June 17, 2006 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
I received an offer from Marriott Hotels for a three night, 4 day package at one of their time-share properties, and all I have to do is to pay less than $200 and attend a 90-minute sales presentation. In discussing this with friends, I have been warned of high pressure sales tactics. I would like your opinion of both Marriott and time-shares in general. I must tell you that I have a tough time saying no, at least that’s what my wife says, and she is the one beside me, telling me what to write in this e-mail! Thanks, Teddy from Hanford.
Understand time-shares before you attend
Traveling to California, Mexico, Hawaii, Palm Springs, Las Vegas, or to Florida vacation destinations? If so, you are going to be offered the chance to purchase your very own piece of “Vacation Paradise,” through ownership of a time-share property. Often the sales presentations begin before you leave the airport, with attractive billboard-type banner ads and strategically located “information” booths you can’t miss on your way out.
Boiled down to the basics, a time-share is the purchase of a right to occupy a hotel unit, resort condominium or other vacation property for a set period of time, usually one to two weeks. These weeks can be used at your “home” resort, or exchanged for use at some other property at home or overseas.
Ownership can take the form of an actual “deed” to property, but may not. The typical time-share owner is a couple who enjoy golf, skiing, or other outdoor activities, want high quality and safe accommodations located in prime vacation spots, near to or at a golf course. The time-share concept had its beginning in Europe – in the skiing regions of France and Switzerland, fueled by such slogans as, “Why rent the room? Buy the HOTEL, it’s cheaper!”
While a lot of owners like the concept, it is the way they are sold and complexity in using time-shares that often creates a questionable image. I should state at the outset that properties operated by the Marriott Hotels are generally considered as being among the best, both in terms of quality and honesty in the sales presentations, according to industry observers.
A tough sell with flawed reasoning
“Time-share salespeople are some of the best in a difficult industry,” I was told by someone truly in the know. His name is Bill Rogers and for several years has been running a Web site for time-share owners – Timeshare Users Group.com. A time-share owner himself, Bill understands this business better than most and his site is a must look at before you attend a sales presentation.
“When you think of it, the typical time-share presentation is from 90 minutes to about 3 hours, and in that time these salespeople need to persuade you to spend from $25,000 to $50,000 and to not leave their sight, for if you do, they know the sale is lost. So, they create an irresistible offer – an add on, a freebie that seems just impossible to walk away from. It’s now or you lose this great offer, and this is what often cements the deal. Often, if you walk away and phone the salesperson back a few days later, magically that same incentive could easily be offered again. Also, and it is sad but true, what is delivered may be far different from what was described on paper,” he told me.
A good time-share salesperson will discover your vacation habits – where you stay, how much you spend – and then chart out an inflation indexed look at how much hotel rooms will cost you over the next 5, 10, 20 years. Always those room charges increase – even though in reality hotel rates have dramatically come down for savvy users of the Internet. Don’t want to stay at the Palm Spring Sunburn Hotel every July? Well, then you can transfer your room credits to another property in a different location, easily … goes the sales presentation. Maybe, but maybe not so easily done.
Today, many corporations – such as Marriott – use a complex rewards point system in which your one or two weeks can be translated into airline miles, or credits to use at other hotels. I am certain that for many customers, timeshares are a right choice – but the objection often raised is that you are not given much time to objectively consider this huge purchase or to evaluate the dollar value of the points or credits offered. This is not to say that there is anything wrong, rather it is a matter of the customer’s ability to process a large amount of information within a couple of hours that directly impacts on a buying decision. Therein lies the pressure.
In May of 2006, I attended a Marriott time-share presentation in the Palm Springs area and was impressed by a lack of high pressure, and a salesman ready to answer all of my questions. But I was also given a relatively large amount of information and virtually no time to evaluate it as you would do for a major purchase. “Our 250,000 bonus reward points offer will expire at 4 p.m. today,” we were told by the closer we were handed after the main presentation. While, as I have earlier stated, I have nothing against time-shares in general, I am opposed to these kinds of “say yes now or lose the great freebie” approach. For me, it is a turn-off.
“As far as Marriott is concerned, they are a good company and do not engage in the kinds of shaky sales tactics that some other timeshare companies do, as the good name of Marriott would suffer and they do not want that,” Bill Rogers told me. I have to agree, after having attended other time-share presentations in the past that put the “S” in Sleaze. Our salesman, Shelly, struck me as being on the level and a genuinely decent guy.
But this does not mean that I recommend time-share as an investment. When you factor in such things as yearly maintenance and taxes – which can easily amount to well over $1,000 a year – combined with well known problems in using points or exchanging weeks – it is a purchase that requires great consideration and the luxury they might not want you to have: Time.
If you buy a time-share in haste – which is the way most of these companies want you to do – California law provides a cooling off right. Space limitation prevents me from going into that further, but remember to act quickly if you wish to cancel a time-share contract.
By the way, when I phoned Shelly a week later and asked if I could still have the 250,000 Rewards Points if I bought the time-share, he said, “Let me check with my manager.” On came the manager, a chap who sounds like the little green lizard from the GEICO auto insurance TV commercial and said, “Indeed you can. We’ll give you the points incentive, if you give us a commitment today.”
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.