Trapped in a Holiday – The Timeshare Hoax


       If you didn’t fall prey to the scam of the timeshare industry yet, keep reading. You may get something out of my story. I suspect that one way or another we all have been exposed to timeshare ads or approached by some intrusive salesmen trying to draw us in.   

       Let’s face it, traveling is not cheap and especially finding a decent hotel room at an affordable price is a real challenge. Owning a piece of paradise in a hotspot vacation property like Florida, Hawaii, or Colorado seems great and the promise of a clean and well maintained condo at the price of a hotel room seems even better. In this article I will share with you my 14 years experience as a timeshare owner.

       Back in the summer of 1998 while vacationing in Hawaii, my husband and I have been approached by a salesman from Shell Vacations Club and lured into a timeshare presentation.  Although the Internet era had already begun, the information on hand about this issue was scarce. The sales presentation was pleasant and informative and seemed to make perfect sense. Newly immigrated from Europe with a young son and not much money on our hands, we knew we couldn’t afford to buy property in Hawaii or somewhere else. On the other hand, with hotel prices always on the rise it seemed that a timeshare investment would always keep us ahead of the game. Oh, did I say “investment”? I guess I did but little did we know at the time that it would rather be a money pit. So two months and a $18,000 later, we were the proud owners of a timeshare on the Big Island of Hawaii. Lucky us!

Kanapali Villas

The time-share dream

       Most timeshare purchases are deeded (or “fee simple“) timeshares. This means that the purchaser is buying an actual share of ownership in the resort. Non-deeded timeshares, also known as right-to-use, certificate or vacation-interval timeshares, are more like a club membership. But no matter what shape or form, all timeshare resorts charge an annual fee for maintenance, utilities and taxes. Resorts can increase the fees each year — the initial fees at the time you buy are not locked in and that’s where the big catch is. We had a two-week share of ownership for which our annual fee was around $1,400. At the time of the presentation we addressed our concerns regarding the yearly increase in this fee but have been assured that, as owners, we will always have a say in it. 

       The first few years into our ownership we were pretty happy with our deal. Every year we kept coming to Hawaii bringing family and with us and even going on different islands. But from the very beginning we noticed that the beautiful nice units on the top floor or facing the ocean that we saw on the presentation day were never available. They always seem to have been snatched from under our nose by somebody who arrived earlier. Even more, the only units available on our arrival were always on the ground floor and facing the garage, the noisy swimming pool area, or the trash collecting area. I can’t remember a single time in almost 14 years when we did not have to change units at least two times before receiving something barely decent. So our vacations were always starting with arguments, complaints and repeated trips to the reception desk. All those nice, smiling, and helpful selling agents that roamed the resort grounds on our presentation day seemed to have mysteriously vanished.

       As time went by we grew less and less fond of our timeshare deal. Not only had we not purchased a piece of paradise, but our “deal” was turning into a liability. More and more fees seem to appear every year: if we could not use our time on a certain year we had to pay a $25 fee to bank it for the following one, or loose it; if we made more than one reservation a year we had to pay a $25 reservation fee for the subsequent ones; for the first week in a resort we received a free cleaning, for the second one we had to pay a cleaning fee of $50; other fees included: resort fee ($100-$150), air conditioning/heating fee (depending on the usage), parking fee ($10-$20/night), exchange fee ($150-$170).

       Once we got bored of going to Hawaii two times a year and decided to exchange the timeshare for other places, we were confronted with the cruel reality of “unavailability”. Whatever resorts we asked for were always unavailable. No matter how flexible we tried to be, it still didn’t work. We were either too early or too late, but never on time in requesting a resort in big demand. In exchange, we were always offered alternative vacation spots in the middle of nowhere, in places never heard of. And to make things even worse, our maintenance fees were growing rampantly, to the point where 10 years down the road they almost doubled. Just the yearly fee itself would have covered a 5 star hotel room for two weeks in Hawaii or anywhere else (forget the $18,000 invested in the purchase price!)

       After our son went off to college, we started traveling at less busy times of the year hoping to have a better chance at nicer units, but that didn’t turn out any better. After some research, we learned that resorts save their best units for cash rentals (not foolish timeshare owners, like us!) And to add insult to injury, they even rent them for less than our yearly maintenance fees, for the same period of time.

       Last year we finally decided that it was time to get rid of our beloved timeshare, even at a loss. But to our dismay we found out that nobody wants to buy it. Even worse, nobody wants it even gifted!  And why would they? It’s a liability. We even tried to donate it to some non-profit organizations that could use it for fund-raisings, but they also said “thank you, but NO, thank you!”

       Considering the struggling economy in the past years and ever increasing maintenance fees, sellers outnumber buyers by a huge margin.  This has driven the prices of resales down to levels never before seen in this industry.  Some timeshares have depreciated over 99%, and it is more and more common for individuals to actually list their timeshares for a single dollar in hopes that someone will take them! There are hundreds of timeshares for sale from owners who are just looking to get out of their annual maintenance fees! Unfortunately, the demand side for resales is just as bad. Most people don’t even know there is a resales market available until after they buy from the developer. Why else would anyone buy new from the developer if they could get the exact same week at the exact same resort for a fraction of the price from an existing owner?  

       In most cases a contract rescission is not even an option, and if you stop paying your maintenance fees you can be sued, or your credit ruined. Fortunately for us, our contract included a provision for cancellation (written in fine print), which is extremely rare in the industry. In the end, we forfeited out certificate of title  and all our points and got out of the deal without having to hire an attorney. I guess we were lucky after all, but I have to admit that we learned a good lesson for the price of $18,000.

        Did you have a similar experience?



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14 Comments on “Trapped in a Holiday – The Timeshare Hoax

  1. Thousands of International travelers, particularly from the US and Canada, have fallen victims oftimeshare fraud while vacationing. Resort developers hire skilled salesmen to represent their timeshares as many different attractive packages, such as financial investments, deeded properties, or vacation clubs, just to increase their sales.

    • Thank you for your comment, Melanie. I wish more people like you would reveal the scam of the timeshare industry.

  2. Timeshares have been consistently known for different things: some positive, but most of them are very negative, which has created a smokescreen around the whole idea of timeshares. There are many timeshare owners who feel joyful with their purchases, but there are even more who regret having bought a timeshare, and want to get rid of it at all costs.

    • Thank you for your comment, Brittany. From what I understand you work for a company that actually helps people get out of their nasty timeshare contracts. I’ll make sure I’ll recommend your company to “unhappy” timeshare owners that I may hear about.

  3. During our earlier travel years we used be tempted into the timeshares and have sat through a couple of the ‘Investment’ presentations, and listened to the pushy sales people. Glad we didn’t get sucked into it. You probably can find better deals for that maintenance cost payment!
    Priya recently posted…Postcards from the Golden Gate Bridge!My Profile

  4. I think timeshares are a waste at the end of the day. I went on a tour of them a couple of times solely for the purpose of free things. They really sell you, but for all of that you can just buy a place and turn it into a rental property when your not there.
    Holly recently posted…App of the Month: SkyScannerMy Profile

  5. Timeshare sales folks will be the sweetest people and if they cant sell to you, they’ll even try pressure sales, I was in Orlando and the Timeshare company lured me by offering cheap tickets to Universal Studios, I didnt buy

  6. Ah, so sorry to hear that Anda but thank you for sharing your story for others to learn from. I have heard mixed reviews, mostly bad, from people who ended up getting timeshares in various locations. Now we all know to stay away!
    Alyssa | Adjust Your Focus™ recently posted…A 5-Star ExperienceMy Profile

  7. Ugh. This topic makes my blood boil. My husband and I were suckered into purchasing a timeshare during our honeymoon in Cabo San Lucas. I was skeptical from the beginning but he was very excited about the prospect and, being newly married, why wouldn’t I want to agree to something that would make my husband happy? We never did get back to “our” unit in Cabo San Lucas, but we were able to trade our week for time in a beautiful house in the North Carolina mountains. Still, not worth the money we’d already put forth. That’s when we decided to sell it and everything went south from there. On the other hand, we have friends with a timeshare and they are in love with it. So, perhaps it’s a dice roll.
    Francesca (@WorkMomTravels) recently posted…3 Philadelphia architectural sites not to be missedMy Profile

    • The ones who are “happy” with their timeshares are usually those whose travel destinations and vacations schedules are dictated by the availability of the timeshare.

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