Timeshares originally rose as, ostensibly, a way for harried or cash-strapped consumers to access a lower-cost, lower-hassle vacation. Today, there are many other options for consumers looking to travel easily on a budget, from a surplus of free apps to time-saving travel agencies to vacation clubs.
Do a little research online, and you’re often likely to see vacation clubs and timeshares mentioned in the same breath. At their core, timeshares and vacation clubs share a model based around buying access to properties maintained and operated by a larger developer or resort company. While the two models share some similarities, there can be differences between them that are important for consumers to know.
First, let’s look at timeshares. In the earliest days of the U.S. timeshare industry, starting back in the 1960s, the most typical method of timeshare unit ownership was, in fact, a deeded piece of real estate, a specific “slice” of a resort condominium that was also divided up for time. Due to changing economic factors and consumer tastes – particularly a desire for more flexibility when vacationing – the industry has now essentially transitioned to a “points-based” or “right-to-use” model, which, as the name suggests, does not necessarily offer consumers a tangible “piece of the rock” – an actual, deeded interest to underlying real estate.
With that said, however, the timeshare as a concept is still tied to the idea of the “home resort” – which allows developers to continue charging interest as well as upwardly-trending annual maintenance fees. In many ways, this distinction is mostly connected to rhetoric: As consumers, we can all appreciate the necessity of spending money to maintain our own real estate, but with a “right-to-use” only product, convincing a purchaser that they also must pay annually to maintain an obligation in which they have no vested legal ownership interest is a much tougher sell.
In contrast, a vacation club membership dispenses with the idea of owning a single, deeded piece of real estate completely. Rather, these clubs give consumers points-based access to a variety of locations within one resort family. As a result, the “buy-in” for a vacation club is typically less than that of a timeshare, and there are usually no annual maintenance fees (though it’s important to note that this isn’t always the case). Generally, the time frame of a vacation club membership is also much shorter than a timeshare obligation, so there are fewer issues about entering – and then trying to extricate oneself from – a long term contractual commitment.
As with all things related to the travel and vacation industry, our biggest recommendation? Be careful and do your research. As always, caution is the watchword: Before signing any contracts or making a payment to any resort company, vacation club, or timeshare developer, do some thorough vetting with the help of the FTC, the Attorney General, and the consumer protection agencies in your state.
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.