Can Timeshares Be a Good Deal?

Reader Barry asks,

Any thoughts on the pros and cons on timeshare ownership, namely Marriott? Even if you could maneuver a 20 to 25% discount off the purchase price?

I am not an expert in timeshares, but I’ve certainly been around plenty of horror stories about them. So let me share a general framework for thinking about them.

  • There are certainly good deals to be had with timeshares, but these are serious investments and you need to be educated. The people selling them to you certainly are. You don’t want to make a big purchase with a big information asymmetry so if you aren’t educated you’re probably getting killed.

  • While there are some benefits that may only accrue when buying a timeshare as the original owner directly from the chain, in general the timeshare resale market may provide you with better deals for a materially similar product.. and at the very least you should investigate the resale market to give yourself insight into the market value of the asset you’re purchasing.

I’m generally pretty against timeshares for most people, and for most savvy miles and points hobbyists especially.

They’re a big financial commitment, you’re very much in the hands of the program and how it chooses to manage itself over time, and I’ve seen tons of program devaluations. (You think mileage programs are shady with this…!)

You also need to understand how you’ll use what you’re buying. With many programs you’ll need to be flexible if you actually want to book something, especially outside your home property and without converting to points which frequently isn’t a great deal (you may not be buying your points especially cheaply – and remember do not calculate based on the value of those points you’d get today but on what you think an award chart might do years into the future). Booking a year out for popular places isn’t for everyone.

Personally I earn and use points for my hotel needs, so I don’t want to fork over a lot of cash upfront. But others find it a way to provide lodging at a fixed upfront price (plus maintenance fees) that can work out well.

I end where I started, buyer beware in this market and it’s important to become a very educated consumer about the product you’re buying — don’t turn up at a seminar and buy on the spot ever.


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. I cringe when someone tells me they bought a timeshare, that said….people who bought the Disney Vacation Club in the first years, it was sold. Made out like bandits! The current offer is almost $15,000 that was sold, back then for about $4000, with free park passes. Nothing else from Disney or any other timeshare company comes close to that value.

  2. I’d reply with what I often here on the blogs. Find our what your travel goals are and work to get currencies which get you good value. You just need to know how to leverage the points you have to your best advantage.

    Personally, we’ve owned points in Disney Vacation Club timeshare for years. When we were making multiple trips to Florida a year, this was a wonderful investment. Now that we have no need to travel to Disney World, we leverage the points we have for other travel. We stayed at Tokyo Disneyland in a room which would cost over $500 per night or in Hawaii in a wonderful resort. We’ve also gone on cruises to Alaska and the Caribbean and on amazing travel packages with Adventures by Disney.

    I do not know if I would buy that timeshare today, 20 years after the purchase. But I do know that averaging the purchase price over the years, we’ve been able to save ten of thousands of dollars. It’s just like buying points with US Airways or with LifeMiles. If you know how to use them properly, then you can get great value or it can be a horrible investment.

  3. I love when people say that they saved money by not spending money on a room that would cost over $500. When would you actually spend $500/night?

  4. I bought the Disney Vacation Club more recently (back in 2007). Overall I’ve been very pleased with it and feel it was good bang for buck. In the 7 years we’ve had it, I’d estimate we’ve recovered nearly 75 percent of our purchase price ($40k). It’s all about how you use it, just like any rule of mileage currency. We’ve done multiple cruises, skiing in CO at peak season, Hong Kong Disneyland, and so forth. Just last summer, we had a impromptu family reunion at Disney world. Instead of paying a rack rate of $1200 per night for a 2 bedroom at the bay lake resort, we used our points for 4 nights.

  5. Timeshare Users Group (tugbbs) is a good place to get familiar with the different systems, including those managed by Hilton, Hyatt, Starwood etc.

  6. If you are someone who likes to go back to the same place year after year or travel to the same type of places, time shares might be okay. For miles and points travelers who go where the deals take them, I can only see a timeshare as being horribly suffocating.

    And I’m not ragging on the people in the former category. I have relatives who have a time share that they go to for the same week every year and they get fantastic value and have a great time. Sometimes I join them, but I personally couldn’t do it year after year after year.

  7. Let me also add in that previous owners of DVC have made out quite well. We have rented our points out for the past 4 years since our kids are no longer interested in Disney having gone to the Orlando parks approximately 20 times in their lives. The points rentals we do more than pay for the dues and in fact we are able to raise quite a bit of extra money to travel with. Last year we went to Costa rica on the $ and this year we are going to Alaska on the $. Well that and a good amt of MS to generate miles for flights on AA/Cathay Pacific too. I have heard many times from people who in casual conversation express great displeasure with their timeshare, and frankly if you own with Westgate and bought in new, yes indeed you did get screwed over and its a nightmare that renews itself every year in January. Not the case with DVC.

  8. If you truly want to learn about the ins and outs of timeshares you should visit http://www.tug2.net TUG = Timeshare Users Group.

    Bottom line = Timeshares purchased from the resort or developer is almost ALWAYS a bad idea. I own 4 timeshares that were purchased resale paid less than $2000 for all four. Would have cost me over $50,000 if I bought from the developer.

    Again… go to http://www.tug2.net if you want to know anything and everything about timeshares!

  9. About 10 years ago I bought a 2bedroom timeshare in Orlando, Christmas week! I had only used it for Christmas in Orlando twice and wouldn’t do that again as Disney World is way too packed during the holidays. Instead, I deposit my week with RCI as soon as I can, and use it to train for Hawaii, Mexico, SF or wine country. My one week timeshare has given me two weeks in Hawaii (including the Hilton Vacation Club) and two or three weeks in Mexico multiple times, all nice resorts, 2 or 3 bedroom units as we need the space for our family 5. I learned a lot about timeshare and RCI over the years through my trades, and I think I found a way that really work for my family and help us keeping the trip cost down. You can’t beat two weeks of lodging for less than $1k in a nice resort, and most of the time during peak seasons (such as Christmas). Having said that, I wouldn’t buy another timeshare again. One is more than enough and we don’t always travel using the timeshare.

  10. Many Time Share sales people will tell you they own time shares themselves and love them. This is true , but most of them do not buy them the way ,we see them presented. Those in the know buy them on the resale market. On sites like RedWeek.com , weeks can be bought at a fraction of their original cost. The original owners often just want to cut their losses and get rid of the annual maintenance fee responsibility.

  11. We bought 2 timeshares a couple of years ago for $1 each on the resale market. With kids, sometimes you just want a 2BR/2BA with a kitchen for travel, assuming you like to go to destinations that have timeshares. For us, it has been a really good deal, but it’s like anything else. You have to do your homework.

  12. There are good timeshare deals and there are bad timeshare deals. Generally speaking, you do better on the resale market than buying directly from the developer. Some properties are much better buys than others, even within the same timeshare system (i.e. i they have grandfather clauses or whatever in the deed that are advantageous). Best advice is to do very thorough research on http://www.tugbbs.com about the property and the sellers before making a purchase. Unfortunately, there are some shady sellers on ebay but with a little research, you will quickly figure out the good and the bad guys. BTW, Marriott’s benefits are very restrictive for someone who buys one of their timeshares on the resale market when compared to Hilton, for example (disclaimer: I don’t own Hilton but would seriously consider it if the right deal came along).

  13. If you’ve never owned a timeshare (t/s) you shouldn’t be judging them, IMHO. T/S can be a fun, money-saving way to travel. They can also be a big money pit. T/S can be purchased for a $1 on ebay or for 10s of $1000s from a developer. I would steer people to tugbbs.com/forums if you want to learn the basics. I’ve owned T/S for over 10 yrs and currently own 4 weeks. My average cost is less than $500 per week. With annual maintenance fees and exchange fees I spend less than $700 for a week in a nice 1 or 2 BR condo in Hawaii or Mexico. It works for me but doesn’t for others. There is no cookie cutter answer. Get educated and then decide. But, in general, do not buy from a developer. Resale is the way to go, in general.

  14. Out of curiosity, we recently dropped into a resellers office in Kauai. He said half of the developer’s asking price is promotion and another one-quarter is their profit. Booking stays becomes increasingly more difficult as more people buy a program.

  15. As several people have pointed out, the Disney Vacation Club is the best in the business as far as holding its value. But the points sell on the resale market for about 50-75 percent of what Disney gets for the points. The only thing is you have to pay cash, and you have to ignore the warnings of the Timeshare salesmen. (Resale points can’t be used to buy cruises or regular hotel rooms, which is a really terrible use of points anyway, but the salesmen will act like this is a HUGE deal).

    You mention buying Marriott at a 25 percent discount. I think both Marriott and Hilton can be had for less than 25 percent of the initial offering price, or a 75 percent discount. The extra $10,000 or so you pay to buy direct merely buys you a good sales pitch.

    A lot of people are very happy with their timeshares, especially those who bought them at a bargain price. But, beware of the bargain that is TOO good. Many timeshares aren’t even worth the annual dues, so if you buy an interest for a penny you are stuck with a personal obligation to pay annual dues for virtually the rest of your life.

  16. This is a very narrow viewpoint coming from someone without kids who likes to eat out. Hotels just don’t cut it for families who like to eat in. Timeshares can be a great value for 2 and three bedroom places which have a kitchen.

  17. Ditto on families getting the most value from timeshare. We have owned since 2000, having bought a cheap holiday week on the resale market with a low annual fee. I’d say we’ve definitely gotten good value from it, but now that I know more about RCI’s secondary rental market I’m not sure I’d buy again as I can often rent for less than my fee. Skyauction and EVR are now my best friends.

  18. We bought 2 Hilton timeshare weeks on Marco Island in Florida and have gotten a lot of value from our ownership. We often use hotel points and miles in conjunction with our timeshare stays. One year, we stayed at the Hilton by Edinburgh Caste on points and then went up north to a Hamilton timeshare near Balmoral Caste. Also traded into a lovely unit on Nob hill in San Francisco and then combined that with a few nights on points at the lovely Hyatt in Carmet. We bought resale for a very low price and have used alternate timeshare trading companies in addition to HgvC and RCI. Read, read , read the tug website and you will learn a lot-and don’t buy retail.

  19. I’ve owned timeshares for over 15 years and I’ll pass along what I’ve learned in those years. First, never buy from the developer. I made that mistake with the first timeshare I bought. Even with all the extras they offer and being one of the first to buy one at a particular property you can get screwed. Case in point with my purchase from Embassy for a timeshare in Scottsdale AZ near the Princess Golf course. We bought before they even started building and got a prime week in late Feb. A couple of years after it was built and before all the weeks were sold, they sold the property to Sheraton who immediately declared that all the previous timeshares sold there were Phase I and were valued at half the points as the new Phase II that they selling the remainder of the weeks. For the same units! Trading can be great, but the process itself can be time consuming and expensive. You generally have to pay to belong to one of the trading companies and then pay $150 to $200 to trade a week. The best scenario for me is to buy one at resale at a resort you will like to go back to year after year. But you have to ask yourself if you would pay the maintenance fee(s) for the week you get if you had a choice. If not, your just fooling yourself.

  20. I have had a Hilton Grand Vacations timeshare for several years now. I pay 1100 per year and bought it after market for 7500 for 7000 annual points. I bought two and sold one within a few months for a $5000 profit and kept the other. With careful planning I get over 25 nights a year in Orlando and Miami, right on the beach, I have been to Hawaii, etc. The flexibility of the points systems and the quality and variety of Hilton locations make it a fantastic value. I would never buy from HIlton as the cost is about 5 times as expensive, but if you can get a good deal and use them wisely, you save huge bucks.

  21. i have owned as many as 6 timeshares in Cabo san Lucas and sold all but 2 at huge losses. In the end you buy only a contract for vacation stays and generally you can rent a timeshare from an owner trying to cover their maintenance fees for a fraction of ownership. That also allows you to try different resorts rather than get stuck in one for 25 years. Holiday Inn Orange Lake is the only one I like which I own as it is a deeded ownership where I actually do own the property and can sell it or will an actual deeded property to my kids. It also is a points program where I can transfer my points when I don’t use them into IHG rewards which do not expire and have 4600 worldwide properties to use the points in. Those points also can be willed to kids. Otherwise I would avoid buying any timeshare and be sure if you do buy it is a resale and the rights transfer with the sale. Orange Lake resales do not get the points so watch out as there are many on market with not points coming with them.

  22. I have owned time shares for over 40 years.
    1. You can get them for free and a maintenance fee under $600. People are looking to get out of them.
    2. NEVER buy at a presentation!!!
    3. If you must buy, buy on the secondary market. Remember, there are time shares available for FREE. Don’t buy!
    4. I HATE RCI and Wyndham, but still have a RCI Points act with RCI. They discount at 30 days most time shares, regardless of size, rating or season. When discounted I get 3-4 weeks for my $550 annual maintenance fee. Cost $150-$200/week, including my RCI Dues, Plus $209 exchange fee/week.
    5. Done right, $360-$410 for a Gold Crown, 4-5 star luxury resort week ain’t bad!
    6. If I had a blog racking up points on every click, I would just stay in luxury hotels, BUT I DON’T.
    7. If you don’t have the excess points, $50/night makes more sense than several hundred/night for a similar hotel.
    Summary: Do NOT buy a time share, get it for free, use RCI Points on short (discounted) notice.

  23. What are the caveats for someone looking to get rid of their timeshare? (I’ve heard horror stories about people getting very bad deals from resale “middlemen”.) Is TUG a good resource for sellers?

  24. It sounds like a lot of justification for the large expense, easing the pain, buyer’s remorse.

    Currently you can do all those week vacations through sign up bonuses, just regular use of credit cards,etc. Without the commitment or responsibility.

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