Archive for the 'Worldmark' Category

ABC 7 News Report on Trendwest / Worldmark / Wyndham

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Trendwest Reservations Tough To Get

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 7:21 PM
Feb. 27 – KGO (KGO) — Trendwest is one of the largest timeshare companies in the world, with about a quarter-of-a-million owners. But has it become too much of a good thing? 7 On Your Side’s Michael Finney has the results of a year-long investigation.
Trendwest bills itself as an affordable way to gain access to more than 60 vacation resorts, mostly in the western U.S. The company is undergoing a name change and is also known as WorldMark by Wyndham. But as our 7 On Your Side investigation reveals, reservations at many of the most popular resorts can be nearly impossible to get.

Images of coastal beauty, mountain settings and peaceful surroundings dominate a DVD given to perspective Trendwest owners.

Here’s how the program works: Trendwest owners buy credits or points. The credits are automatically renewed on the owner’s anniversary date at no additional cost. Those credits are used to redeem stays at any one of Trendwest resorts, or can be traded outside the networks through Resort Condominiums International (RCI) — that’s a vacation condo exchange service. Owners must also pay maintenance fees, which average $400-$500-dollars each year.

Recruiters sit in a booth right outside the company’s office in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Tourists agree to attend a 90-minute presentation in exchange for a free or heavily-discounted tour of the city.

On one day in December 2005, two ABC7 News employees with a hidden camera are the ones being recruited by Trendwest.

Name withheld, ABC7 News undercover: “Which cities are hot?”
Name withheld, Trendwest representative: “Monterey, Carmel, Napa is a real hot place to go.”
Name withheld, ABC7 News undercover: “Yeah.”
Name withheld, Trendwest representative: “Tahoe.”
The places mentioned are some of Trendwest’s most popular resorts. They come up again once the actual presentation begins. So does Hawaii.
Name withheld, Trendwest representative: “Next week, December 28-January 4, I’m going to Maui, okay? I book my vacation in advance with my credits.”

We talked to many people happy with the program.

Jack Crandall, Billingham, WA: “Trendwest Resorts for us have worked out really well.”
Stephon Joseph, El Cerrito: “We stayed in a very nice place, very exclusive — big two-bedroom in Orlando.” But we also found plenty of dissatisfied customers, too. Manuela Milavici of San Francisco was a former Trendwest owner. She says she decided to sell her ownership at a loss because the resorts she wanted to book were usually unavailable.

In her nine-years of ownership, she said she typically ended up going to the company’s less-popular resorts, like Clear Lake, because those were the only condos that had openings. She did, however, go to Hawaii once.

Manuela Milavici, San Francisco: “It was not worth it for me. I don’t know. It’s a harsh word to say cheated, but in a way it might be true.”

Theresa Farrell had a similar experience trying to book a trip to Disneyland.
Theresa Farrell: “I think what it is, they sell so many memberships, there’s just not the opportunity that they say you’re going to have.”

Steve Wiley worked for Trendwest for 13 years. He’s suing Trendwest for wrongful termination and age discrimination.
Steve Wiley, former Trendwest employee: “They’re selling more time than they have available to sell. Their selling more points than can possibly be in the system.”

If that were true, Trendwest would be in violation of state law.

Using public records filed with the Department of Real Estate, we broke down the numbers, figuring out the amount of Trendwest units available for use by its owners. We then asked statistician and Laney College professor Bill Lepowsky to analyze the data.

Bill Lepowsky, statistician and Laney College professor: “If you were to buy into Trendwest, you can certainly expect to book some resort, somewhere during some time of the year. As to whether you can book the resort that you want during the season that you want, during the month that you want, that’s not necessarily the case.”

There are only 33 units in Monterey. Lepowsky says less than one-percent of Trendwest’s quarter million owners would be able to book a week there in any given year.

In Pismo Beach, it’s also less than one-percent; in Orlando, it’s just one-percent; in Hawaii, about seven-percent; in Las Vegas, nearly eight-and-a-half-percent.

In all, there are more than 250,000 owners competing for time at about 5,300 condominium units. None of this is ever mentioned in the presentation.

Teri Lee of San Leandro sold her ownership at a loss a few years after she bought it. She says the sale’s pressure to buy was intense.
Teri Lee, San Leandro: “At our age, we shouldn’t had been taking on debt at that point. We were trying to get out of debt.”

Trendwest tells its employees only to market to those with a minimum of $50,000-dollars in income. But some may slip through the cracks.

Name withheld, Trendwest: “You guys combined make $50,000 or more?”
Name withheld, ABC7 News undercover: “Combined? Not really.”
Name withheld, Trendwest: “Yes, you do.”
Name withheld, ABC7 News undercover: “Okay.”

Back in 2003, the state attorney general’s office fined Trendwest $800,000-dollars and ordered it to refund an estimated $2-million-dollars. The state accused Trendwest of deceptive sale practices and illegally denying consumers the ability to cancel their contracts.

The owners of Trendwest declined an opportunity to respond to this story in an on-camera interview, but in a written statement, Wyndham Worldwide said it offers “A flexible product with a wide variety of accommodations and vacation options.” It says its reservations are available on a “first-come, first serve basis.”

The company says all “owners are provided all financial information” about the sale, and that its employees are held to the highest ethical standards.

Bill Lepowsky: “The people that Trendwest would be right for are the people who, first of all, have a certain degree of flexibility in their vacation plans, are not dead set on one particular place. They don’t buy Trendwest saying, ‘I know I want to go to Hawaii during the month of July, and that’s what I’m going to do,’ because that might not happen.”

The Department of Real Estate says such sale tactics are common but unethical. Meantime, a timeshare reseller tells us if you ever do buy a timeshare and then try to sell it, you can expect an average loss of about 50 percent.
(Copyright ©2009 KGO-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)
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