Review #500: Deciding if a Timeshare is Right For You and Getting the Best Deal

Aug 1, 2003 (Updated Jan 25, 2009)

The Bottom Line Buying a timeshare is a major decision. Try not to go into it impulsively.

Originally published in 2003, I can now no longer recommend buying a timeshare if you will purchase it with an agreement to trade through the industry giant RCI.  For details why, see this entry: continue to recommend it if you are looking to purchase at Disney or through corporations such as Marriott and Hilton who actually care about their guests and property owners.

For my 500th review, I decided to pick a subject which has brought great joy to my family over the past few years. Just about everyone has at one time or another received either spam email or snail mail offering a free vacation in exchange for sitting through a "90-minute presentation".

Timesharing itself often has a bad reputation as the result of the hard-sell (and often downright deceptive) techniques used in these presentations. It's unfortunate, because the actual concept of timesharing is a very good one.

Many thanks to the people who participate on the message boards at the Timeshare Users Group. It is from them that I have learned most of this information over the years.

What is a timeshare?

Owning a timeshare means owning a piece of a vacation resort. Generally each resort is divided up into one-week ownership intervals. Unit sizes vary. Many start at hotel units or studio-sized apartments and go all the way up to three bedrooms or more. Depending on the type of ownership you choose, you either own a "fixed week" or "floating time" or possibly "points".

What is the difference?

Owning a "fixed week" generally means you own a certain unit in the resort for one week per year. Sometimes your unit is not fixed, just the size. This means that if you own a 2-bedroom size unit, you are guaranteed that size unit for that week, but not the same unit each time.

Owning "floating time" means that you are guaranteed a size during a particular time of the year. Timesharing is generally divided up into seasons (Red=high, white=medium, blue=low) depending on the demand for occupancy.

Owning "points" means that you own the right to reserve time at a resort. Depending on the unit size you need and the time of year you wish to travel, the points needed to secure a unit will vary. This is perhaps the most flexible ownership way, because as your needs change you can always add more points should you need them.

There are also ownership plans in which you own the unit only once every two or even three years.

Do I actually own a piece of the building forever?

There are also different types of ownership in regard to how long the unit is actually yours. If the unit is deeded to you, that means you own the unit in perpetuity, being able to pass it on in the event of your death, sell it, give it away, etc. In a "right to use" ownership, the property owner (usually the development company) retains the actual ownership of the property, all you own is the "right to use" the unit for a certain number of years, after which the "right to use" will revert back to the owner.

No one can say which is the right one for you. Some people do not want to have to worry about paying maintenance fees or what to do with their timeshare units forty years from now, while for other people it is important to be able to pass them onto their children.

The other big difference between "right to use" and deeded ownership is who actually owns the resort and makes decisions. In deeded ownership, the owners of the timeshare units actually elect a board of directors and are responsible for the hiring of a management company. Should they decide that they don't like the way a resort is being run, there is the power to elect a new board and fire the management company. In "right to use" the property owner is in complete control of all aspects of running the property. If there is something you don't like, or if maintenance fees shoot sky high for whatever reason, there's little to no recourse except selling your interest.

What are Vacation Clubs and Points-Based Programs?

Vacation Clubs and points systems, give you no ownership. In the case of a vacation club, you are part of a club and entitled to whatever designations your contract gives you. Usually there is one resort designated as your "home resort", although often these clubs have several resorts in different areas from which you can choose to stay.

In the case of a points-based program, you are alotted the agreed upon number of points each year to use as you see fit. The number of points needed to stay at a unit varies depending on the size of unit desired as well as the season you are traveling and the property's location.

What if the developer runs out of money? Will I still own my unit?

In the case of a deeded ownership, that unit is yours no matter what happens with the developer unless the resort is completely shut down. If the ownership is a "right to use", generally you are out of luck of the property owner goes bankrupt.

What if I don't want to use my timeshare this year?

There are a few options should you not want to use a year's timeshare allowance. One is to allow the resort to try to rent your unit for a fee. This is risky and can mean it sits empty, depending on the demand for occupancy.

Once a timeshare is purchased, generally you are part of a trading association. The two major ones are RCI and Interval International (II). If you are not going to use your timeshare - or points - you can always bank your week at the trading company. You can then use the time to try to get a resort somewhere else you are interested in traveling or save it to use at a later date.

In the case of a points-based systems, any points not used in one use-year can be rolled over into the next year. Usually there are restrictions on how long points are good for. In the case of RCI Points, it is two years. Therefore, any points I didn't use in 2002 that I rolled over have to be used by the end of 2004 or I would lose them.

Where else can I travel to?

Both RCI and II have affiliated resorts all over the world. However, there is no guarantee that you will get space in a selected resort on a selected week. Availability at other resorts depends on how many owners there have chosen to bank their weeks with the trading company. For this reason, if you are going to trade somewhere else you should start searching through the trading company as early as possible.
Vacation Clubs also generally have other areas you can choose to travel to without incurring the RCI or II exchange fees.

What are the costs associated with timesharing?

Initial purchase figures vary depending on resort, locale, season, and/or point value. I'll talk more about that later on. Yearly fees include maintenance fees for each week owned at a resort or per point. Generally speaking, maintenance fees at newer resorts are less than older resorts. Also, maintenance fees are generally higher for oceanfront property as opposed to inland properties due to wear and tear from the salt water. Owners in a strictly points system (such as Disney's Vacation Club) pay a maintenance fee of a designated amount per point.

There are also membership fees for RCI or II, plus exchange fees each time you trade. Still, for our family, a two bedroom villa outside of Disney World costs us less than $250 a week, not taking into account the initial investment.

What is the benefit of a points-based system over exchanging weeks?

Many points-based systems will allow vacationers more flexibility than the weeks. In the case of weeks, check-in is generally Friday, Saturday or Sunday and you stay at the resort for a week. Should you decide to check out early, you cannot receive any credit.

With RCI points, I can travel for less than a full week should I want to, or check in and leave on different days of the week. RCI also allows me to use my points toward other travel services such as hotel stays, airfare, cruises and car rental. However, when I look at the cost of these services base on the value of my points, it is much cheaper to get my airfare, car rental, etc. from many of the Internet travel sites.

What is the advantage of a timeshare unit over a hotel or resort?

Non-suite hotels often are simply one or two beds, a bathroom, and a television (if you're lucky a table and chairs). Suite hotels may offer more privacy and a bit more space, but often have the same cramped feeling.

With a timeshare unit, most are typical of a condominium in the area in which you own or trade to. Many have laundry equipment right in the unit (if not, then available on the premises). Most also have kitchen facilities, making it so that vacationers can ave money not having to dine out all of the time. For some people, these are not important on a vacation. For me, I don't mind preparing meals and doing laundry if it means I can take more frequent vacations.

The other pluses are being able to plan very far in advance and not have to wait to see if rates change, while the hotel or resort fills up in the meantime. Many timeshare resorts also have planned activities at the resorts and some even have babysitting services and/or kids programs.

Once you own a timeshare, oftentimes you can find good deals on stays at resorts without using any of your actual points or weeks. RCI offers Vacation Escapes. During slower seasons, resorts often have many openings and try to fill them by offering them up to RCI members at nominal fees.

What if I want to buy, but avoid the high-pressure sales pitch?

For the first-time timeshare buyer, I do recommend buying from somewhere other than the salespeople. In fact, the only time I think buying through the salesperson is beneficial is when you want to trade in a unit you already own toward a different unit.

There are many classified listings on the Internet at timeshare websites such as the Timeshare Users Group ( Century 21 has an agency strictly devoted to timeshare resales. Timeshares can even be seen up for bid at Ebay. These are often for half or less of what the purchase price would be through the salespeople.

In our case, the first unit we purchased was through a relative who sold it to us really to be rid of the maintenance costs. We bought it for $1200 including the first year's maintenance fees. When we wanted a better unit in the RCI points system with more trading power, we traded it in through a developer and received a $2000 credit toward our new purchase. In this case, it was worth it to go through the sales company.

The other thing to consider is the sales company often offers financing, usually at a very high interest rate. I'd advise arranging your own, outside financing wherever you choose to purchase a timeshare from. Also, have a lawyer look over all of the documents, if possible before you sign on the dotted line, to make sure you are getting exactly what you want in your timeshare purchase.

There are sites such as which often have timeshare weeks available for stays at low prices. If you have a resort in mind and want to "test-drive" without the obligation of the sales pitch. Sometimes you can also find this on Ebay as well, but be warned that for an RCI trade, you must be an RCI member. The same goes for II. What you would look for on Ebay is a direct rental at the resort of your choice, avoiding all of the RCI or II associated fees.

What if I want to sell my timeshare unit?

Timeshares are not generally considered to be a good investment. Therefore, you should not expect to make a profit reselling your unit.

The best approach is to try selling through online classifieds, Ebay, or if you know a friend or family member who might be interested. The online classifieds should give you an idea of what a reasonable selling price is.

Under no circumstance should you ever pay an upfront fee to a company offering to sell your timeshare for you. I have never heard of any of these companies having any success, no matter what they promise.

I purchased after a sales-pitch, and now I'm having second thoughts. What can I do?

Most contracts contain a clause allowing you to cancel it and receive all of the fees back within a certain amount of time. Depending on the state, that time can be anywhere from seven to fifteen days. The procedures to cancel your deal would be included in the documentation you received at the closing of the sale. Review it thoroughly and do exactly what the instructions say should you be able to cancel the deal and wish to.

If it's too late, don't feel bad. Most timeshare owners come into timesharing by succumbing to the sales-pitch, so you are in good company. Your vacations will still be just as wonderful whether you paid $5,000 for your unit or $13,000. Relax and enjoy it :-)

I hope this has helped. If you have any more questions or if there's something you think I have missed and should add, please let me know!

© 2009 Patti Aliventi

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