Archive for the 'Timeshare Trap' Category

CNN – The Timeshare Trap

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

The Timeshare Trap - Frustrated with fees, timeshare owners struggle to donate, sell or give away vacation property.

April 3, 2002: 1:01 PM EST By Sarah Max, CNN/Money Staff Writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) – If you’ve attended a timeshare sales pitch for free Sea World tickets or a round of golf, you know how easy it is to walk out with not just the freebies, but a lifetime of annual vacation shares as well.

Trouble is, it’s not so easy to dump that timeshare down the road.
(click HERE to read Full CNN Money Article )

TIMESHARE HELL – The 90 Minute Sales Presentation -

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Timeshare Hell – The 90 minute sales presentation
January 20, 2009 by Andrew Kulyk

The call was innocent enough.

My friend and travel partner Peter Farrell and I were on our latest Ultimate Sports Road Trip adventure, down to sunny Florida. We were staying at Sheraton Vistana Villages, which is a beautiful and opulent timeshare resort located on I-Drive close to all the theme parks. Now I used to own a place there, but sold it just a few months ago, so I knew the ins and outs of interval ownership, and many of the tricks of how to maximize ones experience.

I answered the phone last week, and a sweet gal named Dana said, “We’d like to extend you an exclusive owners VIP check-in upon your arrival.”

“Well, Umm… I’m no longer an owner.” I explained to Dana how much I enjoyed my three year stint at Vistana, and why I decided to sell when I did. “No matter,” she replied. “We’d still like to give you the VIP treatment, and an invitation to attend an Owners Update, where you will learn all about the exciting things we’re doing here at Sheraton and for joining us we will give you 5000 Starpoints.”

OK now they had my interest… 3000 Starpoints gets you one night at any Sheraton “Cat-2? property, which means almost all Four Points hotels. So for USRT purposes 5000 points is a valuable bonus. “Sure” I replied.

Little did I know that this would be my first foray into Timeshare Hell.

The VIP check in didn’t come off because of a flight delay, but the welcome gifts turned out to be a $4 bottle of champagne, discount coupons for honky tonk eateries on the I-Drive strip, and some sample packets of drugstore stuff, including a “Pepcid AC”, which could be the best item in the bag, useful after going through their presentation, as I would later find out.
It then dawned on me that this “Owners Update” was just a veiled way of enticing people into a sales pitch for timeshares. I had told Dana that I had just sold my timeshare, that I had no intention of buying anything, but her sole job is to recruit saps to attend their pitches, and that is how she is compensated. She could pull up to the City Mission and pick up a busload of winos for all her bosses care. Her job is done!

So now knowing what I would be up against, when the morning of my appointment arrived I took a deep breath and went into the sales presentation center to match wits with a well oiled and schooled sales machine.

A nicely dressed man named Bill greeted me; he looked a lot like Habs coach Guy Carbonneau. There was a long breakfast buffet table in the sales center, but he never offered me any food, so I just got up and helped myself. We sat down, and he started probing as to why I sold my timeshare, and what my travel plans were moving forward.

Right there I wanted to impress him with my command of his product, so I shared with him how I bought my timeshare, how I sold it, what I paid for it, what I sold it for (I pretty much broke even no small feat). I told him that timesharing really didn’t work for me, as I spend most of my time on sports trips, far away from exotic beach locales.

At this point Bill starts sharing one of the beauties of Sheraton ownership – the ability to convert your timeshare to Starpoints every other year, and be able to then book any Sheraton hotel using those points. Surely that would fit my needs, no? The hook is one has to buy the timeshare from the developer (meaning from Bill). Buying resale does not qualify for this program.

OK, now he had at least a bit of my interest. Mind you, I know exactly what the timeshares at Vistana fetch on the open market, so I figured perhaps a slight premium to the developer and we’re good to go, right?

Next we went on a tour of the new units, and truth be told they are fantastic. Granite countertops, sunken jacuzzi, plasma TV’s, al top of the line amenities.

So now I am thinking, gee maybe I should get back into this after all at some point down the road.

Things went downhill fast.

Back to the sales center we went, and a Manager named Sayeed joined us at the table. He started scribbling an array of options, packages, timeshares, prices, then proceeded to cross out numbers and replace them with new numbers. Then arrows… oh the arrows! Arrows to this number that number the sales offer sheet was covered with a slew of figures and facts that would make anyones head spin.

When I told him I sold my timeshare, and explained some of the flaws in the Sheraton program, like the difficulty of exchanging one’s unit within the network, or the antiquated non-real-time reservations system on their web site, or the rapidly escalating annual assessment fees, Sayeed became very irritated. “Well, obviously, you’re not the kind of candidate we want to have as part of our Sheraton family so there’s no use wasting my time with you,” he huffed before storming away.

Bill and I sat silently for a moment, and then Sayeed returned… the act I then saw unfold could have been like a high school production of Othello. Sayeed started talking to Bill – “Did you tell him about the 50,000 bonus starpoints he gets for buying today?!” “Did you tell him the conversion fee for star options is waved if he becomes an elite member?!” “Did you let him know he can be priority waitlisted for exchanges to St. John’s or Atlantis?”. I kept my poise and told him “I told Dana, then I told Bill and now I’m telling you. I have no intention of buying a timeshare. Why would I sell my timeshare just four months ago, go through all the hassle of escrow, title search closing etc, just to buy back in four months later?”

The kicker was when Sayeed (and Bill) revealed their pricing… a 1 bedroom premium unit at Vistana Villages in prime season, with a 67,100 point value was offered to me at the “bargain” price of $18,500. The VERY SAME unit is listed from a private seller, right now, on eBay with a “buy it now” price of $3,499. And as of this writing that unit remains unsold.

So if you’re looking for trouble at a timeshare sales pitch and looking to agitate, just start quoting resale prices. Better yet, bring printouts of eBay auctions. This revelation sent Sayeed into a frenzy, and he stormed away from our table in total anger.

I told Bill I would keep his pricing and info and consider all of this, but incredibly, the minute I turned my attention away from the table, Bill removed, no, he stole the papers with the figures from my packet. I repeatedly kept shuffling through my stuff looking for the documents, but they were gone.I confronted him asking where those sheets were, and he replied he did not know.

Now Bill said, “Well thank you for giving your time. Sherry will be sitting with you to do a brief survey of your experience this morning, then she’ll take you to gifting and you’ll be on your way.”

Sherry shows up, asks me to fill a short name and address form, and from there we go into the survey, which take all of 15 seconds. Then she gets into the real reason for this phase of the torture. “I’d like to introduce you to our “Explorer” renter package. We have two available – one for $1495 and the other for $2995.” And again the offer sheet is laid out, and the figures, and the arrows, start flying furiously. 8 days 7 nights with 50,000 starpoints, or 4 days, 3 nights with 60,000 starpoints, and this bonus and that coupon! Sign now now now, and you have 12 months to pay interest free we charge your credit card! And if you use your Amex card you get a 50% bonus! And Disney tickets! And a buffet!

My head was hurting… So I ask, “What if I buy your package, then when I’m ready to book you don’t have my dates available?” “No problem!” And more numbers. And more arrows. “We guarantee or we give you 10,000 starpoints. But today is your lucky day because it’s MLK day you get a 15,000 point guarantee!!!” (That’s what ML King must have been referring to when he said he had a dream… bonus starpoints at the Sheraton.)

I told Sherry I absolutely would not be plopping down $1500 for a 7 night stay which I would have to commit to using in 12 months (which by the way, I could buy the same stay online at one of many rental sites for about $500-$700). She forlornly said OK and then walked me over to the gifting counter so I could get my 5000 points and depart.

So who shows up at the gifting counter? Yep… Bill was back! Production of Othello, Part Deux… “So Sherry, I know Andrew is a sharp and astute consumer and jumped all over his chance to snag one of our explorer packages, right?” “Noooooo” replies Sherry sadly. “I tried to get through to Andrew buthe just doesn’t understand!!! It’s all so unfortunate.”

I let these two finish their show, then just looked at the gifting lady to fill out the form for my 5000 starpoints, and turned to the two and said “I’m going to go now and make my way to Sunrise for my hockey game. Goodbye.”

I walked out the door. Free at last! Free at last!

But who followed me out the door… Yep, Bill. And what happened next was akin to the type of experience you would have if you were buying a bag of smack or a blowjob in some back alley.
“I shouldn’t tell you this, I could get fired” warned Bill. “Come… walk with me” he said in a hushed voice.

We walked the sidewalk outside, in the shadows of the fourth phase of Vistana, still under construction. “How do you think we’re going to fill all these villas, before they are sold” Bill asked me. “Easy” I replied. “Put them onto the Sheraton reservations system, Expedia, Travelocity and sell them just like all your rooms.”

I got some convoluted reply as to why this couldn’t be done. If there had been a piece of paper I’m sure it would have been explained to me with numbers and arrows. Then the kicker… “I can get you into a program called the Grand Vacation Club. Now it’s not a deeded ownership, but for $2519 you get a weeks use each year and there are no other taxes, assessments or fees. it’s all free.” Again he implored to please please not tell his bosses or he’ll be in trouble.

I reply, “Can I have your card? Can I have your email address? And where are those sheets with all those figures from earlier I really need to digest and analyze all this data to make an informed decision?”

FINALLY he admits that he did retrieve those documents out of my packet, as they need to keep those sheets as “internal Sheraton documents”. He scribbled down his CELL PHONE number and told me to call him there, all the time shifting his eyes from side to side, purportedly to see if anyone was observing this clandestine liaison we were having.

At that point I just said good bye and wished him well, tossing his cell phone number in the first trash can.

The point of all this story? Despite the efforts of the timeshare industry to clean up their act, and big hospitality corporations like Starwood, Marriott and Disney getting into this, there is still a seamy underbelly to this entire business. These scumbags prey on people when they are on vacation, when their guards are down, selling dreams, vacations and lifestyles in a setting where urgency is the key, where people aren’t allowed to research the value of what they are buying or carefully think out if the product is right for them.

Is owning a timeshare a good thing? Absolutely! For some at least. And there is value to the asset in some situations. But just go online and you will find an ocean of thousands upon thousands of people who are desperate to sell their timeshares at any price, because they made a poor purchase decision in the heat of the moment, are now overwhelmed at the maintenance costs, or just cant use the product. It is a huge buyers market, as I learned when I sold my unit, having to use crafty and shrewd methods to find a buyer.

If you want to buy a timeshare. always BUY RESALE. If you ever get invited to a “90 minute sales presentation”, do your research BEFORE you go.

Best tool is eBay… find the name of your complex, search for active and expired listings and the prices they fetched, and be ready to give the Sayeeds of the world their headache for the day.

And laugh hard as they fork over their money, or gift card, or point incentive for your attendance. I know I did!

Vacations for Life – To Good To Be True – Royal Holiday Vacation Club

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

HERE TO WATCH INSIDE 20/20 Investigation on Royal Holiday

Vacations for Life:

Too Good to Be True?

Royal Holiday Vacation Club Subject of Numerous Customer Complaints

If you think buying a timeshare in Mexico sounds like more trouble than it’s worth, the Royal Holiday Vacation Club has a deal for you. It offers something completely different — let’s call it the un-timeshare.

The Royal Holiday Vacation Club offers members points to be used to book hotel stays.

More Photos

A promotional video produced by the company says, “Welcome to the exciting world of Royal Holiday … a great way to have luxury vacations without breaking the bank.”

Based in Mexico, Royal Holiday is doing a booming business signing up vacationers at busy sales offices around the Caribbean. It isn’t selling property; it’s selling points and promises. A typical member pays roughly $11,000 to join the club, plus a yearly fee of about $465. For that, a member gets points that the club says can be used to book luxury vacations.


Royal Holiday calls its Vacations for Life plan an alternative to the complaint-riddled timeshare business. But a “20/20″ hidden camera investigation inside the club’s sales operation in Cancun raised troubling questions about how Royal Holiday sells memberships and delivers on its promises. According to angry complaints placed both in the United States and in Mexico, hundreds upon hundreds of the club’s members wish they weren’t.

“We love to travel,” says Natasha Rajtar of Albany, N.Y., who signed up with her husband, Jason. “And we thought how cool over the next 30 years to be able to travel the world with our children.”

A Royal Holiday promotional video says, “Today we can share a secret with you, one that guarantees luxury vacations in first class hotels around the world.”

What is Royal Holiday’s real “secret”?

“20/20″ interviewed a cross-section of the growing number of members who say Royal Holiday misled them about how the club operates, and the availability of vacations they’d want. They say the only thing royal about their membership was the way they were ripped off.

John and Robin Chomko, who are from the St Louis area, joined in the Dominican Republic in 2006. “They’ll tell you anything,” John says of the Royal Holiday salespeople. “They’ll lie, I mean, they lied completely to us.”