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Timeshare Vacation Offers: Deal or Scam?

by Jennifer Marx, Author of PassPorter Travel Guides

Have you ever received one of those timeshare "vacation offer" phone calls or e-mails? You know, the ones that promise lodging and park admission for a fraction of the regular cost if you attend a timeshare presentation. If so, you may have wondered about them and if they're worth pursuing. Well, I'm not embarrassed to stand up and say, "I did it!" My mother and I went on a vacation just last week, and for the first three days we took advantage of one of those too-good-to-be-true timeshare vacation offers. Here are my recent experiences: 

Last spring, my grandma received an unsolicited phone call from an outfit offering cheap Orlando hotel rooms and Disney park tickets. My grandma had always wanted to go, so she phoned my mother and asked her to look into it. My mom learned that this company (Vacation Showroom, Inc.) was offering a $99/person "vacation package" for stays in any or all of several cities (Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, Williamsburg, and Las Vegas). The Orlando stay promised 3 nights in a hotel only 5 minutes from the Disney parks plus one one-day park pass per person. She was also informed that she'd have to pay a $30 booking fee, that the Orlando location would cost an extra $29/person, and that she was required to attend a timeshare sales presentation breakfast. Thinking that this would be an affordable way to take my grandma on a vacation, she bought it. It cost her $228 to purchase the package. 

Alas, my Grandma passed away last summer. At the funeral, my mother mentioned the trip to Disney she and Grandma wanted to take, and I agreed to go in Grandma's place. We planned to go in March after the new PassPorter guidebooks came out. As the vacation package required a 45-day advance booking, she called and reserved three nights in Orlando, paying the additional $29/person. That brought her total for this package up to $286. 

The package promised "quality" lodging within 10 minutes of attractions, such as the AmeriHost, Ramada Plaza 1000, or the Radisson Barcelo. We could not specify one of these hotels -- one would be selected for us based on availability at the time of reservation. As it turned out, we were booked into the Amerihost, which of the three hotels was the closest to Walt Disney World. I did some research before the trip and confirmed that the Amerihost did offer free shuttles to Walt Disney World. The reservation agent mentioned we'd need to confirm our late (8:00 p.m.) arrival on the morning of check-in day. Dutifully, my mother called before we left for the airport to confirm our arrival. So far, so good. 

Our flight arrived in the early evening and Tiffany Town Car drove us to the Amerihost -- we did not rent a car, as the hotel had a shuttle to Walt Disney World. Upon arriving at the hotel, we wandered around a bit trying to find the vacation package check-in desk, which turned out to be WAY in the back of the hotel. We wasted a good half hour on this. Finally, my mother checked-in with the Vacation Showroom timeshare folks and received a hotel voucher. Voucher in hand, we went to the hotel's check-in desk to get our room and crash. Alas, this was not to be. When it came our turn to check-in, we were informed that even though we'd confirmed our stay just that morning, the hotel had overbooked and that we could stay at the Ramada Plaza 1000 instead. We both said, in unison, "We don't have transportation!" But the hotel staff wouldn't budge. After a lot of complaining and haggling, they finally agreed to give us transportation over to and back from the Ramada. We were instructed to go back to the Vacation Showroom office to book our timeshare presentation meeting (required to get the park tickets) and then go to the Ramada. 

So we hauled our luggage back to the office, signed up for the timeshare presentation ($20 deposit required), and got a lift in a van from one of the employees ($5 tip). It was a good 20-25 minute drive over to the Ramada. When we checked in, we learned that not only was there no shuttle to Disney, but that the restaurant had just closed and there wasn't even an eatery within walking distance. So we trudged up to our room, ordered subs from a delivery place, and fell into exhausted sleep. Not an auspicious beginning to our trip. 

The next morning we presented ourselves at the Vacation Showroom office at opening time (8:00 am) to inquire about the return transportation we were promised. My mother got deflected, so I tried. After insisting strongly, the rep said she was getting us transportation. It turned out that she'd called a town car company, and upon depositing us back at the Amerihost, the driver insisted on $40 for the trip. No way! I marched in and spoke to an employee at the check-in desk, and believe it or not, they paid the driver. We did give the driver a $5 tip, however. 

Finally, we get to check-in to the Amerihost. (The hotel is actually pretty nice and really is just 5 minutes from Disney -- I will report on the hotel in another issue of this newsletter.) A "smoking" room was the only room available, but we took it so we could get on with our day. Unfortunately, by the time we'd hauled our luggage up to the room, the last morning shuttle had left -- Amerihost shuttles depart at 8:30 am, 9:40 am, and 4:50 pm, and they only go to Epcot. We asked at the concierge desk about transportation to Animal Kingdom, and we were told that their driver could take us both for $20. Eager to get going, we agreed. The trip was fine, and we tipped another $5. 

The timeshare presentation was the following day. While we were both dreading this, we knew it had to be done to get the park tickets. So we showed up in the hotel lobby at the appointed time and got a ride over to the Silver Lake Resort. There we waited for the timeshare presentation. As it turned out, individual sales reps came out and called out individual names -- one sales rep for each party. Yikes! We thought we'd be in a safe, group setting. 

Our timeshare sales rep led us into a large meeting room where 40 small tables and chairs were arranged. A very meager "breakfast buffet" was set up along the side -- it was the usual continental breakfast fare, and not very appetizing. After chit-chatting about his family, and accidentally spilling his coffee on my Mom, he began talking in general about how valuable vacations are and the value of saving money on them. All of this we knew, but hey, whatever. After about an hour of this, he gave us a tour of the two- and three-bedroom condos at the Silver Lake Resort. They looked okay -- nothing to compare to the Disney Vacation Club resorts, but still okay. Then it was time for the hard sell. He got out his calculator and told my Mom what her monthly payments would be when she bought the timeshare. My mother very politely asked questions and expressed genuine interest, but very firmly said she could not make a decision immediately. He pushed more, and more, and more. When my mother didn't budge, he got frustrated (he actually put his head in his hands and heave a huge sigh!). Eventually, after another hour, he got angry -- no kidding. He made it clear that we'd wasted his time. Ha! He'd kept us an hour longer than we'd been told the timeshare presentation would take. When he finally gave up and let us go, I smiled and thanked him for his time. He turned away gruffly. And because he'd run over his allotted time, we got back to the Amerihost late and missed the shuttle. We spent another $25 to get to Epcot. 

We did, however, get the two one-day park tickets after the presentation. Well, they were actually vouchers, but we had no problem exchanging them for actual tickets at Guest Relations at the parks. 

All in all, the experience cost us $346 when you add in the transportation costs. At regular rates, it would have cost $69/night to stay at the Amerihost, plus $53 x 2 for the tickets, for a total of $313. Plus, we wouldn't have had the overbooking hassle (regular customers were given rooms), the transportation mess, nor the wasted half-day and aggravation of the timeshare presentation. 

Was it worth it? If we'd taken advantage of the lodging in the other cities (two nights each in Ft. Lauderdale, Williamsburg, and Las Vegas at no additional charge, if you don't count the timeshare presentation that comes with each visit) and had our own transportation, maybe -- but that's a big maybe. Otherwise? NO WAY! We hated the hassle, we hated the lack of control, and we hated the high-pressure timeshare sales presentation. This was no deal. And while I wouldn't call it a scam, I don't think "over-priced hype" is too far off the mark. 

Got questions? Feel free to write me at jennifer (at) 

Return to | Discuss timeshare vacation offers on the PassPorter Message Boards

Feedback from Readers:

"Thanks for sharing your timeshare presentation experience for people. It's good to know what you're getting into. I've been to about 5 timeshare presentations, all but one presented locally in an office (rather than out of town in a hotel). The prize is usually dinner for 2 or a some sort of gift certificate. The timeshare presentations I have attended ALWAYS ended in the sale person getting frustrated/angry. I think it's just one of the tactics that use to try to pressure you. Hard to believe that technique would actually work, but apparently it does on some people. This anger act is just part of the game. I'm surprised they didn't try the "hand-off." This is where, when your sales person sees he's getting no where, disappears for a bit. He comes back with his "Manager" who tries to start selling you all over again. Every timeshare presentation I've ever attended involved a "hand-off" at some point. If you go into the presentation knowing what to expect, it can be a lot easier to handle. And no, I haven't bought a timeshare yet.  :)" -- contributed by SG

"I love your newsletters.  My family (me, wife, 16s, 13d & 5s) are all Disney fanatics.  We have traveled from CT to Florida 23 times in the last 13 years, both flying and driving.  We own 2 timeshare weeks on Cape Cod which we bought just to trade to Orlando, which we have had no trouble doing. Most trips we extend our stay on the front end with a timeshare presentation and on the back end with a stay on site (our favorite resorts are Animal Kingdom Lodge and The Beach Club.  It is very easy to negotiate with the timeshare people terms which are very much in your favor - we usually are able to stay in a 2 bedroom unit within 10 minutes of Disney for 3 nights for less then $200. For an hour of our time (and we NEVER spend more then an hour) we get a voucher for Universal Tickets. (WDW Season Pass Holders) The key is to feign interest in buying when making your plans on the phone and stressing how important it is to get what you want. Keep up the great work. I love reading your newsletters. Take care." -- contributed by JMB

"Florida law places a strict limit on the amount of time they can hold you in a presentation. It sounds like this was a very sleazy bunch.  My husband and I purchased a timeshare from Hilton Grand Vacation Club last fall and they repeatedly emphasized that you could leave at any time without hassle.  While reading your article, I truly felt your pain!  Perhaps the lesson to be learned is that one should know as much as possible about the property they're selling before agreeing to attend.  The "big names" with reputations have much more to lose and probably won't pitch so hard." -- contributed by SKH

"We also decided to try viewing time-shares as they offered us 2 nights at the Holiday Inn for almost nothing plus we would get admission to Universal.  Well, we showed up and like you, were taken to a room where we were paired up with a salesman, who was very personable, at first.  He gave us the tour (I don't remember the name of the time share) which was very nice.  It was affiliated with a large time share organization whereby trades could be made, etc.  The company was a 3 letter acronym.  Anyway, after listening and figure out the cost, we decided that we really could not afford it at that time.  My husband is a teacher and our travel time is really limited to summers, when the costs seemed to be higher.  The man was furious.  He even went as far as to insult my husband's intelligence for passing up this great deal.  My husband, not wanting to jeopardize our hotel voucher and Universal tickets, did not say much.  We thanked him and left in a hurry after getting our vouchers.  We will NEVER again get involved with a time share presentation!  We have enrolled in hotel point plans where when we stay we get points toward free rooms and that is working out to our benefit. As far as Orlando goes, if we're going to Disney World, I will probably never stay anywhere else but on Disney property.  Nothing compares!  A lesson learned." -- contributed by GV

"My husband and I did one of these timeshare trips 2 years ago and it was great. We went to Summer Bay Resort. My husband started the morning conversation with - we don't make decisions on the spot so it that's what you want, just give us our tickets and we'll leave. The agent didn't get "mad" or anything, but sent over another agent (after the tour and talk) who sold us a 7-day package for another time. We also got dinner tickets to Arabian Nights and the gambling cruise. We're in Charleston SC and go to WDW every year, so that definitely made sense to us. We know LOTS of folks here who take advantage of the condo deals and free tickets - just do your research ahead of time. Your first clue should have been that they put you in a hotel - you should've stayed on the property they were trying to sell you. Also, I can understand the transportation must have been awful, we always drive so that's not an issue." -- contributed by PR

"Your experience with this timeshare company is not the exception, but the norm.  My family stayed at the very same hotel and it was a disaster from the moment we walked in. While waiting to check in, the customers in front of us were already complaining about the service they had received. My family had opted for the Universal one-day tickets, but had bought Disney hopper passes before arriving at our local Disney Store.  On the day of our timeshare presentation, we found out they expected us to spend 3 or more hours with them. We had been promised by at least three individuals that the overall tour and presentation would take no more than 90 minutes.  My husband and I were adamant that we were not wasting our day with them and refused to go on the tour.  The timeshare company did refund our $20 deposit, but treated us with total lack of respect.  Since we had promised our teenage son a day at Universal, we went ahead and purchased two day/two park tickets (at the time Universal was running a deal of buy two days, get one free).  We did not mind spending the extra money, because my time with my family is more valuable than spending it with unappreciative and rude people.  While interacting with other people who had taken advantage of this promotion, I found no one that was happy with the services or the way they had been treated.  I am leaving out most of the incidents that made this experience a total nightmare, but just wanted to let you know that yours was not an unusual one.  By the way, we went on our vacation Thanksgiving Week 2002." -- contributed by T

"My husband and I have done a few timeshare vacations.  We've gone to Branson, Orlando, and South Florida/Bahamas.  We bought packages for Williamsburg and Orlando again.  We've gone to numerous timeshare presentations and picked up various "gifts".  What we learned was this:
1) Luxury hotel chains know how to build excellent resorts.  Customer satisfaction is their business.  At the Marriott Grande Vista in Orlando, the "Two Bedroom Suite" was great -- two bathrooms, double whirlpool tub, separate shower and all.  There was transportation readily available to WDW and other places.  We had our own car and didn't use the hotel bus.  But our son used the bus and had no problems.  The trip to WDW took him longer than it did us, as the bus stopped various places, but he had freedom to come and go as he pleased.  The room cost for 5 nights was quite good, too: in 1997, about $350.00 for a two bedroom, with a $75.00 bonus of Marriott Money when we finished the presentation.  I think we used the certificate for a nice dinner somewhere.  As for the presentation, the sales rep stuck to the 90 minutes appointed and didn't give us undue pressure.  He was polite and not pushy.  When we said, "no", he understood.  Another Marriott sales presentation and room we checked out but didn't stay with, on Hilton Head Island, also seemed equally good.  Lesson learned: a top quality name means a top quality deal. 
2) If you do go with a company of less reknown, expect problems.  The dates won't be available, or the room won't be available, or the transportation won't be available, or everything will be closed.  You'll spend valuable time sitting around waiting for someone or something, which usually won't show.  Even the freebies will have multiple strings attached.  The more "no-name" the company than the greater the problems.  The Branson deal didn't have a room for us.  They didn't even know we were coming.  Thank goodness I keep records of everything.  They were apologetic and eventually they gave us a One Bedroom Suite.  But we waited literally hours and hours for the matter to be taken care of.  Since it was only for 3 nights, this wasted valuable time.  The presentation the next day was even worse.  Instead of 90 minutes as promised, it was closer to 4 hours.  We were brought from one salesman to another, each with a harder sell.  Our bonus after the presentation was 2 tickets to Silver Dollar City.  But it was too late to go that day.  Because of the heavy rain the following day, Silver Dollar City closed early.  So we never made it to Silver Dollar City during the trip.  Lesson learned: walk out on the presentation after you've given your 90 minutes -- forget the bonus if you have to.
3) It's not unusual to pay more for a "free" or "cheap" vacation than if you freelanced it yourself.  Once you add on all the extras -- and everything is extra -- the cost goes up fast.  We wound up paying $1854.00 for a $897.00 Ramada Plaza Resorts cruise/hotel vacation for 2 -- not counting our food or gas or airfare expenses.  We thought it sounded like a good deal and it WAS Ramada.  It offered 7 days of a rental car, 3 nights in Fort Lauderdale, 2 nights on cruise to the Bahamas, then 2 nights in Orlando AND as the presentation bonus: 2 nights in Williamsburg, 3 nights in Las Vegas and 3 nights in Aruba.  WHAT A DEAL!!!  But even though a subcompact rental car was included, and basic rooms were included, and an inside stateroom on the cruise ship was included, small upgrades cost unbelievable amounts of money.  Believe me, it wasn't worth it.  If we had freelanced it ourselves, we would have done better.  The properties were not great and the cruise was on a small 24,000 ton ship.  We had heavy seas.  It was a first time cruise.  My husband may never cruise again because of it.  We ended up staying one night at the WDW Beach Club, instead of their hotel, just because we were so bummed out -- now THAT cost a lot but was worth it.  Lesson learned: if it sounds too good to be true...
4) Food at a "no-name" company will be an adventure in itself.  That is, if it's available, if the Dining Room is open when you finally do get a chance to eat, and if you're not squeamish.  Hopefully these will be the only memories you have of your meals.  That cruise/hotel vacation gave me memories for months afterwards as I went to doctor to hospital and back.  Could I prove that the vacation gave me the problems?  No, but the doctors sure seemed to think so.  Lesson learned: if you have suspicions about the food, don't eat it -- even if that's all there is to eat.
5) Just because a company has a web site, doesn't mean it's a quality soncern.  One of the presentations we attended, but from whom we didn't buy a vacation package, gave us a presentation bonus certificate of x number of nights at their resorts.  But there were never any nights open for any of the times that I picked.  They always told me they were booked 6 months ahead.  Forget that I was calling for 9 months to a year from whenever.  I just recently found the certificate and threw it away.  To extend it's expiration date would have cost more than the room.  Lesson learned: your time is really too valuable to waste -- even vegetating in front of the TV is more productive sometimes.
So we still do Timeshare Presentations but are very selective.  In 10 days we'll be staying at the Marriott Manor Club in Williamsburg, VA for 2 nights in a Studio.  The cost is $99.00 plus tax, with a $50.00 Marriott Money bonus when we finish the presentation.  If we could have checked in Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, we would have had 3 nights for the price.  But we're tying the weekend in with an extended business trip in the southeast.  Eventually we'll make our way to Florida where we'll stay at the Hilton Grand Vacations Club in Orlando.  We have 3 nights in a One Bedroom Suite for $129.00 plus tax.  A couple months back we could have gotten a "bonus" day for a Sunday, Monday or Tuesday check-in.  But the promotion isn't available now.  I can't remember if there's a presentation bonus or not.
I have on my desk right now an offer from Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa in Naples, FL.  They want $59.00 per night, per couple, for 3 nights starting midweek, or $79.00 per night on weekends.  We're trying to figure if we can tie it in with our next business trip in June/July.
Sometimes we get the luxury hotel/resort timeshare promotions in the mail.  Sometimes we'll be called.  We belong to numerous frequent guest programs and I think our name is on "the List".  Whenever we travelled, we made sure our flight or stay was credited to a reward program -- even "way back when" we only traveled once a year on vacation.
The only timeshare we've ever bought was the Disney Vacation Club.  Our home resort is the Wilderness Villas and we added on last year with the Beach Club Villas.  We'll be staying there for 3 nights after the Hilton GVC.  Over 4th of July we'll join our kids in Orlando and stay in Old Key West for 7 nights.  DVC is one timeshare I could really rave about.  We're still kicking ourselves that we didn't buy sooner.  But I guess too many timeshare presentations made us suspicious.  Live and learn...
So, these are our experiences with Timeshare Vacations.  I hope there's something useful here.  Thanks for reading it all." -- contributed by JS

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Updated 01/04/07 

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