The Best Way to Buy a Time Share: Don't

“Time shares” are vacation homes that you buy the right to live in for a certain period every year. Theoretically, you and the other “owners” get to “own” a resort retreat for a fraction of the cost of outright ownership.

In reality, time-shares seem to be good for two things: 1) free room and board at a vacation destination in exchange for listening to a high-pressure sales pitch and 2) sucking a ton of money out of your bank account. They don’t seem to serve any other useful purpose. Smart Money writes:

The state of Missouri, for example, just shut down a group of time-share operators for taking a total of $1.8 million from some 40 residents ages 64 to 86 without telling them they’d bear sole responsibility for managing their Cancun condos. In addition, many time-share buyers are surprised by a host of issues: unexpected fees, problems trading weeks, disappointment in the quality or location of the property, or that the return fails to appear.

So, stay away from time-shares, unless you posses cast-iron nerves to withstand the sales barrage, and doing so is worth the “free” trip.FREE MONEY FINANCE

The Time-Share Industry: Caveat Emptor [Smart Money]


Edit Your Comment

  1. B says:

    Okay, timeshares are out, but should I buy this jar of snake oil?

  2. JustAGuy2 says:

    If you must buy one, at least buy it in the secondary market or on eBay – you can get them for at least 50% off the original selling price.

  3. jeffj-nj says:

    50% off the original price? Why would someone sell it that low?

    Oh, right… because they’re desperate to get rid of it.

    I’m reminded of something my father told me when I was 16 and shopping through the newspaper for my first used car. I told him I wanted a Geo Tracker (I knew nothing about cars) (at all) (obviously).

    He asked why, and I responded, “Because they’re easy to find and they’re cheap.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Well, look. There’s tons of them for sale, and they cost less than just about everything else listed.”

    “And, doesn’t that tell you something?”

    “(pause) …. ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Right. Yeah, so, nevermind. I don’t want a Geo Tracker.”

    Man was I dumb.

    Seriously, though, I bring this up because that was some pretty solid advice. If you can look on eBay and find something for considerably less than its original retail price, you should really ask yourself why that is.

  4. handyrae says:

    My mother’s boss and his wife used to go on frequent free timeshare weekend go-sees. When the sales pitch came, his pat reply was “we have to go home and pray about it.” It stopped the saleperson in their tracks and got them out the door. I’ve always wanted to try that tactic, but am afraid I couldn’t say it with enough sincerity to be believable.

  5. FatLynn says:

    They like it when you take their free stuff and then admit in the presentation that you never had any intention of buying.

  6. BuddhaLite says:

    Our family has a time share property in Williamsburg VA that was inherited from one of my grandparents. I know at the time my parents were fairly upset that they would spend their money but it’s now used as a gathering place where family members can get together once a year on the cheap. The other benefit is that when they bought the unit it was only one unit. But because of a change in the law they were later given two units because they didn’t have a firewall in between them. Having nearly 4000 sq/ft and some place that sleeps 12+ people for low yearly fee is great. Glad we have it but would never buy one myself.

  7. jeffj-nj says:

    @handyrae: Greatest response ever. Now, I too want to try that.

  8. chrisgoh says:

    There are lots of different types of timeshares. Some good, some not. for details of the type.

    Our family has had a fixed week fractional ownership one for probably 20+ years at Sanibel island. The property is kept in great condition and you actually “own” your week. You can rent, sell, pass it on to your heirs, etc.

    The timeshares people have a problem with are where you just are not guaranteed a specific resort or unit. You basically say when you want to go and hope it is not booked then.

  9. Jon Mason says:

    Before getting married to my wife, we went to Florida with some friends, free hotel and Disney tickets in return for timeshare presentation. I didnt want to go as I have heard all the horror stories, but I was unable to convince them to give it up, so I stayed at the hotel while they went to the presentation. Repeatedly warned them that no matter what the sales people said, offered and argued, to not sign anything, not give them any details, no checks etc.

    After waiting for them for SEVEN HOURS – they returned, smiling. “I bought us a timeshare.” my future wife said. I was devastated, and it caused quite the argument between us – needless to say, after pointing out to my wife how much she was actually going to be spending each year for a one-week vacation in Florida, and what we could afford with that money, I persuaded her to cancel within the grace period (thank god for government regulation forcing them to give a cooling off period).

    It still bothers me that people fall for this – if the product was so great, why would they have to offer free stuff just to hear a sales pitch? Why would you not be able to take away a brochure and think about it? Why do you “have to sign today”?

    Even though I know I could sit there and just say “no. no. no.” its not worth my time, aggravation or blood pressure to sit through that kind of thing just to score some freebies. And, my wife learnt the hard way: A) never trust a salesman without checking with other sources, they will lie, make completely invalid comparisons – trying to make the timeshare look like a good deal by comparing with other vacations (but by using inflated prices for them, adding on extras and not adding up the cost of their product truthfully). And B) if something sounds too good to be true – it is.

  10. pestie says:

    My favorite-ever story about timeshares: Revenge on a Telemarketing Scam.

  11. Arlahna says:

    My husband and I own a timeshare in Ft. Lauderdale that’s part of the RCI system. It’s a fairly recent investment and we haven’t had time to use it yet, but we’ll be able to use our week (actually 2 since it’s a two bedroom) whenever we want and wherever. We’re planning on using this to go to Australia some day. Until then we’ll probably stick a little closer to home to save on airfare.

    My point is, though, that not all timeshares are the same. Some of them can actually be a good lifetime investment if you love to travel like we do.

  12. Skeptic says:

    My favorite kind of “TimeShare” is the kind that requires no upfront fees and no maintenance fees, they are called hotels.

    Ok, so that is a bit snarky but I’ve been to golf resorts where they had timeshares and a hotel as part of the same property. The timeshares were rundown and it struck me that there was really no incentive to keep them nice now that they had all been sold and the “owners” never spent more than a few weeks at a time in them.

    The worst stories about TimeShares, I mean “Vacation Ownership,” are those where people buy while on vacation in Mexico or some such and learn to late that all of the promises they have been given are un enforceable since they will have to sue in Mexico where they will be at a complete disadvantage.

  13. balthisar says:

    My father-in-law has a couple of timeshares in Manzanillo, Mexico, on the Pacific coast. They’re deeded, fixed week, fractional ownership timeshares. One of the units he owns all 52 weeks on, and the other unit — between himself and his other kids — collectively own 16 weeks or so, including all of the prime weeks that *everyone* takes vacations on (Christmas-New Years, Easter Week, and so on).

    The place is run like a condominium; your maintenance fee pays for the pools, the maintenance, the groundwork, and the community is building a new recreation center right on the beach. There aren’t any silly gimmicks like trading with people, being on waiting lists, and all of that nonsense. The downside is if you want to make interior improvements, you’ve got to get all of the owners to agree and cough up proportionally, or just bite the bullet and pay for it yourself.

    Manzanillo’s a hot beach town, and my in-laws can’t possibly use all of their weeks, so he rents out most of his empty weeks to large families that would otherwise have to rent multiple, high-priced hotel rooms. In fact, last New Year’s he found another owner in a nearby unit that wasn’t there, and set up a rental deal so that some good friends could come and spend time with us while we were there.

    It’s really nice enough that I’ve considered buying my own weeks until my wife reminds me that it’s cheaper just to keep leaching (well, we buy the groceries and I fix things when we’re there).

  14. sfinkster7 says:

    I own a timeshare with Disney for the past 5 years. We have only used it at Disney once, but have traded it for ski vacation condos, and currently are booked on a cruise to Alaska with Disney vacation club points. Unlike other timeshares where you are locked to a certain week with Disney you buy points which are redeemable at any Disney resort, you get priority booking at your ‘home’ resort and priority over outsiders at other resorts, we have never had a problem using our points. Disney does have a clause in their timeshare agreement where they have right of first refusal to purchase your timeshare back before it goes on the open market. I have found that we get great trading value for our timeshare and it has allowed us to stay in Disney property which we could not have afforded otherwise. Lets face it, it is not a bargain by any means but forced us to go on vacations that were not visiting family, which made them much better vacations.

  15. Beerad says:

    Yeah, my family has a few weeks through Mariott’s timeshare program. The properties are always super-nice and well maintained, there’s an extensive list of exchanges available, and it’s a great way to secure a big vacation spot for lots of people to travel together (10-16). Nothing scammy, and the sales pitches aren’t particularly evil. I’d say like everything else it depends on the quality of seller/operator.

  16. Paul D says:

    I’m gonna have to go ahead and um…disagree with you here.

    My folks own three (3!) timeshares. Kissimee, Las Vegas, and somewhere in NY. And they couldn’t be happier.

    It’s just like owning property, or real estate. You have to make sure you buy in the right place. The three that we have are all but guaranteed never to lose value. (I say “we” because I hope to inherit at least one of them when my folks kick the bucket.) The ones people are trying to get rid of on eBay or whatever were usually just sh!tty deals to begin with.

    My old man is a notorious tightass, cautious to a fault when it comes to investments, yet he’s never complained about the cost of the timeshares. Of course, you actually have to use it to get your money’s worth.

    And use it we do.

    Dad got me and my wife a week in Puerto Vallarta for our honeymoon by trading his week in Florida. A week in a 5-star resort/hotel in Paris for me n’ the wife at the end of this month. And we’re all looking forward to a family getaway in Vegas this winter.

    Wherefore the hate?

  17. alterboy says:

    @Arlahna: My now wife and I went through an RCI timeshare demo and it actually wasn’t completely worthless. That is if you have a lot of extra cash and are planning on traveling a lot. They got down to their cheapest rate which if I remember correctly was 179 a month. At that point it was pretty worthless because you got a one room share and pretty much every date you would want to travel for was blacked out and you only got one week a year. Basically if you are rich and plan on spending a few grand a year on hotel expenses it’s worth it. Was the Demo worth my time? that’s debatable. I was only in town for the weekend and it ate up 3 hours of my weekend long vacation.

  18. cgmaetc says:

    @handyrae: that’s EXACTLY what I say when I go to them! The go-sees are fun and lucrative, if you have the sense enough to say no. Trust, when I get in a better financial position, I will seriously consider buying one.

    My parents owned a timeshare in Big Bear Lake, Ca, right by the snow resorts for about 15 years and NEVER went to it. When they sold it at a loss, they complained about what a waste of money it was. I had to (gently) point out that they were always too busy to go, and if they lost money it was their own dang fault. What really pisses me off is that now since I’m an avid snowboarder, and Big Bear is only an hour away, I can’t take advantage of it or buy it from my parents one day.

  19. asplodzor says:

    I stayed in a very nice timeshare in Vegas over this last CES that I found through an agency like It was easily the nicest accommodations that I have ever stayed in for the price in the US. Mind you though, I only essentially rented out the place, I didn’t buy a stake in it.

  20. cgmaetc says:

    @jeffj-nj: interesting, because i usually find great deals on real designer clothes, purses, and shoes on ebay. why pay full price on overpriced items when you can get them at a discount?

  21. morydd says:

    I’ll have to agree with the people who said that timeshares aren’t all bad. My grandparents purchased 2 and have given a week to my wife an I twice. We’ve never had to sit through any kind of marketing, and both places we stayed were very nice. From our perspective, they were not very much different than a hotel, except they had a kitchen so we were able to save quite a bit of money on food. You’re buying real-estate. Do your research just like any other investment.

  22. mfergel says:

    I think my wife and I have had one for about 10 years now. We bought in Kissemmee. We use it every year, typically going to Kissemmee every other year and then going somewhere else on the others. In fact, we are going to the mountains in Tennessee next week. Yeah, the maintenance fees can get you and yes, they add up to about the cost of a hotel room for the same period……..however, our room is usually 3 rooms (large bedroom, large living room area and large kitchen). You’ll never get that out of a hotel. On a number of occasions we’ve even gotten a bigger room. Also, ours is also one of those that is willed for life. Many of them give you 10 years (or another fixed time) at which point they expire. Ultimately, some are really bad deals and you have to be real careful.

  23. mfergel says:

    Also, in terms of buying them used (ebay, etc) you have to be careful because many of the options aren’t available. For example, we can give away our time, purchase additional time, discounted event tickets, etc. Most of the time, you don’t get that option when buying used. It’s kind of like buying the timeshare but not buying the contract. Before buying used, you may need to check with the timeshare company to see if they honor everything that came with the original purchase.

  24. gamble says:

    I’m still stuck on the fact that there are time shares in Missouri.

  25. Nytmare says:

    They call it ownership but it’s more like a rental with automatic renewal.

    They call their sales pitches “free vacations” and everyone falls for that line, even people who know what they’re pitching. In reality they are neither free, nor a vacation. Why help those salesmen by spreading their exact doctrine? Stop it.

  26. Havok154 says:

    My parents along with my aunt and uncle have RCI outside Orlando. We were told we could go anywhere we wanted UNTIL we actually tried to. They told us Aruba and Hawaii would be no problem, too bad there was never anything available. We were able to go to Hilton Head a couple years and we’ve used the Florida one many times. The point I’m getting at is when you buy it, you better be buying with the thought that you will only be able to go to the place you actually purchased. If you end up getting something else, that’s great, but don’t plan on it.

  27. My step-grandma had a time share at a ski resort, which she bought for dirt cheap because she bought two weeks IN THE SUMMER. It was so awesome. We’d go up to the mountains when it was hot as hell down here and it’d be beautiful up there, and quiet and empty and everything was cheap because it was off season. Loved it.

  28. badgeman46 says:

    Talk about getting hosed!!!! I fail to see ANY value in a timeshare. For example, last time I went to Orlando, I used priceline and stayed at the Omni Resort for $109 a night. New years eve we stayed at the Hyatt Grand Cypress Resort for $119 a night. Priceline again. I reckon a timeshare would give you a nice screwing for a couple grand, y’know, “red weeks.” And the best part isthe hotel actually takes care of the property!!!

  29. MeOhMy says:

    I just don’t get them. People say you’re buying real estate, but has anyone ever sold their time share for more than they paid for it?

    You folks that want to use yours to go to Australia some day? How much are you paying for the time share? Couldn’t you just save the money for the trip on your own?

  30. mmcnary says:

    My dad bought an executive membership at Lost Valley Lake, which was selling for ~15K at the time, from a woman who was selling her membership because she no longer used it. He paid ~2500 for it, and it came with all of the benefits. Our family has gone down to the lake several times for group vacations, and I have used the facilities for just our family as well.

    Why did he buy it? He needed a place for RV storage, which was included in the membership, and it was a lot cheaper than the storage lots around where he lived…

  31. anatak says:

    @Paul D:

    The arguments against time shares that I’m familiar with – other than many being a rip off – are:
    – You’re signing up to take your vacation at the same time and in the same place every single year.
    – If and when you wan to unload it, you’ll find that the market is quite stinko (like the aforementioned comments about half price on Ebay)
    – Theres a lot of dishonesty and scams surrounding the initial sales.

    Thats where a lot of the backlash comes from.

  32. Wormfather says:

    I used to work for Fairfield Resorts. The reason why people usually sell the times shares is the maintenence fees. When selling times shares they kind of gloss over this when selling them to you but before you know it you’ve got an $90 a month fee to pay on top of your “mortgage”.

    I think I might still have my selling materials somewhere.

  33. jeffj-nj says:

    @cgmaetc: I didn’t say don’t buy stuff on eBay. Heck, I do all the time. I just said that when something can consistantly and easily be found for much less than retail, you should probably ask yourself why that is.

    In your case, I might suspect those “real designer” items possibly aren’t. Of course, if they still smell good, hold stuff, or do whatever else they’re supposed to do, they’d still be good enough for me.

  34. jeffj-nj says:

    @pestie: Sorry, but honestly, that story was extremely lame.

  35. nidolke says:

    I’ll just book a hotel and save the hassle.

  36. joeblevins says:

    Why would anyone be paying 40k and a yearly fee for a freaking week at what amounts to a really nice hotel room?

    I notice lots of people talking about how great they are, but few posting the actual costs.

  37. pestie says:

    @jeffj-nj: Thanks for sharing! Your opinion is very important to us! Please stay on the line and a representative will be with you shortly.

  38. I recently attended one of this type of timeshare sales thing.

    For $41K I could buy 7000 points, however, they don’t tell you how many days that 7000 points is worth.

    I got it all documented here:


  39. Anonymous says:

    Does anyone know if there is a Class Action suit against Shell Vacations LLC, specifically regarding the resort Crotched Mountain Resort & Spa? We purchased in 2005 and to date nothing promised or purchased for that point exists, We purchased as we were promised a lifetime membership to the culbhouse that would be finished winter of 2005 every six months it is pushed up 6 months and that is still the case 5 years later, the only change is maintenance fess in 5 years have more than doubled.