Timeshare presentations are widely known as a way to earn a free vacation or gift. In exchange for 90 minutes or more of your time, you may be offered a stay in Orlando and theme park tickets or a complimentary night in Las Vegas with a gambling credit thrown in. Timeshare companies focus their marketing on people who can afford their product, so you might not receive unsolicited invitations unless your income is above a certain level. If this is not the case, there are still ways to get invited.
Understanding Vacation Timeshares
Timeshare ownership has been a popular vacation option for many decades. The basic idea is that a group of people divide ownership of a piece of property and take turns using it. Traditionally, each owner is allotted a week or more per year of property use. The idea originated in Europe after World War II. Since the first timeshares opened in America in the late 1960s, the concept has expanded to include a few different types of vacation property sharing. It helps to understand them before seeking out presentations.
- Fixed Week. An owner can use a specific house or unit for the same week each year for as long as the timeshare is owned.
- Floating Week. An owner can use the timeshare property for any week during the year, based on availability.
- Points Club. Owners accumulate or purchase points that allow them to stay at properties in different locales. This type of timeshare is also referred to as a vacation club or travel club. Like floating week timeshares, owners have flexibility when choosing vacation time.
- Right-to-Use. Also known as a leased timeshare. Buyers of this type of timeshare lease a property for a set amount of time each year for the length of their contract. Ownership of the property is not transferred to them.
Different types of timeshares have different rights and privileges. For example, fixed and floating timeshare owners generally have the right to sell, swap or give away their time. Owners of timeshares that use point systems are often able to exchange their points for hotels, cruises, airline tickets and other vacation options. They can also roll their points over from year to year.
Finding Timeshare Presentations
Staying at a resort that offers timeshares is probably the easiest way to be invited to a timeshare presentation. Since Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Disney and other hotel brands also have timeshares, you may hear about a timeshare presentation during a hotel stay or you may be contacted by phone or mail after you return home. Being a member of a hotel’s loyalty program could also earn you a timeshare presentation invitation. Coupons, gift cards and credit card bonus points are typically given away in exchange for attending these presentations.
There are dozens of independent timeshare companies and vacation clubs in the U.S., some larger than others. Many operate booths at county fairs and other community events, where you may be asked to sign up for a raffle or drawing with your phone number or email address. Later, you’ll be contacted about attending a timeshare presentation. There are also timeshare sales offices in some resort areas where you can sign up for a presentation.
Online, you can browse websites like VacationPeople.com that provide information about vacation packages offered as timeshare presentation deals. When all else fails, you can try calling a timeshare company directly. Tell them you are interested in learning more about their offerings and would like to attend a presentation. If you qualify, you’ll probably receive an invitation.
Qualifying for a Timeshare Presentation
Most timeshare presentations have some requirements for attending. Attendees usually must be at least age 25. Some companies prescreen attendees and only invite those with a certain income level. Married couples are favored over singles for some timeshare sales pitches. Showing up without your spouse if you were both invited could get you turned away from a presentation with no gift.
Before You Go
To avoid wasting your time, it’s a good idea to research a timeshare company online and see if there are any legitimate complaints about people not getting the gifts they were promised after attending a presentation. The Better Business Bureau website and the forums of travel websites like TripAdvisor are good resources for reviews of timeshare companies and their presentations. In some cases, free coupons that sound too good to be true come with strings attached that make them difficult to redeem. If you do decide to attend a presentation, make sure to find out all the details about the giveaway before the presentation starts.
Attending a Timeshare Presentation
The gifts offered by timeshare companies for attending their presentations may sound too good to be good, but in most cases, it’s not a scam. Competition for sales is high among timeshare companies, so you can expect to be the target of a hard sell campaign if you do decide to attend. If you’re interested in buying a timeshare, most experts say you will save money by shopping on the resale market instead of buying directly from a resort or timeshare company, who mark up prices by as much as 50 percent to cover the cost of marketing.
If you don’t intend on buying a timeshare but are interested in the free giveaway, be prepared to resist the sales tactics of company representatives. A timeshare presentation is typically 90 minutes to two hours long. Gifts and coupons are not distributed until the end of the presentation, which may or may not involve a tour of the property.
Telling a timeshare sales agent up front that you actually have no interest in buying will not save you from having to listen to the sales pitch since they are hoping to change your mind during the presentation. It’s important to stay for the entire presentation, especially if you are on a free vacation hosted by the timeshare company that’s contingent on hearing the sales pitch. Leaving early could mean you have to pay for the stay. After the advertised time has passed, however, you are within your rights to say you are ready to leave and still receive your gift.
Timeshare Pros and Cons
Besides providing a guaranteed location for vacation time, there are several other advantages to timeshare ownership. Timeshare units are typically larger than hotel rooms, with amenities like two or more bedrooms and full kitchens and laundry rooms. Being able to trade a week at a timeshare for another location is another great benefit, with timeshare resorts available all over the world.
Probably the biggest disadvantage of timeshares is the difficulty in selling them. Many owners can’t find a buyer or are forced to sell for a loss when they decide they no longer want their timeshare. Annual maintenance fees are another issue. These fees increase over time and must be paid even during years when the owner doesn’t use the timeshare. Another disadvantage is that owners may not be able to book vacations at popular locations during peak vacation seasons.
Financial experts say that if you do decide to buy a timeshare, you should view it as a vacation purchase rather than a real estate investment. No matter what the salespeople say, timeshare properties do not increase in value over time and the resale demand is not strong. If you know you’re going to be spending a certain amount of money each year on vacation and like the convenience of knowing where you’ll be going, a timeshare can be a good way to create vacation memories.
- Unless you intend to buy a timeshare before you go into the presentation, be careful about buying one on the spot. Usually, any deal that you are offered will still be available when you call back once you get home. Alternately, you may be able purchase the same timeshare on the resale market at a discount.
- Do not drink alcohol while you are at the presentation. Lowering your inhibitions may lead you to make an expensive purchase that you will regret.
Catie Watson spent three decades in the corporate world before becoming a freelance writer. She has an English degree from UC Berkeley and specializes in topics related to personal finance, careers and business.