Timeshares: A Yearly Vacation or Just an Expensive Frustration?
Despite recent improvements, are timeshares worth the money?
Taverns and pubs in the 1800's used to carry signs warning patrons--"No Politics, No Religion"--the two topics of conversation so contentious that it was considered best to avoid them altogether. A current-day version of those signs might be expanded to include timeshares. Ask ten different travelers about timeshares and you will very likely get ten different responses; some love them, some hate them, some have been too scared by timeshare horror stories to even give them any thought. But timeshares have changed a great deal since their introduction in the 1960's, so they at least deserve a second look before we outlaw any further discussion of them.
The basic premise behind timeshares is simple enough--travelers make a one-time purchase in advance for the rights to use a property for a certain amount of time each year, usually in weekly intervals. Prices vary according to the size, location, season and amenities of the property, but the average cost for a new one-week interval timeshare is around $15,000.
In addition to the purchase price, owners pay annual maintenance fees which can range anywhere from $450 to $750. The sticker price for a new timeshare is a lot for most people to swallow, but stretch that cost out over a lifetime and--in theory, at least--owners pay a fraction of what a lifetime's worth of week's stays at a hotel would cost.
Of course, that is Timeshares 101. Things get more complicated when you get down to the fine print. There are fixed weeks, floating weeks, swaps, peak seasons, point systems, deeded properties, color codes and so on. Bill Rogers has been a timeshare owner for over ten years, he runs a website devoted to solving fellow timeshare users' problems, and yet even he admits that he doesn't have all the answers.
"There's no such thing as a timeshare expert," he says, "the rules are always changing and there is always something new to learn." The number one piece of advice Rogers gives to potential timeshare buyers is to do their homework. "There are countless stories of people who have had bad experiences with timeshares, but most likely, those are the people who didn't take the time to educate themselves before they bought," says Rogers.
Jim Cummings has been a timeshare owner for over twenty years. "Overall, I think timeshares are generally a bad idea," says Cummings. "Having said that, I own four," he adds with a laugh.
Cummings' sentiment is typical among timeshare owners. Even the most ringing endorsement of timeshares usually comes with a caveat. "Timeshares have allowed me to stay at some really great resorts at prices a lot lower than I would have spent on an equivalent hotel," Cummings says, "but they are a lot of work. You really have to work the system to make timeshares pay off."
Before signing on the dotted line
The most important thing to consider before buying a timeshare is whether or not they fit the way you travel. A person who prefers exploring a region and staying in a different hotel every night is probably not the best timeshare candidate. Someone who takes a more laid-back approach and enjoys having a "home base" while traveling might do well with the more residential feel of a timeshare.
Rogers says the best way to get acquainted with timeshare properties is to actually go and visit them, sitting in on a few timeshare presentations. Usually packaged as part of a discount vacation--travelers receive a free stay at a hotel if they agree to listen to a "property demonstration,"--these sales pitches are notorious for their hard sell techniques and have probably added more to the negative stigma of timeshares than anything else.
"They have actually been toned down a lot," says Rogers. "I've heard of presentations where you would have to sacrifice your first born just to get out of there, but there are not many of those around any more."
Jim Cummings disagrees. "They are worse than you can imagine," he says. "Having to sit through three hours of a presentation that was only supposed to last a half hour is about the worst torture I can think of." They may be a necessary evil, however, as some properties can only be viewed as part of a presentation package.
As long as buyers go into presentations with a firm resolve not to buy that day, Rogers says presentations can provide important information. Though presenters try to entice potential buyers with promises of special deals it's always best to research the options first.
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