According to the American Resort Development Association, Satisfaction among the 9 million US families vacationing using timeshare is over 80%. With this incredible statistic and a visit to Mexico, where timeshare is well established and booming, I set out to investigate if timeshare or Vacation Clubs are a good deal and who are they best for. Could I be the new Member in the world of timeshare?

Understanding timeshare and vacation clubs

Puerto Vallarta coast

Puerto Vallarta coast

Puerto Vallarta coast

During my three hour sales presentation of a Vacation Club in the Pacific Coast of Mexico, three families made the purchase on the spot. Champagne was popped, smiles were shared and I could see the face of satisfaction on the new Vacation Club owners and on the commission-based sales executive. But what was so fantastic that convinced them to spend $70,000 on the spot? I was soon to find out.

There are three types of timeshare. The first and oldest version is the traditional timeshare where a person purchases an interval of time in the year to enjoy a specific vacation home. My friend Anna tells me that her grandfather bought a house on timeshare in the 60s in Italy and had the right to use it in May. They always used to vacation there and he only had to pay for the yearly maintenance fee. At other times of the year, “there was someone else in the house”, she explained.

The second type of timeshare is fractional ownership where one has a usually larger proportion of the year to use a property that is of higher luxury level than the traditional timeshare. For example, The Ritz Carlton offers such ownership types in some of its resorts.

The most advanced timeshare type is the points-based ownership where one buys a set of points which are equivalent to a certain type of room and days. One can use the points for a more basic room during a longer period of time or for a higher category room and a shorter period of time. Much like airline points, they can also be traded at partner hotels or even accumulated over the years if unused. They are the most flexible option. The amount of upfront investment determines the number of points obtained. This was the presentation I attended in Mexico. points-based ownership are also more commonly known as Vacation Clubs or Vacation Memberships and owners are known as Members. The higher the purchase value the higher the membership level and the perks, much like loyalty programs in airlines and hotel chains.

When you buy a timeshare, you make a one time purchase for a certain amount that gives you the number of nights, weeks or points and then, on a yearly basis, you only have to pay for the maintenance. You decide the one time purchase amount at the beginning based on your vacation needs and commitment.

What makes timeshare unique 

There are certain aspects that make timeshare a unique vacationing model when compared to hotels or to owning a property.

Frozen inflationTransferable & resalableBig brand playInternational networkAffordability
Once the owner has purchased the right to a timeshare, the price/number of points is fixed for the period of time of the contract. Usually, contracts are long term (30 years) and the rights are bought in advance. On a yearly basis, the owner only needs to pay maintenance fees effectively freezing their vacation costs for the period of the contract
Most timeshare models allow the owner of a timeshare to exit the investment before the end of the contract by transferring the right to someone else. That is, the right can be inherited, it can be gifted and it can be sold. There are also marketplaces where owners can list their unused timeshare in the secondary market for vacationers to book much like they would book a hotel on any booking site
Even if you are not familiar with timeshare, don’t be tricked into thinking this is the business of the small players. Vacation Clubs and timeshare resorts include the likes of Starwood Vacation Club, The Ritz Club, Disney Resorts and Hyatt Vacation Club all offering fractional ownership or memberships to some of their resorts
Although most of the larger Vacation Clubs tend to be located in the Americas, memberships typically allow owners to exchange their points at other resorts through Timeshare Exchange Companies around the world. Exchange companies offer a list of properties where points can be used to book holidays, much like airline partners allow for miles of the same alliance to be used. Some of the big names are Resort Condominium International and Interval International, both having a network of properties covering the world including even cruises. Although these properties tend to be of a lower category than the main Vacation Clubs, they offer good exchange value
Because one commits upfront for a longer period of time, effective room rates are significantly discounted. Hence, if you are the right customer for timeshare you are in for a real savings

Who is timeshare best for?

After the three hour sales presentation in Mexico, I had a very good understanding of the financials behind the purchase and I will admit that, despite being skeptical at first, I realized that timeshare is a great deal for certain types of holidaymakers. Are you one of them?

Sunset at timeshare resort

Sunset at timeshare resort

Young couples that are about to have children or already have them are the best candidates for timeshare. Why? timeshare properties are usually family oriented. Rooms come with fully equipped kitchens and child friendly and spacious designs. For the price of an average room at a hotel, one can get a much larger space with separate bedrooms, living rooms and bathrooms. As the family expands, the more advanced points-based models allow the member to redeem the points for larger rooms to accommodate grandparents or an expanding family. As families are less adventurous and favour fewer but longer trips, spending time together and convenience over discovering a new place, the facilities at timeshare resorts are perfect.

Mature couples find timeshare convenient because they have the flexibility of taking holidays during the low season when their points or fractional ownership provides better value and the ability to plan ahead. Thanks to the exchange companies of Vacation Clubs, they can also use their points to travel farther away to the destinations where other resorts of the Vacation Club are located. And when they want to have an extended family vacation, they can bring children and grandchildren to the nearby resorts and trade their points for larger accommodations.

Great resort facilities

Great resort facilities

People who like vacationing at the same place every year will reap the highest benefits. When I was a kid, we used to go to the same town every summer. It was in the Pyrenees Mountains of Spain and it was a great way to take a month off, flee the summer heat in the city and spend family time together. We booked a flat because it afforded the flexibility and space that we needed as a family and it was significantly more affordable than a hotel. In certain weeks, my dad would come up too and we had a sofa bed for when my uncle came. Timesharing takes this to the next level and discounts the price of repeat vacations. The highest value of timeshares or Vacation Clubs are reaped at the property in which the ownership has been bought. After building a financial model to estimate the real value of the Vacation Club at the luxury resort in Mexico I visited, it was obvious that discounts were very generous with effective room rates lingering at 60-70% less than advertised rates today, notwithstanding inflation. For those who like vacationing at the same resort every year, there is no doubt timeshare models are the way to go.

Who is timeshare not for

At this point, timeshare was not an obvious model for me. I favour small boutique properties of very high luxury over the large resorts that are so convenient for families. And I am not price sensitive, having rather limited flexibility and the inability to book ahead of time. I also like traveling to the far flung places where neither RCI nor II had significant presence. However, I did find the timeshare rental sites a great alternative for those cases when a girl’s trip or a family vacation is in the cards and a resort becomes the obvious choice.

Try timeshare ownership without the commitment

As I was sitting at the marketing office in Mexico, hearing the many convinced buyers swiping their credit cards for a few thousand dollars I couldn’t help but realise that they were at the right place to be convinced: they had tried the property and seen what it offered and, most importantly, they had seen their spend and what they could save with the Membership.

The greatness of such a developed vacationing model today is that one can rent a room from a timeshare owner and test the property before committing long term. What is more, there are sites that list timeshare for sale or rent from existing owners at admittedly discounted prices just for that reason. And, if you are looking for a last minute deal, these sites offer great discounts as the owner is about to lose the week anyway. So instead of booking through the regular channels to test the model out at market rates, consider booking through a timeshare rental company to enjoy the discount from the first day. Even if you decide it is not for you, the savings will have kicked in from the start.

Is timeshare for you?

Margarita by the pool anyone?

Margarita by the pool anyone?

After the three hour discussion followed by hundreds of questions I found the world of timeshare fascinating and a clear great value for the right holidaymaker. If you are looking for flexibility but value guaranteed luxury, quality time with your loved ones in an upscale resort loaded with amenities, and are less fussed about the destination than about the quality of the resort, timeshare might be for you.

For those not ready to commit but looking to reap the benefits of such a sophisticated vacation model, head over to where you can find thousands of timeshares for rent at heavily discounted prices and, if you are sold on the idea, you can also buy your own on the site for a relevant discount when compared to the resort’s “here and now” sales pitch price. Use the three hours you saved not going to a presentation to laze by the pool instead. That margarita will taste even better.