Timeshares have come up a few times in the comments. Usually, they are discussed in a negative way. As a happy timeshare owner, I thought I’d talk about how they work and what I do and don’t like about owning a timeshare.
Originally, a timeshare meant you would buy a week in a resort – say, the last week of September – and go back to that same resort every year for the last week of September. Companies selling timeshares usually owned more than one resort, so someone quickly thought of letting people trade weeks, and then to trade locations. This was basically a barter system and ran into the mutual exchange of wants problem. So, first a floating week developed (you buy the right to a week, not a specific week.) And then, the point system evolved. Now, when you buy a week in a resort, you’re really buying a set of points that give you access to the timeshare company’s resorts or an exchange system’s resorts. The nominal resort where you’re buying is referred to as your ‘home resort’ and you typically get priority in booking time there.
Timeshares aren’t for everyone, but they can be a good way to vacation. For example, some people want to be able to go to the same place every year. The enjoy the certainty that they will be able to go to the resort they like, in the week they like. A former colleague of mine was like that. She and her brother both had a week in a timeshare in Cancun. They always went the same week. For her, it was a chance to see her brother – away from the craziness of the holidays. They both have families of their own and the resort always has activities for both kids and adults. She liked having the condo, because they could keep food for breakfasts or sandwiches, and they could store beer. Another colleague has two weeks in Maui. He and his now grown kids (with children of their own) go every July. There is space for everyone, activities for everyone and they have the certainty of getting a spot.
I don’t want to go to the same place every year and am able to use my timeshare to travel the world. Most timeshares are part of an exchange. My timeshare is through Wyndham, which has lots of resorts, but there are many other companies (Marriot, Blue Green, Disney, etc.). In addition, Wyndham is part of RCI (which Wyndham owns), a timeshare exchange company, which has thousands of resorts in the network and allows you to go almost anywhere in the world.
I said ‘buying a week’ or points. What does that mean? Well you pay for the week based on the points. The number of points depends on the location of the resort as well as the size of the unit you want. The nicer the resort and the bigger the unit, the more points it is worth and the more you pay. You are now a part owner of that resort and will have to pay taxes/maintenance costs, just as you would for a condo. My timeshare has 230,000 points and my fees are around $100/month. Remember, though, you’re really just buying access to the company’s network. You can also buy timeshares on the secondary market, which is what I did. I paid about a third of what it would have cost me to buy from Wyndham. Obviously, this isn’t an investment, and although the timeshare companies are more than happy to offer you a loan – at credit card interest rates – if you can’t pay cash, you can’t afford a timeshare.
When I book a vacation through Wyndham, I don’t pay anything. Each week requires a certain number of points, which depend on the resort and the week of the year. My timeshare also has a certain number of ‘reservation credits’ attached
that are applied to booking. I don’t have to book a full week; I can book by the night. If I were to run out of reservation credits because I used points to book a few nights here and a few there, then I would have to pay a booking fee. I’ve never had that happen, though I do occasionally use it for a quick getaway. Booking a night or two lets me get more use out of my points. I’m also not limited to a condo; my timeshare offers cruises and other benefits.
I can deposit my points into RCI which has more locations and resorts and use them in that system. RCI typically requires fewer points. When I book through RCI, I pay a
fee of about $300, although RCI often has sales with reduced fees. RCI also offers cash vacations, so if I’ve used up my points, I could still make use of their network of resorts.
Finally, there are local hotel taxes or other fees that that depend on the resort that need to paid when you arrive.
Cost seems like the biggest downside of owning a timeshare, but I don’t necessarily think so as long as you use it. You’re paying for it whether you use it or not. Travel is a priority for me, so I do use it. If I didn’t, it wouldn’t be worth it. It also wouldn’t be worth it if I only used my timeshare to go to my home resort. The home resort requires all my points. That would be an expensive yearly vacation.
Luckily, I can use it for multiple weeks. I can get three or four weeks out of it, with little effort. A former colleague of mine had timeshares through Disney and Marriot. She knew every possible trick to use points for lodging, airline tickets, and even tours. She liked to talk about it, and I listened. If I do four weeks and book them all through RCI – the more expensive option, then I’m paying about $600 for each 7 day, 6 night week – $1200 in maintenance fees and $1200 in booking fees – for a condo. That’s not that bad a price. I looked up what La Quinta Inn would cost for my upcoming week in Cocoa Beach, Florida. The best price they have is $175 a night (a little over $1000 for 6 nights) for a room with one bed. If I book through Wyndham, my cost per week would be lower since I don’t have to pay a booking fee.
Timeshare resorts are mostly condos, although there are some hotels (fewer points). I usually book a two-bedroom condo. That lets me bring friends along. If you stay at a hotel, they often charge more for extra people. The timeshare condos don’t. This is one of the biggest benefits for my sister. She and her husband have four kids and two timeshares. They find places they can drive to and have been able to take nice vacations without paying for six air fares or multiple hotel rooms. This was especially important when the kids were small.
The condos have kitchens so I don’t have to eat out every night and can make my own breakfasts. I don’t have to plan ahead to book tours like the Grand Canyon; you can do all that at the resort. One day a week, most resorts offer coffee and pastries while they have various tour or attraction operators come in and tell you what they have to offer, complete with discounts. (And yes, they are discounts – I’ve checked.)
The resorts usually have on-site activities – especially for kids – as well. Almost all the places I’ve stayed had kiddie pools and playgrounds in addition to the regular pools and hot tubs. Among the onsite activities I’ve enjoyed are: a class on how to make a basket from palm fronds in Hawaii – I still have the basket; a nature walk and a water aerobics class in Mexico; and a cowboy music concert in Sedona, AZ.
The biggest downside for me is availability. Whether I’m going through Wyndham or RCI it can be hard to find something in Hawaii or Key West, Florida. I’ve always been able to find what I wanted, but sometimes I have had to keep checking over and over and then grab it immediately. This would be easier if I had more points. Wyndham gives priority to people with more than 400,000 points. However, I am already constrained by the vacation time I have available – I can’t imagine what I would do with that many points, and I have no interest in paying more to buy additional points.
As I mentioned above, my home resort takes all my points when booked through Wyndham. I have been able to go to Hawaii for fewer points through RCI, but it required checking every day for several weeks.
A timeshare can be great if you use it. Travel is a priority for me, and I enjoy using it. I don’t think my timeshare saves me any money, but I think I get a nicer vacation for the money.
 If I were to book studio sized condos, I could probably get five or six weeks a year.
 The narrow boat didn’t have any of that.