Enduring a high-pressure timeshare presentation was never on my must-do list. Then again, it’s not that difficult to lure me in with the promise of a cheap vacation when all you’re asking for is two hours of my time.
It all started when I received an offer from Holiday Inn Vacation Club: five nights at the Holiday Inn Orange Lake Resort in Orlando, Fla., for a grand total of $299. That’s just $59-ish per night in case anyone is counting, and the trip included a two-bedroom condo with all the comforts of home and then some.
We’d planned to take our kids to Disney World one day anyway, so I went ahead and pulled the trigger. And since we had a two-bedroom condo, we invited my daughter’s best friend and her parents along, too.
There was just one little catch. All we had to do in exchange for this great price was sit through the dreaded and infamous two-hour timeshare presentation on site.
This was annoying, yes — but I figured it couldn’t be that bad. While timeshare presentations are notorious for their brutal and unforgiving sales tactics, there was no way they could force me to buy into it… right?
The presentation itself was scheduled for our third day at Orange Lake Resort. This was after we had already visited the Magic Kingdom, and we’d decided to make it a pool day for our crew. So we left our kids with our friends from home and set out for our presentation. We weren’t sure what to expect, or how miserable the sales spiel would make us.
When we arrived, we had to fill out the basic paperwork you might expect – a questionnaire gauging our interest in travel, a signed sheet that confirmed our annual household income, and an affidavit that said we don’t work for the resort or one of its affiliates.
Then we were off. The first salesman we dealt with, Darren, stole us away for a golf car ride around the enormous resort. Riding from building to building, we got a feel for the place, visited two furnished timeshare models, and saw all the pools, lazy rivers, and splash pads for ourselves.
Orange Lake Resort in Orlando is undoubtedly huge – it feels more like an actual town than a resort. We were actually impressed with the grounds themselves, the way each lawn was manicured with precision, and how the entire place looked clean and fresh. But we knew our joy ride would be over soon, and the heavy sales pitch would begin.
Once our tour was over, we were taken to a sales building where we were offered snacks and coffee or water. Then our salesman set down with us to discuss our travel and vacation goals.
“What are your travel dreams?” he asked, flipping through photos of his own family vacations.
I have to admit, he had taken quite a few. From hiking in beautiful mountains to staying in top resorts in Hawaii, Darren had seen and explored a lot.
Since I was deeply curious as to how timeshares work these days, I didn’t let on right away that we weren’t interested and, instead, let him continue. And that’s when I learned the many ways timeshares have changed over the years.
The timeshares of the past were much more fixed and rigid than some offered today, Darren told me. Where you once got a fixed week or set of weeks each year without much flexibility, some of today’s timeshare programs, including the Holiday Inn Vacation Club, function with a point-based system instead.
With a point-based system, timeshare owners are able to pick any week or dates they want – and can get “discounted stays” that cost fewer points if they travel at off-peak times. As an added bonus, the points system allows people to book partial weeks or long weekends, and book larger or smaller accommodations based on the size of their group on a given trip.
Our sales presentation went on to include more details on the various resorts you could book using the points system. Members can use their points for resorts outside of the immediate Holiday Inn Vacation Club network, including at InterContinental Hotel Group properties in Italy, Amsterdam – almost anywhere. They can transfer points to their IHG Rewards account as well.
That was pretty cool, I thought, because the old way timeshares were sold – with rigid fixed weeks at one resort – doesn’t work for everyone. Personally, for example, I prefer to travel Tuesday through Tuesday, because flights are almost always cheaper. Plus, I really hate the idea of being forced to travel the same week every year.
Saying ‘No’ to the Hard Sell
I thought the new points structure was pretty cool, but I was immediately turned off by the next segment of our presentation – pricing. We sat and listened while Darren explained our options, noting that you pay an up-front price for your timeshare, but are also responsible for property taxes and annual maintenance fees that varied depending on your package.
While there were several levels of pricing and point accumulation, by and large, the timeshares we looked at started at around $17,000.
My husband and I braced ourselves for the hard sell. Because, as we all know, high-pressure sales tactics don’t necessarily ramp up until you actually say “no.”
When we finally got the point across that we were absolutely, unequivocally not interested, Darren seemed to take the hint. He still came back with a few zingers and follow-up questions, but he eventually relented and let us move on.
Of course, he was only the first sales person we would have to turn down. A few minutes later, Darren’s manager showed up to find out how we could possibly turn down their offer.
We already travel a lot on our own, we explained, and we do so rather frugally. I was honest about the fact that I liked their product, but also that it wasn’t for us. Darren’s manager seemed to understand and let us move on – again – to our last and final salesman.
This guy was charged with making a last-ditch effort for our business, plus driving us back to our car when we were done. He spent a few more minutes going over their packages and explaining what we could be missing out on, then invited us to come back for another inexpensive timeshare trip.
My husband firmly told him “no,” this time, and he seemed fine with it.
“We just want you to enjoy yourself and come back,” he said, adding that we could still book this hotel and stay at any IHG property whether we bought a timeshare or not.
Then he drove us to our car and that was that.
I have to admit, my husband and I expected a lot more pressure than that. We have heard countless stories of timeshare sales techniques that were brutal and bullying, and we have heard many, many people say that their timeshare presentation lasted much longer than was planned.
Ours took two hours on the dot, and we never felt overly pressured or bullied in any way. I could tell they were pushing us at times, but it wasn’t so bad that I felt defensive or uncomfortable in any way.
I liked the timeshares themselves – with their large living areas, multiple bathrooms, and the many other resort options you can book with your points.
With timeshares, what bothers me is the fact that you pay for ownership upfront, then continue paying for maintenance fees and taxes as long as you’re an owner. And you might end up owning them much longer than you ever intended – some timeshares can be extremely difficult to sell.
In that respect, I tend to believe that a timeshare is an awful investment. I mean, why spend that money when you can easily rent hotels or condos online, for any dates that you want, and without restrictions or rules to follow?
When I later explained that point of view to Pat Connolly, chief customer officer for Orange Lake Resorts, he basically said that timeshares were never meant to be an investment that grew in value.
“In reality, it is an investment in yourself, your family, and the time you spend together making memories,” he said, adding that timeshares offer something else you can’t get when you book through VRBO or Hotels.com – continuity.
“The other issue is that people do not understand the type of accommodations and flexibility timeshare provides,” he said. “Our resorts provide larger accommodations, more resort amenities, extra activities, and a consistent vacation experience.”
After spending several nights at the resort, I can totally see that now. Not only was our condo nicer than anything I have ever booked through VRBO, but there were nonstop resort activities going on, from outdoor movies to contests and games. Plus, there were myriad on-site restaurants and arcades to visit. When you rent a vacation condo to get more space, you don’t always get these options.
Another woman I spoke to on the property, a timeshare owner, echoed these same sentiments to me. After saying that she owned several timeshares, including one through Holiday Inn Club Vacations, she told me it was the best money she spent each year.
“I like the routine of it,” she said, adding that she likes to visit the same resorts every year at around the same time. And because she has a timeshare, she is guaranteed a certain type of room and a certain level of quality she has come to expect.
“It’s like prepaying your vacation for your entire life,” she told me. “That’s how I see my timeshares at least.”
Circling back, her explanation sounded similar to what Connelly told me. “Vacations are a personal benefit, not a typical financial investment that seeks traditional financial returns,” he said.
It’s hard to argue with that. I mean, is a brand-new, $40,000 truck a good deal or sound investment? Probably not, but lots of people love their vehicles and enjoy buying one every few years regardless of the fact new cars depreciate in value in the time it takes to accelerate from zero to 60.
And the same can be said for nearly any grown-up toy purchased for our enjoyment – like a boat or a jet ski, for example. All of them can bring you joy and help you make memories with your family — but there’s no denying their value drops like a rock.
Timeshares aren’t really much different, except that you’ll pay for ongoing maintenance and fees for the rest of your life or until you sell it or pass it down. But for some people, apparently, it’s worth it.
It’s true that I found their product puzzling. But then again, I tend to find most items people spend money on confusing as well.
Personally, I like the idea of booking whatever vacation I want whenever I want, without the worry of rules or dates or points or anything else. My husband and I also try, as a rule, to never spend too much on depreciating assets.
Finally, I would never commit voluntarily to a scenario that required me to fork over cash for taxes and maintenance for the rest of my life. Not only does it not fit in with my lifestyle, but it sounds scary as hell.
Still, we got a very cheap vacation for our trouble, and it wasn’t that hard to say “no.” And if anyone asked me, I would definitely suggest sitting through a timeshare promotion to get a cheap or free hotel deal for your family if you’re the type who can stick to your guns. At the very least, you’ll get a tour of a property you might want to visit again in the future.
The key to resisting the high-pressure sales component is standing firm in your decision to decline. Simply say “no thanks” enough times, to enough salespeople, and they will eventually relent.
And no matter what, always remember that no one can force you to buy anything. No one. Your vacation dollars are, and have always been, yours to spend — so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Have you ever sat through a timeshare sales pitch? How does your experience compare? Also, we would love to hear from timeshare owners: How do you feel about your purchase? Was your timeshare a good deal?