep that in mind. You’d better have plenty of time on your hands and/or a keen curiosity to learn more about how timeshare programs and how they’re sold. Otherwise, it’s probably not worth your valuable vacation time to sit through one of these.
What to Expect When You’re Rejecting
At the end of the presentation, you’ll be saying “No” several times, and probably to more than one person. If this makes you feel at all uncomfortable, then you have no business signing up to attend the presentation.
You’re going to be pitched an expensive liability, but it will be framed in a way by a clever and experienced salesperson as an asset that will give you a lifetime of vacation magic. You likely will also be given a “now or never” deal that expires the minute you walk out of that room.
What they won’t tell you is that there is a large second-hand market for timeshare weeks and point packages, often with sellers just wanting to get out of their commitment as cheaply as possible. Yes, people give these things away or sell them for a dollar to escape the burden of the annual maintenance fees.
If you understand the program well and are convinced you’ll get more than your money’s worth by becoming an owner, you may very well be able to become an owner at a 90% to 99% discount as compared to buying directly from the company. The timeshares are obviously aware of this, and some have responded either by granting valuable perks only to those who buy directly from them or by disallowing the resale of a deeded ownership if it’s being sold for too little. Disney Vacation Club and Hilton Grand Vacations reportedly exercise their right of first refusal on third-party sales.
When you sit down for the actual timeshare presentation, expect to be engaged in conversation. The salesperson will want to connect with you on a personal level.
Expect to be complimented. Expect leading questions. Expect questions where the only logical answer is “Yes.” They want you to get used to saying that word.
You can expect to have access to coffee, soft drinks, and snacks. They want you to be comfortable and willing to stay awhile. They do expect you to stay awhile. We’ve had OK experiences for the most part, but the very first presentation we endured definitely went over the stated timeframe, which I believe was 90 minutes. The salesman was not very pleased when we brought that up, but we had every right to do so.
Expect the closer to come around at the end. That’s the second salesperson whose job it is to give you additional options after you’ve denied the first package offered to you. They may or may not be polite. A recent closer apparently had this weird good cop / bad cop routing with the salesman, and the closer was clearly the bad cop. It was awkward.
How Much Do You Spend on Vacations?
These companies must compare notes because their presentations not only have consistent themes, but parts of it are basically identical.
For example, both the man with Blue Green and the woman with Hilton Grand Vacations talked about taking a daughter or niece to the Animal Kingdom Villas and how they could see the giraffes grazing right outside their window. Apparently, you can transfer points from either system to use at this particular Disney property.
Did they both have this personal experience of a young relative pointing out the giraffes? It’s possible, as both salespeople are located in Orlando, but the nearly identical stories seemed a bit contrived, if not fabricated, and almost familiar, as I may have actually heard this story in one of my three prior presentations in years past.
Another common exercise is one in which you’re asked how often you vacation and how much you spend per night on lodging. They multiply a number of days per year by the cost per night and multiply that figure by a number of years.
We were an interesting test subject. If it weren’t for a pandemic, we’d be spending half the year traveling, spending anywhere from $20 to $200 a night on lodging. We can’t really project that forward, though, since our kids will be in high school before long, and that will greatly impact our ability to travel, assuming they attend a brick and mortar school.
Anyway, the idea is that they show you that you’ll probably spend six figures on travel accommodations over a lifetime, and that’s somehow supposed to make you feel better about spending a mid-six-figure sum on a timeshare package now.
It’s an odd comparison to make, and they leave out all sorts of variables, but I guess the idea is to show you a really big number first to soften the blow when you find out how much they’re going to ask for before you walk out the door that day.
The Fuzzy Math of Timeshare Ownership
I’ve looked into the details of several of these programs at various times in the past. There actually is a way to make the math work in your favor if you obtain your points or package in a low-cost way.
I do believe you can get good value for your money, especially if most of the following apply to you:
- You usually vacation at resorts (which may not be near a city center).
- Your schedule is flexible and you can travel in the off-season or shoulder seasons.
- You have a job that allows you to work from anywhere (i.e. a digital nomad).
- You don’t expect your preferred vacation style or preferences to change much for decades.
- You are an optimizer and will learn exactly how to squeeze the maximum value out of your allotted points
What I like to do is compare the annual maintenance fees to how many nights you can book in a year. The answer will vary by the time of year you travel, what resort(s) you choose, and how large a place you need.
I’d say the average tends to be $500 to $1,000 per week if you can avoid popular spots in their busy seasons. Weekdays tend to require fewer points than weekends.
For what you get, that’s actually a pretty good value if you can get the package for next to nothing. You’ll find that people part with them for next to nothing (in some cases paying to get rid of them).
The trouble is, even if you only pay a nominal fee for your package, you now have a liability that lasts a lifetime. Whether you use it or not, you’ll be paying those annual maintenance fees eternally until you get rid of the package yourself. There are some vacation clubs that come with an expiration date in 20 or 25 years, and I actually think that makes good sense. We’ve met several people in our travels that were only at the resort because they have to pay the fees so they figure they might as well take the trip.
That use-it-or-lose-it feature is actually a very good thing for the type of people that might never take a vacation if it wasn’t already prepaid. Some people, believe it or not, actually have to be forced to travel.
You may be told by owners or the sales team that you can get a credit card with benefits that will more than cover your annual maintenance fees. For example, there’s a BlueGreen card that gives you 1% back that can be used towards maintenance fees. A much, much better option would be to get a credit card that gives you 1.5% to 2% cash back or a travel rewards card that you can use to earn free travel in far more places.
There’s a real opportunity cost in using that credit card perks to pay your maintenance fees when you could get a higher percentage back on a better card with infinite redemption options.
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When the salespeople talk with you about costs, they fail to mention opportunity costs.
It’s true that the maintenance fees you pay in exchange for a week or two at a nice resort might represent a good value, but if you’re only vacationing a week or two a year, you’ll never go anywhere that doesn’t have a resort that your vacation package qualifies for.
That rules out at least 99% of the places you could be staying when you factor in hotels, homes and apartments via airbnb or VRBO, and non-timeshare resorts. That’s a huge opportunity cost.
If the timeshare contract puts you to a particular week in a particular place, that is extremely limiting, and I would not recommend it. Now, you’ve eliminated 99.999% of vacations that you could be taking at that time.
The salespeople also fail to mention, and may not fully understand, the opportunity cost of sinking $60,000 into a points package.
I brought up the fact that investing that $60k into an index fund or real estate fund instead would give me two things that a timeshare would not. One is a steady stream of income in the form of dividends, distributions, and potentially capital appreciation. At 6% to 10% a year, on average, that’s $3,600 to $6,000 a year that I might expect to gain, and I could use all of that towards travel.
The other thing it gives me is a valuable asset with excellent liquidity. In 10 or 20 years, my $60,000 investment might be worth double or quadruple, and I can sell at any time. The timeshare investment, on the other hand, especially when purchased at full price at a presentation, will likely have lost most of its value before you’ve even used it once. Decades from now, you might be willing to give the thing away to anyone who is willing to take on the liability of those annual maintenance fees and dues.
The saleswoman I spoke to didn’t want to hear about opportunity cost, and of course, she was a timeshare owner herself. They always are, it seems, and I highly doubt they paid full asking price.
Just Say No
My solution to the timeshare presentation is the same as Nancy Reagan’s approach to illicit drugs. “Just Say No.”
It’s not rude to decline a major purchase, Nathan, and that’s what this would be. A major purchase you are quite likely to regret. No matter how much you might like the person trying to sell it to you, remind yourself that this person repeatedly sells overpriced packages to people who don’t need them.
There is a fine line between being honest and being rude, and with any luck, you won’t have to cross it. My approach is to be friendly and honest. I’ll show interest in the person I’m talking to without showing interest in the product he or she is promoting.
There’s no need to feign interest in the vacation package, either. They know that the vast majority of people are there for the freebie and have no intention of buying. Still, they manage to convert quite a few, selling to about 15% of attendees, and they’ll hope you’re open to being converted, too. Don’t be.
85% will go on to regret their purchase, according to the Finn Law Group. Don’t be among that cohort, either.
Just say no.
Should You Attend a Timeshare Presentation?
Again, if you find it difficult to say “no” to these nice people who’ve spent an hour or two getting to know you and your travel habits, please stay away.
However, If you’ve got ample time, find marketing tactics intriguing, and can get something worth a couple hundred bucks or more, then they’re probably worth checking out.
You may even discover that the program has a lot to offer. If that’s the case, I suggest you study the ins and outs well both before and after the presentation. Take some time to learn what the best options are for getting points on the secondary market. The forums at Redweek and TUG can be invaluable for this. A quick eBay search will also yield hundreds of options.
Personally, I’m not a member of any vacation club, fractional ownership, or timeshare by any other name. I do know some people that are happy with theirs, and they tend to be people with a lot of flexibility who have learned to optimize their points to get the most bang for their buck.
I haven’t completely ruled out buying into one of these programs someday, but if I ever do, you can bet it won’t be while attending one of these timeshare presentations.
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What experiences have you had with timeshare presentations? Any horror stories? Success stories? If you’re an owner, what do you do to get your money’s worth?