Timeshares 101: What are they?

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Timeshares receive a bad rap. However, the more I talk to people as I travel, the more people I meet that own one or more. I will wholeheartedly agree that they are not for everyone. If you can make it work for your family, they are a great way to vacation.

What are timeshares?

A timeshare is a deeded or non-deeded property.  It is a condo style facility where you purchase the usage and room type for a specific time period. There are many companies in this business and their operating procedures are different. Basically, they work off the premise that you are paying upfront for your vacation. When you go to a timeshare presentation, most likely they will ask you how much you spend per night on a hotel room and how many nights per year you travel. They will then show you how much you are actually spending over a 10-20 year period. Most likely, they will explain how their system works and how you can have nicer and cheaper vacations by actually owning a timeshare.

Harborside Timeshares
View of Harborside at the Atlantis Timeshares
Westin Lagunamar Cancun timeshare
View from our room at Cancun’s Westin Lagunamar timeshare

You can usually snag some sort of compensation for attending a timeshare presentation. My husband and I just did one last month and received a $125 credit toward our hotel stay. Since our stay was on points, this paid for 4 of our meals! The presentation itself lasted 100 minutes and we felt no pressure to purchase. Depending on your offer, you could receive hotel credit, a Visa gift card, a tour or even Disney tickets.

In full disclosure, I do own timeshares. This may seem odd to some people as I write about how frugally we travel. I bought my first (and second) timeshare when I was single, about 16 years ago. In all honesty, that very first timeshare I bought was a mistake. It was a mistake because I paid way too much for it from the developer. I like to think I have grown much wiser concerning timeshares since then! The second timeshare I bought was a foreclosure. The developer offered these to current owners at around 90% off the normal developer rate.

Since then, we have bought 3 more timeshares. All except for the first timeshare are every other year usage. Some are in the odd years and some are in the even years. Some were bought on the resale market for pennies on the dollar and then retro’d (Starwood’s term for requalified) into the developer program after purchasing one directly from the developer.

So, let’s dive into my thoughts on the pros and cons of timeshare ownership!

Pro’s of timeshare ownership

1. Resort style amenities. These resorts are beautiful and well maintained if purchased from a major timeshare company. For some people, this may not make a difference and that’s fine! I just like to enjoy my surroundings and feel at peace when I’m on vacation. I actually would never pay $300 per night for 7 nights at a hotel, however, I did shell out money upfront to ‘buy’ the timeshare and continue to pay its maintenance costs.

2. Larger space with a kitchen. This one is big for me. For some reason, I get claustrophobic in a 2-bed hotel room with 300 square feet. I just like my space. Normally, a one bedroom timeshare is 700-900 square feet and includes a separate bedroom and a kitchen. Think of a one bedroom apartment.

Westin Rancho Mirage kitchen
Kitchen at the Westin Rancho Mirage Timeshares
Westin Rancho Mirage living room
Living room at the Westin Rancho Mirage Timeshares
Westin Rancho Mirage balcony
Balcony at our Westin Rancho Mirage timeshare

3. Reduces eating out costs.  Remember that kitchen? We always have breakfast in the room. I’m talking pancakes, eggs, and sausage. I believe in having a good breakfast to fuel you for the day. We also grill out (ok, my husband does the grilling) hamburgers, chicken or hot dogs for dinner. Often, for lunch, we’ll do wraps. Having a refrigerator allows you to do this and save money from going out all the time. See, there’s that frugal side of me!

Con’s of timeshare ownership

1. Cost. Yep, not going to lie to you. There is an upfront cost and an ongoing yearly maintenance cost whether you use it that year or not. This can be a deal breaker right there. The sky is the limit when buying from a developer. Not kidding. It depends on what you buy (studio, 1 bedroom, 2 bedrooms, etc) and the season in which you buy.

The season depends on where the timeshare is located. A timeshare in Myrtle Beach will have its premium season in the summer when kids are out of school and families are going to the beach. Whereas, a timeshare in Vail has the winter as its premium season.

2. Destination restriction. Let me explain…a developer only has so many properties. Usually, you can vacation in any of their resorts for no exchange fee. Here, you are limited by where the developer has built.

However, most timeshares will trade within RCI or Interval International (II). These are large timeshare trading companies. You (or possibly the developer, depending on your contract) pay a yearly fee to belong to either of these. Then, you can trade your timeshare for any of the thousands of timeshares within the trading system. Most often, the fee to do this is $150-$200 per trade.

Major players in the timeshare industry

The large hotel chains encompass a huge part of the timeshare industry. Everyone from Marriott, Hilton, Starwood, Hyatt, Wyndham and even Disney has a large presence. I myself have only stayed at Marriott, Starwood and Hyatt timeshares. Staying at a Disney timeshare is actually on my bucket list! As for what I own, it’s all exclusively with Starwood (which is the Sheraton and Westin brands now under the umbrella of Vistana). Every one of the timeshare locations I have stayed in has been excellent – no matter which developer. They are resorts with pools, fitness centers, shuttles, spa’s, daily activities for kids and adults and restaurants.

Marriott Harbor Lake Orlando
Marriott Harbor Lake, Orlando
Marriott Grande Vista Orlando
Marriott Grande Vista, Orlando
Westin Rancho Mirage
Westin Rancho Mirage, CA

The one thing I always say to people that are contemplating timeshares is that you have to use it. Every. Single. Year. Or every other year if that is what you bought. Because if you don’t use it, you lose it – the yearly maintenance money you paid. So, I have a plan for where we are using our timeshares about 2 years out. I plan our other frugal travel around those dates. For the last 15 years, I had 5 weeks of vacation from the bank I worked at. I know, very lucky. This is how I was able to do both time-sharing and vacations using miles and points.

In conclusion, there is actually so much more to say about timeshares…how to use them, when to use them, the cost breakdown. I will have separate articles about each of these. However, if you are interested in timeshares, I suggest you look at TUG. This is a timeshare users group. It has so much information about timeshares and discussion forums as well. I highly recommend reviewing the information on this site if you are interested at all.

For further reading, check out my post Timeshares – Are they worth the cost? for a full breakdown of one of my timeshare purchases.

Do you own a timeshare or have any specific questions? Please let me know in the comments!


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  1. Shaylee Packer says:

    As you mentioned, when you own one of these timeshares, you get the resort style living and can just relax. My parents have a timeshare, and they use to use it quite frequently. They aren’t using it as often as they use to, and are thinking about selling it. Is there a company who could help him out with that need?

    1. Christine Zelina says:

      Hi Shaylee. Glad to hear your parents use their timeshare frequently. While I have never sold a timeshare, I have used Redweek.com to rent my weeks. It was really easy. They do have an area for selling timeshares too, so you may want to look into that. When I rented out my timeshare, I let them handle all the questions, the contract and getting the money and transferring it to me. Yes, I did pay for this service and there is a more DIY option as well for less cost. You could start there. Also, the Timeshare Users Group online (TUG) has an area for those selling timeshares too. You could read this forum and people may have more answers for you there.