Time-share – Is It Cheaper Travel?


Over the past several months, we’ve talked a lot about how we travel. We’ve invited you along on some of our more memorable trips. And we’ve mentioned time-share more than a few times.

Regardless of your views about time-share, it’s definitely one way to travel less expensively, if you don’t figure in the cost of the initial purchase, the maintenance fees, the exchange company membership fees, and the exchange fees. When you add all those up, it might not be as good a deal as we’ve thought it is. Like everything else, those costs continue to increase.

However, when we got into the time-share lifestyle, we did it very inexpensively. We bought the cheapest weeks we could find at resorts we liked. (That was before Points were invented, or introduced.)

As we became more experienced, we carefully considered annual maintenance fees and concentrated on those resorts with lower ones, and those that had stayed consistent rather than being raised every year.

That’s a sort of tightrope, though, because you do want the resort to be well-maintained. You don’t want broken hot-tubs and cracked pools and dirty carpets and furnishings. And you have to accept the fact that expenses for maintenance are usually higher in a beach-front location. Add to that the cost of as many as 52 different families using the facilities every year, and all the wear-and-tear involved.

In the beginning, time-share was rather straight-forward. You attended the (endless) introduction meeting with bad coffee and stale pastries, you toured the property, you got a “today only” price, and you either bought or walked away. If you bought, you got a specific unit for a specific week at a specific property. You could sell, rent, and pass this property to your heirs.

Exchange companies were introduced, making it possible for an owner at one location to exchange for a unit at another location for a reasonable exchange fee. We got to go to some pretty nice places using this method, including Hawaii, Canada and Spain, among many others.

Through the years, variations have been introduced, including “right-to-use” ownership, where the “owner” doesn’t really own anything, except the right-to-use the facilities for a specific period of time, after which the contract ends and the “property” reverts to the original owners.

Other types of ownership were also introduced including floating-week ownership, flex-week ownership, vacation clubs, and points programs. These variations can be either deeded ownership or right-to-use.

We’ve been slow to move into the “points” category, but we did exchange one of our “weeks” at a favorite resort for a “points” unit within the last year. We’re still learning how this works, and we’re holding on to another “weeks” unit for now, which should give us some flexibility in exchanges.

by Bernard Gagnon via WikiMedia Commons

Points can be used for shorter stays – just a few days – rather than paying for the whole week and arriving late or leaving early, as we’ve often done with our “weeks” units in the past.

As the large hotel and resort groups got into time-share, costs skyrocketed at those resorts. Now Marriott, Wyndham, Hilton, Accor, and of course, Disney offer a huge variety of options for people just getting interested in this way of travel.

Many horror stories exist about time-share, with developers going broke before finishing a location, units being shown which are nothing like the ones purchasers actually end up with, and resale nightmares. (It’s practically impossible to sell a time-share, and you should NEVER buy one as an investment.)

But I have to say, for the 30 years or so we’ve been time-share owners, we’ve definitely gotten our money’s worth. In the beginning, we had young children, and one hotel room was not a pleasant option, no matter how much we loved them. Having a kitchen was a huge time- and money-saver, too, making it not only possible but actually enjoyable to have family meals without the hassle of constantly eating out.

Why not just spend a couple of days at the beach or in the mountains? Well, we believed (and we still do) that travel is one of the most important things you can give your children. It opens their eyes and their minds to the possibilities and the people in the world. And I’m proud to say they seem to have benefited from the experiences they had as children.

And because our boys were nearly seven years apart, having facilities for six most of the time meant it was possible to include cousins or friends without a lot of additional expense, giving each son an age-appropriate traveling companion.

Of course, if we’d had unlimited funds, we could have just rented a house or condo wherever we wanted to go. But that was never an option for us. We usually traveled on tight budgets, getting as much “bang for our buck” as humanly possible!

And maybe we were naïve, but it was easier to pay “in increments” – the purchase price at one time, or if necessary, over a few months, then the maintenance fees usually in January, then the exchange fees at the time of the trip. If we considered the maintenance fees as an annual budget item, once the purchase price was paid off, the exchange fee was indeed a “deal,” for a week at a really nice location.

My only advice to potential time-share purchasers is to carefully research the resort before you go for that first “tour.” In the excitement of seeing a beautiful new condo with gorgeous furnishings in a prime location, it’s easy to overlook the amount of the maintenance fees, or to over-estimate how often you’ll actually be able to travel, or to purchase thinking the grandchildren will always want to go where you want to go.

There are legitimate resale companies operating now. Research those, too, if that’s something you’re interested in. And read all the fine print. Sometimes a resale doesn’t carry some of the original perks.

We think time-share is still a legitimate option for inexpensive travel. Let us know what you think!

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