Say you’ve been lured into a timeshare sales pitch by pretty advertising or through the promise of a free gift, maybe even cash money. You’ve adamantly turned down the pitch, making it clear that you’re just not ready or willing to commit to the expensive, possibly-lifelong obligation that timeshare ownership brings.
But then the salesperson brings out an alternative offer: Why not give the timeshare experience a trial run? For a small fee, they suggest, you can enjoy all of the perks of resort ownership, and then think about committing in a year’s time, once you’ve fallen in love with it.
Sound too good to be true? Then it just might be.
Timeshare trial programs sound perfectly reasonable on paper. While they take many forms from resort to resort and offer various options to the consumer, the gist of the timeshare trial program is to offer the consumer an opportunity to try out timeshare ownership with full benefits for a shorter term, typically 12 to 18 months. Often, consumers are granted a certain number of points that they will be required to use within that window, and marketers or developers can be quick to pressure consumers into booking their time early, the better to infect them with a healthy dose of what industry insiders call “timeshare fever.”
But while this may superficially seem like it benefits the consumer, there are certain realities that we must keep in mind. As industry expert Lisa Ann Schreier points out on her blog, The Word From the Timeshare Crusader, the trial program concept is designed to benefit the developer in two major ways:
“1) They are designed to get the consumer back to the resort within a 1 or 2 year time frame in an attempt to sell them a timeshare again.
2) They are not a good indication of what timeshare ownership is really all about.”
Speaking to the first point, the timeshare trial program is another aspect to what’s been called “the timeshare hard sell;” it’s a marketing tool like any other, designed to encourage follow-through and loyalty from consumers. In most cases, this is just setting you up to sit through another high-pressure sales scenario in a few months’ time, when the developers will expect you to commit to the resort on a more permanent basis.
What makes trial programs troubling, too, is Schreier’s second point. After a trial program, many consumers won’t actually have a very real sense of what they’re truly committing to, as many trials minimize or entirely omit assessment, exchange, and maintenance fees, which are a major source of consumer dissatisfaction and tend to rise year upon year.
What’s more, there’s the simple fact that timeshare trial programs, in the vast majority of cases, won’t actually create any real value for consumers. On her blog, Schreier suggests capping the cost of trial memberships at “no more than $1500.” Poke around on the internet for any period of time, though, and you’ll find cases of trial programs costing consumers up to $3000, for what will, realistically, amount to one week of vacation time.
So when you consider that you can find quality hotel rooms in prime timeshare hotbeds like Hawaii or Las Vegas for less than $400 a night, this timeshare “deal” suddenly doesn’t seem so grand. And this is to say nothing of the fact that most consumers will even be able to find timeshare options for cheaper than the price of a one-year trial; timeshare resales sell for next-to-nothing (on the meager resale market that is permitted to exist), and many owners rent out their timeshares at cheaper rates than you’ll see from resorts and developers.
What can be done to make the timeshare trial program concept more friendly and worthwhile for consumers, while still benefiting the timeshare industry itself? We’ll close with a few more thoughts from Lisa:
“Why not offer all the benefits and responsibilities of one week of timeshare ownership – or the points equivalent – but for a 2 year period. Assessment of fees and responsibility to pay them. Membership to exchange company and full use of exchange possibilities – or lack thereof. All the perks of exchange company membership. Notification by the board and/or management company of meetings and other information. Ability to serve on the HOA. In short, the whole ball of wax with the stipulation that at the end of the trial program, the owner can upgrade to standard ownership at the current cost giving them a 100% credit of the money they have already paid, OR be done with it and owe nothing more.”
Led by Attorney Michael D. Finn with 50 years of experience, the Finn Law Group is a consumer protection firm specializing in timeshare law. Our lawyers understand vacation ownership as well as the many pitfalls of the secondary market of timeshare resales. If you feel you have been victimized by a timeshare company, contact our offices for a free consultation. Know your rights as a consumer and don’t hesitate to drop us a line with any questions or concerns.