When the concept of timeshares was first developed in the 1970’s, the structure of shared vacation space was not complex. You paid for access to one or two weeks per year, with minimal fees beyond what you initially paid for, as a member of the timeshare. It was simple, affordable and straightforward for timeshare owners. And it worked for families who had a limited vacation budget. More than 45 years later, the timeshare industry has expanded globally into a multi-billion-dollar industry. Some timeshares still offer the fixed week model, as it is popular with vacationers, but others have migrated to a substantially more complex flexible time structure, that is more expensive and in our opinion, far more biased to the needs of the timeshare, rather than the members it serves.
Timeshares that are in popular destinations, quickly realized that they had a problem with supply and demand, particularly during ‘red weeks’, or highly coveted calendar periods. The flexible timeshare model is marketed as a way for owners to get more vacation options. Increasingly however, timeshare owners have realized that it is also a more lucrative business proposition for the timeshare; one that puts profit, before the needs of its members.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at both types of models, and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each. We will also share how financially advantageous the flexible model is for the timeshare (not the consumer). If you are ‘locked in’ to a flexible timeshare contract, it may be time to transition out of your agreement, to reduce frustration, and save time and money.
The Classic Model of Timeshare Scheduling (Fixed Week Models)
A fixed week is a fractional ownership or lease, of a timeshare resort property. The fixed week is based on 1/52 available weeks in the calendar year. Timeshare owners are assigned a week number that corresponds to the time they are entitled to use the property, and it is usually assigned for a specific room or condominium on the resort.
Check in dates for fixed timeshares are usually Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Week numbers are generally used instead of fixed dates, so depending on the calendar year, there can be some minimal fluctuation. It’s a straight forward model that’s worked for decades, but one of the complaints that some timeshare owners shared, was that the same week, at the same resort every year, was limiting. They wanted the option of different times of the year to vacation, and perhaps different resorts, which is what initially led timeshare companies to develop the flexible use model.
What Are the Perceived Advantages of a Flexible Use Timeshare for Consumers?
We have carefully used the term ‘perceived advantages’ when talking about flexible use timeshares, because in over fourteen years of helping timeshare owners, we’ve heard about the dark side of this type of vacation membership and contract.
The contract terms and conditions for a flexible use timeshare, are as complicated as trying to figure out a multi-level marketing commission structure. Can something that complicated ever be customer centric or user friendly, for the timeshare owner? In our opinion, the answer is ‘no’.
Timeshares market the flexible use or point system as an advantage. How it works, is that timeshare owners buy a set number of points or ‘vacation currency’ that can be used every year toward their choice of timeshare vacations. The tricky part of that statement, is ‘toward’. When consumers buy these points, they assume that they will be able to ‘afford’ a great vacation at least once per year. It’s not until after they have signed the contract, that they realize the one-time purchase is subject to other fees, and red-tape conditions, that might make that annual vacation difficult.
The floating system allows the timeshare owner to choose from a range of available dates in a calendar year. For some, that means a selection of any week (that is available and not already booked) from week 1 to week 52. For others, the selection can be as narrow as, for example, week 15-18 in terms of availability.
The flexible or floating timeshare system, has many problems, which is why many owners are dissatisfied with it, once they purchase their points or membership. First, it is the timeshare owner’s responsibility to reserve the week with enough advanced notice, to secure the booking. Some clients have told us, that it meant calling the resort every day for weeks; sounds like fun, right?
Another problem with floating timeshares, is that you must plan ahead. We all know how difficult it can be to schedule vacation time for one or both partners, and to arrange for time-off for children or other family members to join you. The advanced notice that floating timeshare owners have to provide, makes vacation planning much more difficult.
Cancellation and refund of the value of the upcharge paid (for higher quality resorts in the exchange) is where the biggest obstacle presents itself. Many timeshare owners we talk to, indicated that they became angry after they had to cancel their week due to an emergency illness, or family need, only to find that they had no entitlement to cash refund, or even a refund of reusable points.
Did we mention that some timeshares cap the advanced booking period? Something that we don’t really understand, when timeshare owners are already having a problem booking their vacation, why make it even harder for them to book in advance? The cap on pre-booking can be anywhere from 12-weeks to six months, depending on the contract.
Lastly, many flexible timeshares offer a set amount of points that actually expire annually. So if you are one of the unfortunate timeshare owners, who had to cancel, or who was unable to schedule a week at your favorite resort, you are simply ‘out of luck’. Points are rarely transferrable in floating timeshare contracts, which means consumers are essentially, paying top dollar for no benefit at all.
How Do Timeshares Benefit from Flexible Use Memberships?
There are so many terms and conditions that come with a flexible use timeshare, that you can’t help but think the timeshare is counting on the consumer, to simply not use the time they are entitled to. It sounds like a negative assessment, but our timeshare cancellation clients routinely seek help getting out of these complicated contracts. Consumers who, even after years, are not sure exactly what they paid for, because scheduling time was virtually impossible for them.
The only professional conclusion we arrive at, is that it is entirely deliberate. Most of flexible use timeshares are offered for high demand resorts, where consumer demand greatly exceeds the available accommodation space. Nonetheless, the timeshare will oversell that space (much the same way as airlines overbook flights), in the hopes that some people will simply never use the space.
A review of online complaints bears this truth, in many comments from frustrated timeshare owners. Some of the complaints include the following problems and issues:
Timeshare owners in flexible contracts, were unable to access weeks during peak season. Regardless of how early they reserved with the resort.
Peak season or ‘red weeks’ cost timeshare owners more points, creating situations where they were essentially paying more, simply to use the timeshare they were entitled to.
Timeshares pitch the sale of additional points, that increase the costs exorbitantly for timeshare owners. Beyond what many consumers budget for.
One of the most offensive instances we’ve heard of, are timeshare companies that are flexible or ‘points based’ declining credits or refunds for timeshare owners, who had to cancel due to resort damage from the 2017 hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
This complaint was left about RCI in October 2017:
“We booked a vacation at the Flamingo using savings dollars from RCI. The resort has been destroyed and is not open, nor are the[re] any flights as the airline cancelled our reservations. I asked RCI for a Credit or Refund or a rebooking to another resort, but I was told that since I made the reservation online thru the RCI website and payment was made to RCI, the payment then went to resort, and I am not able to get a refund of any sort at all. Why can’t I get at least a credit or a refund from RCI, or why can’t RCI help me recover the fee from the hotel, if that’s really the case.”
“I was totally displeased when after a US State Dept. expanded travel warnings to Mexico (Cabo) – I cancelled my trip to Cabo in December 2017 and they would not refund the $216 exchange fee because they only give you 24 hours to cancel. The trip is 4 months away and even though there were severe circumstances they refused to refund. Buyer Beware!!!”
Just when you thought it couldn’t get more confusing. Marriott Vacation Club is one of the first timeshares to institute a new branding structure that helps to differentiate between resorts, in three classes of accommodations. Timeshare owners with Marriott can now choose between Classic and Distinctive resorts, with categories for Luxury, Premium and Select accommodations. We can only imagine how difficult it will be to book at premium resorts, or the window of opportunity this will create to upsell existing timeshare owners, and convince them to buy more points.
When it comes to flexible or floating timeshare contracts, consumers should consider it to be the same business strategy as airlines use; overbook to ensure volume capacity, without caring about customers who get shut out, due to unavailable spaces. And if you feel like this new way of vacationing with a timeshare is unfair, we’d have to agree with you completely.
Today more than ever before, there are easier, more economical and less restrictive ways that you and your family can enjoy quality vacations, without having to play the game of point allocation, blocked out dates and competition for ‘red weeks’. Start today with a free consultation, and learn how you can exit your timeshare contract in 12-months or less, with Aconsumercredit™.