Timeshares: Are They Worth It?

Apr 20, 2000

Who out there has sat through one of those LONG sales pitches for a timeshare in order to get the free gift? I have. A few times. Once here in Cape Cod (where I live) to get a free night's stay. Once it St. Thomas, USVI (where I used to live) to get a free dinner, and once in Georgia (to get a free TV).

Sure, they give a convincing pitch. Once you see all the places you can trade-in your timeshare for, you think "gosh, I can go anywhere for the rest of my life and all I have to do is come up with a few thousand dollars!" It sounds like a good deal, but is it really?

A few weeks ago, my aunt (who owns 3 timeshares) called me and asked if I wanted to go to Hawaii with her because she had to use her timeshare week. I initially thought "great, a free place to stay!" Well, not quite. I've since learned a few of the up and down sides of owning a timeshare. I though I'd share them with you, in case you're considering it:

The Upside
Of course, for that one week's stay, it is MUCH cheaper than a hotel, but it still costs $450 through RCI (the biggest timeshare organization) to use your week, plus an exchange fee of about $100 if you're not using the place you bought and are instead trading it for another location. Total cost for a week's stay: $550+ for up to a 3-bedroom condo. Not bad.
If you honestly intend on going back to your unit time and time again, then it may not be a bad deal. If you had the extra money to begin with to payoff the timeshare early, then your vacations in later years would not cost that much.
Organizations like RCI give you a lot of other perks for membership. Discounts on airfare, rental cars, and more. Also, once you get to your timeshare, there are often excursions or dinners planned for members, which are really inexpensive and sometimes free!

The Downside
As I said, I agreed to go to Hawaii recently with my aunt since she has a timeshare week available. The problem was that in order to get a good deal on an airline ticket, we had to buy our tickets BEFORE RCI actually came through with a place for us to stay. This seemed very risky to me because what if nothing ever opened up? Then I'd have to trade in my plane ticket and pay that $75 fee and possibly end up with a higher priced ticket. We finally got the place we wanted at the destination we wanted (Maui) just 2 weeks before our flight. Phew! This can be very nerve-wracking.
I have a friend who has three timeshare weeks a year. I once bought one of his weeks because I wanted to go to St. Thomas but didn't want to spend tons of money at a hotel, and he needed some extra money anyway. It seemed like a good deal for both of us -- and he still had two weeks left to use for himself. Well, after I paid him the $450 to use it, the hotel got wiped out by a hurricane! Because we didn't pay for the "insurance" on the week, we were given the option to either use the week at a later date once the hotel was rebuilt, or else forfeit the week. But we already had our plane tickets and vacation time put in, so this would have been a real hassle to reschedule. My friend ended up having to give us his second week of timeshare so that we could pick a different place to go during that same week we originally wanted. He lost the first week all together. So he really lost out. Lesson learned: you have to pay the extra for the insurance.
Is it really cheaper in the long run? Say you spend $10,000 to buy a timeshare. You get to use it one week out of the year. Then there's the $450 to use your week, the trade-in fee ($100) to switch locations, any condo dues you need to pay yearly, and who knows what else! At this rate, you could have stayed in regular hotels for 10 years before the timeshare pays off!
Don't forget you are locked in to taking your vacations during the week(s) that you are allowed (anywhere from only one to a whole season depending on what type of timeshare you week you bought). We all can see how this could be inconvenient.

Well, that's all I know. I haven't gone on my vacation to Hawaii yet and maybe I'll learn more then. I don't think a timeshare is the thing for me, since it seems like there are too many costs associated with it and my schedule does not allow me to take vacation the same time every year anyway, but for some folks I'm sure it would work out better.

As I said, I don't own a timeshare, so if I'm missing any obvious points that you timeshare owners know of, please forgive me and let me know what they are. My mind is always open to change.

Happy vacationing however you get there!

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