Advertisement

An Inside Look at Starwood Vacation Ownership

by on July 26, 2013 · 43 comments

in Starwood, Timeshares

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Update: The offers mentioned below for the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Cards from American Express has expired. View the current offers here – personal, business.

Timeshares can often be a topic of scorn, humor or even horror – especially if aggressive sales people constantly hound you with calls or hard pitches for seminars during your vacation. However, timeshares – or even just going and listening to a presentation – can also open up a new world of affordable vacation options and even earn you valuable points and miles at the same time. In this new series, I’ll be covering the timeshare options from the major chains starting with Starwood and including an inside look at its Vacation Network program from the perspective of a customer who just bought into it.

Starwood Vacation Network is a collection of 19 properties primarily located across the U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean where you can buy into one property and be able to stay there a week or a few weeks each year.

Owners of a villa resort timeshare can exchange a week in their Home Resort for a reservation in any of the 19 villa resorts in the collection without paying an additional fee (booking up to eight months to a week in advance your desired trip on a first come, first serve basis), or even convert your week into Starpoints to use on award nights at other properties.

Sheraton

The Sheraton Desert Oasis in Scottsdale, AZ, is one of the 19 locations in the Villa Collection.

The 19 locations in the Villa Collection are below, and to become an owner you have to contact their sales team.

Arizona: 

California: 

Colorado: 

Florida:

Hawaii:

South Carolina:

Caribbean:

Mexico:

Breakdown of the Starwood Vacation Network Program

However, you don’t have to stay at your own resort or even any of the 19 Villa Resorts to take advantage of your timeshare ownership. The Starwood Vacation Network incorporates Starwood’s 1,100+ hotels and resorts in all nine Starwood brands in conjunction with the Starwood Preferred Guest program.

Breakdown of the Starwood Vacation Network.

Breakdown of the Starwood Vacation Network.

As an owner, you automatically get Gold Preferred Status in the Starwood Preferred Guest program with the following perks when staying at Starwood hotels:

  • 3 Starpoints for every eligible dollar spent
  • Late 4 p.m. check-out, when available
  • Welcome gift at check-in
  • Dedicated customer service telephone line
  • Enhanced or upgraded room, when available

The Friendship Rewards program also awards owners with bonuses of 20,000 Starpoints or 400 Resort Credits when they refer someone who then becomes an owner.

Staroptions …rpoints

The difference between StarOptions and Starpoints.

Owners earn StarOptions, which are similar to Starpoints but different. StarOptions can be used to experience a different villa resort, change your villa size, change your season or enjoy a flexible length of stay. Whereas Starpoints are your more conventional rewards program, which you can redeem for free nights, flights on partner airlines or other special offers.

Starwood Vacation Rental

Starwood Vacation Rental Elite Ownership Privileges.

Elite status ownership offers even more privileges such as extended banking periods, a Starpoints conversion fee waiver (when you want to exchange your week for points), and the earning of bonus Starpoints. An Elite Owner is someone who has purchased multiple Starwood units from a resort, entitling them to additional perks. These units must have been purchased from the developer, or requalified, to count toward elite status.

Level 4 and 5 Elite Owners don’t have to pay the $99 conversion fee when converting their week to Starpoints, and they can convert as late as October 1 for the year. For full details of the perks of Elite Ownership, click here.

Owners also get discounts from Starwood travel partners, including:

  • Travelocity Partner Network
  • TripInsured
  • Signature Cruises operated by CruisesOnly
  • GolfNow
  • Luggage Forward
  • Avis
  • Hawaiian Airlines
VROB

Booking a vacation rental through a site like VRBO can be more cost-effective and flexible than buying a timeshare.

Starwood Vacation Owners Tell Me About The Program

I wanted to get an understanding the owner-experience more, so I talked to several Starwood Vacation Owners about their experiences buying into the program and the perks it confers.

Starwood Vacation Ownership Locations.

Starwood Vacation Ownership Locations.

According to the owners I talked to, Starwood offers many different packages depending on how often and at what level you want to travel. Packages are sold in “weeks” and the total number of StarOptions awarded each year coincides with a 7-day stay at a resort.  Some resorts are in higher categories (like those in Hawaii) and can require up to double the StarOptions than other resorts do for the same week.

Plan costs vary – and there is room to negotiate – but just based on the anecdotal evidence, it sounds like plans average around $15,000 for one week and include either 44,000 StarOptions to be used at your home resort – the equivalent of about a one-bedroom condo at most resorts – or can be converted into 26,000 Starpoints to be used at any Starwood hotel.

Starwood Vacation Network offers financing, and you can even pay the entire amount on a credit card – though I contacted American Express and was told that if you use your Starwood Amex, you will not receive the 2X points per $1 you normally would on Starwood charges since Vacation Network charges don’t count.

The Westin Ka'anapali Ocean Villas.

The Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Villas.

Like the buy-in, annual fees vary and owners pay a yearly ownership association fee that tends to be around $800-$1,000 per year, though that depends what resort you bought into and what size package/condo you bought.

The Westin Lagunamar Resort in Cancun is TPG reader Sean's home resort.

The Westin Lagunamar Resort in Cancun is the Mexico SVN resort.

There are also sign-up bonuses to entice new owners, and one of the people I talked to received 80,000 bonus Starpoints for buying in (which also translates into 100,000 airline miles thanks to SPG’s 25% bonus on 20,000-point transfers), as well as the opportunity to buy two more packages of 80,000 points for $1,500 each. That breaks down to a rate of about 1.875 cents per point – and is something I might consider since I can often get much higher values from my Starpoints.

One owner also reported receiving a one-time welcome gift of a free 7-day, 6-night stay at their home resort to use within a year of buying into the program in addition to the StarOption points they received to redeem for their annual week at the resort – so essentially they got two weeks for the price of one the first year.
When it comes to the flexibility of redeeming their StarOptions at other resorts, the people I spoke with all basically concurred that one of the reasons they bought into Starwood Vacation Network was that it is not like a traditional timeshare and that they are able to stay at pretty much any resort they choose for as many days as they’d like up to the number of weeks they have bought. Not only that, but thanks to the fact that their ownership is noted on their guest profiles and they have lifetime Gold status, many report that they are extremely satisfied with the treatment they get at Starwood and are given preferential services and upgrades when they travel.
Also in terms of flexibility, Starwood will let owners bank their weeks from one year to the next so that they can then redeem two weeks in a single year or possibly trade up to a higher category resort and use their week their instead.
Westin Lagunamar Ocean Villas.

The Westin Lagunamar Ocean Villas.

My Thoughts
Personally, I don’t own any timeshares nor have any desire to at this time. I usually can get a good deal booking a hotel directly or through a lucrative points redemption. When it comes to Starwood, if you are looking for some quick easy SPG points, both the Starwood Amex Personal or Business card are offering 25,000 bonus SPG points after spending $5,000 in the first three months for a total of 50,000 SPG points.

Before you consider a timeshare, I would encourage you to check out sites like VRBO.com or Home Exchange. With a timeshare you will have to pay the annual maintenance fee, which could end up being more than renting a place for one week (after all, in the case of some of Starwood’s packages, you could be paying well over $1,000 a year just in maintenance fees), so that’s something to consider. If you are still convinced a timeshare is for you, do your research and look for some resale options since you can sometimes get them for 50% off what would cost to buy directly from Starwood.

Do you own any Starwood timeshares or any other ones? What has your experience been with them?

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Previous post:

Next post:

  • Jeremy

    Generally the systems that allow resale buyers the same, or largely the same perks as developer owners are the ones to buy into. Hilton is good because the perks they remove from resale are generally worthless (oh what a nice rug you get to check in on, and that fancy key card). Hyatt is also good, but they do take away the conversion of Hyatt Vacation points to Gold Passport from resale buyers. Taking into account the purchase price (even on resale) and the annual maintenance fees for a unit, exchanging for hotel points in any program is a poor use of club points.

    As an example, imagine trading in your 7 nights in a two bedroom condo at the Hilton Grand Vacations Club at the Hilton Hawaiian Village for 175,000 HH points. The maintenance fees alone are around $1,400 for that week, not including the likely resale purchase price of over $16,000. I don’t know if anyone on here would pay $1,400 for 175k HH points.

    It’s also good to choose a system that has it’s own internal trades. For most buyers Marriott trades through II, not internally or by points (except for new developer buyers and developer owners who paid a bunch of money to convert). Most systems are Friday to Friday or Saturday to Saturday weeks that must be traded. Hilton and Hyatt are all points, so you can choose room sizes and dates based on your schedule, spreading an ownership over multiple weeks in smaller units. They also work in RCI and II respectively to add thousands of resorts as options.

    I personally own in Hilton because they have been expanding and their points are easy to use. Their hotel program is a joke, but their timeshare system is not.

    Buying from the developer is not a good deal and the resale market does not support the prices charged. Never, ever buy from the developer. Ever. Hop on eBay or tug2.net or redweek.com for resales in the programs you have interest in.

  • Steve

    Thanks, I like the fact that you’re providing so much detail on topics many others don’t write about.

  • Jeremy

    I’d also add that the type of week one buys is relevant to pricing. Paying $15,000 to enter into Starwood is likely a week that will be selling for $1 on eBay in a few years. The developer pricing on weeks that have real value to own (and use) also end up having some value on resale. A two bedroom diamond week in Hyatt may go for over $10,000 on resale after being sold by a developer for $40,000. A one bedroom silver week may go for $500 after being sold for $15,000 by the developer. Since a silver week gives so few points, one is relegated to off seasons in small units. The buyer of a larger unit in a prime season will have the flexibility to visit all the resorts in the system during any time of the year.

    One last note on the value after a resale purchase. One is not limited to just the 7 days or stretched days off points used in smaller units and off seasons. Open season offers $80 to $120 nights at resorts when booked 30 days out. If I’m going to visit Orlando or Vegas, I don’t use points, I just pay the open season cash rate because there are always rooms available and conserve my points for resorts like Hawaii where planning ahead is required. In this sense, the locations in the system can be used more like a hotel. When I can score a few nights on South Beach or NYC, I grab them and go.

  • CVG_Traveler

    I own a Starwood timeshare and I think it is a good value – IF (and only if) you buy the right property at the right price with the right terms. People who are considering ownership should thoroughly research their targeted program at http://www.tugbbs.com to get the upsides/downsides (the Starwood FAQ is at http://www.tugbbs.com/forums/showthread.php?s=8b2207b5e7e174e57cb1ac6dc4e3596a&t=63224 ). The annual maintenance fees (with their annual increases) vary widely. In general, with most of the big timeshare systems, you are better off buying in the desert and using your points to trade into other locations. For example, Arizona or Las Vegas tend to have the lowest annual fees. Why? There is a reason they park planes in the desert – they don’t decay. Same thing applies to buildings, the upkeep costs less and you generally don’t have to worry about natural calamities like hurricanes or earthquakes. Also, it is generally best to buy a “platinum” (top category) season for maximum booking flexibility. Although the purchase price is higher, the maintenance fee for your villa is exactly the same whether it is platinum, gold, or silver. You get the most value when trading within your system or external systems like RCI or Interval (Starwood works with Interval Intl).

    With most systems, you are generally better off buying resale from ebay, private owners, or reputable real estate agents specializing in timeshares instead of buying from the developer. The price can be 25%-50% of the original price. As you will learn by doing research on tugbbs, the benefits to owners purchasing resale vary from system to system. In the best case, a system like Hilton gives resale purchasers the same benefits as owners who buy from Hilton. With Starwood, people who buy resale “mandatory” properties (see the FAQ link above) get all the benefits of the owners who buy from Starwood, except they cannot convert StarOptions into Starpoints and the SPG Gold elite status. IMPORTANT: if you buy a “voluntary” property via resale, you don’t get StarOptions and can’t trade within the Starwood network (you have to go externally via Interval).

    Do your homework, then before buying anything, signup for a promotion to check out your target timeshare program. Again, I do not recommend buying from the developer, but you will have a chance to experience their product and get a good vacation at a nice price. To get an invitation, this can be as easy as signing up for “more info” at the developer’s web site or calling them and asking for a promotion. Timeshares can be a great vacation option, especially for families, if you are smart about your purchasing decision.

  • LarryInNYC

    Interesting subject. If you ever do articles on HomeAway or VRBO, feel free to shoot me a line. My family has been apartment renters (Barcelona, Paris) and we also rent an apartment in Manhattan brownstone primarily through HomeAway.

  • Pat

    thought i was going to make it through the article without seeing a pitch to signup for credit card

  • LarryInNYC

    I meant to say we rent out an apartment we own in Manhattan.

  • rabbimoffic

    Marriott seems to have much better sign up bonuses, including the ability to use the Marriott Chase Visa to get 5x the dollar amounts for the points you buy (and maintenance fees and the nights you use at timeshare count for Marriott lifetime platinum status.. I imagine you’ll be looking at Marriott timeshare in a future edition, but these were critical issues for us.

  • SanDiego

    Owners hate them. They are giving away the units they have bought for free to get out of the annual fee. Go to tugbbs.com and take a look.

  • JP

    We own with Marriott Vacation Club, we have used it a ton. Really like their properties, 50+ choices. We are considering a move to premier elite level and vacation even more?

  • general45 aka Bill from maine

    I have 2 separate weeks of timeshare ownership in my home state. My maintenance fees are $590.00 a year for both units. The I.I. exchange is $210.00 total for both units(1 exchange full price/1 half price exchange fee). This year I am actually going to use both weeks to exchange into two 2 room condo’s this December at the Sheraton Vistana on International Drive, Orlando. That’s around $800.00 for 4 adults and 4 kiddies in 2-2 bedroom condo’s at a very nice property. I have exchanged all over the U.S and Europe and am happy with the exchanges I have made. I also live close enough(25 minutes) to use my resorts facilities anytime I wish. That’s also a great value.
    The key to owning a timeshare is owning at a low cost and low maintenance fees and the ability to “trade” into high value properties. It is also important that the resort is financially stable. My ownership weeks are Medium and Low demand weeks but I have never had a problem redeeming into a higher demand week property.

  • disqust101

    Wouldn’t be caught dead at one of those time shares if the pics you posted are anywhere close to being representative of the typical property.

  • Coppo

    How many boys have you enticed with poppers and weed and then molested by you, sick monster????

  • Pig wig

    Sic k mole ster

  • precision123

    applying for a new card is superior to owning a time share

  • winnipiseogee

    You forgot one important point – Starwood timeshares can be bought on ebay for 50% to 90% less than what you would pay when you buy directly from the resort. If you want to purchase one of these timeshares check out ebay and other credible resellers. There is no reason to spend huge$$ directly with the resort. I hope starwood didn’t pay you to pitch their product!

  • Rachel

    Yeah, TPG should just work for free.
    /s

  • Kevin

    I am an ex-participant/owner of this program. It is nothing but a money losing proposition and pain in the ass trying to book vacations according to the time off for kids/family. You can almost never get the exchange. Most of the stay planning has to be done one year in advance to have a good shot at getting the property you want. Some properties like Atlantis are always out of reach. I will advise people to be very careful. You can often find the same property for rental at better prices than you will pay in maintenance fees every year on the web.

  • Phil

    TPG,
    You should have encouraged your readers to do some reading at http://www.tugbbs.com/forums They have a forum covering every major timeshare scheme. Buying from a developer is usually NOT a good idea. Most can be purchased on ebay for pennies on the dollar.

  • JustSaying

    I owned Disney Vacation Club years ago when my kids were young. It was a fantastic bargain and we could book a studio, one bedroom, 2 bedroom or a Grand Villa or combining or saving points similar to Starwood. we also got tickets to Disney World for the length of the stay and early admission to the parks. Then after they got in high school we sold and essentially broke even on deal. We were extremely happy with their program as it filled a niche in our lives at that time. We’ve looked at Four Seasons, Hyatt, and Hilton and have never pulled the trigger on them as the maintenance fees always seem cause a gag reflex.

  • Ed Carney

    I think Time Shares are only a good Option if you are retired and have less means of earning points

  • Ed Carney

    Credit cards are how you get points you dumb ass

  • Pat

    Oh i didn’t know that, I thought for every useless comment I read I would get 50k amex points, thanks for the clarification.

    TPG has drastically shifted his posts and focuses too much on credit cards, go back to his first posts and see how insightful they are, you could just feel his passion for travel, now it has such a commercialized feel. While I completely understand the nature of the travel blogging world and credit card affiliates help provide a source of income, if you take a cursory look at the other travel bloggers, most of the well respected blogs(OMAAT, VFTW) aren’t jamming down credit card signups down your throat, though you probably like things shoved down your throat… smh

  • http://www.BaldThoughts.com/ Lee Huffman

    I own with Diamond Resorts and Worldmark by Wyndham. We’ve traveled all over the US and have stayed in Australia, Mexico, Canada, and Paris in really nice accommodations. Yes, we have paid heavily for this privilege, but after amortizing the cost over years and years of ownership, we are coming out way ahead. It is a great compliment to the miles and points that we earn from promotions and credit card signups.

    The best thing about a timeshare that you really can’t get easily with a hotel is space and a full-sized kitchen. We have a 2-year old son, and often travel with other families. Having common space to relax and watch kids play while adults talk is one of the keys to a great vacation for us. True, you can do VRBO or one of those sites, but I like the idea of being in a professional environment, with coordinated activities for the family a lot more than living for a week in someone’s home.

  • dissatisfied customer

    Starwood Vistana is certainly no Disney.

  • http://www.timesharescam.com/ Harriet Mendler

    Timeshare industry is known for being one of the most fraudulent industries running. Every year, tens of thousands of complaints are filed against timeshare developers, most of them because of the deceitful sales tactics they use to sell their units.

  • HRSister

    I have seen the notations concerning buying for less money from ebay and other resellers. However, your StarOptions are removed and you generally have to pay the maintenance fees that probably were not paid. If however, you are very happy with that one resort and have no intention of wanting to take advantage of the other opportunities or Hotels. Then… go for it. But, I would compare prices with Starwood.

  • http://www.timesharescam.com/ Harriet Mendler

    Timeshares can be a terrific purchase for some families, as they also can be a giant rip off for others. 50 years ago, also known as Holiday Home Sharing or timeshare travel, timeshares were created with the idea of offering fully furnished accommodations for a lower price than a full-time ownership.

  • Dcs5880

    I owned at one time 14 timeshares and there are pros and cons. Be careful buying resale ! Usually the programs such as star options or marriott will not allow it to be used in their program . Sure a resale will trade with Interval , but I own a westin bought thru the developer and I called Westin because my brother in law needed to sell his westin(bought from a reseller ) . We were hoping to buy it and combine the points and westin said “NO WAY” Resales do not go in the star options program

  • http://www.timesharescam.com/ Harriet Mendler

    Thousands of International travelers, particularly from the US and Canada, have fallen victims of timeshare fraud while vacationing in Mexico. 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.

  • happy owner

    wow you have no idea what your talking about. If you buy from ebay your not getting all the best parts of SVO. No Gold card for life, no 400,000 + star points which easily pays for the ownership price itself and in almost all cases no use of the villa collection (only your home resort) Not to mention no ability to convert to star points if you want to do hotel trips. ….learn what your talking about before you throw up your inaccurate thoughts.

  • Becky Martinovich

    We also own with Diamond Resort. Our original resort was at the London Bridge Resort in Lake Havasu, AZ. We only had 1 child at that time, but eventually had 5 more. It is so expensive to travel with kids unless you stay in a tent…which we have! We can get a large enough unit in most places, with a kitchen, to fit us all, and I generally cook in. This way we can travel to places we normally couldn’t afford. We have taken our kids to Avila Beach, Lake Tahoe, Telluride…memories they will cherish!

  • http://www.BaldThoughts.com/ Lee Huffman

    That is awesome Becky!!! People often talk bad about timeshares, but they can be really great if you use them correctly and plan ahead. I only wish that we had bought ours on eBay rather than direct and saved a whole bunch of money. Too late now… at least ours are paid off so we’re not stuck paying 15-20% interest rates on those loans.

  • http://www.timesharescam.com/ Harriet Mendler

    Thousands of International travelers, particularly from the US and Canada, have fallen victims of timeshare 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.

  • Oneguy1985

    I do know sales people they have clever little fake bullshit stories they try to tell you to fell connected. It’s a finally polished pitch story believe that.

  • Gerry

    Don’t like it? Stop taking 90 minutes of your vacation for some silly gift and enjoy your vacation like successful people do. So called fraudulence easily avoided. You have to be an idiot for not asking questions or getting things in writing before making a larger purchase.

  • BCTBC

    This is a real estate sales pitch… same as the one you get at the resort.

  • http://www.timesharescam.com/ Grace Evans

    Thousands of International travelers, particularly from the US and Canada, have fallen victims of timeshare fraud while vacationing in Mexico. 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.

  • http://www.timesharescam.com/ Grace Evans

    The timeshare industry has been into the lion’s mouth for the last couple of years, and it has generated lots of controversy and discussions in many forums and blogs on the web. However, since we’re living an economic downturn, anyone would expect that the timeshare sales collapse, but instead of that the sales seem to be increasing… but this comes with a trap: timeshare scams are increasing too. That leads us to the question: then, why keep people investing on timeshares?

  • onexdata

    I bought a week from an original SVO owner for $444 which cost them 79,000 starpoints on ebay, that is 66% LESS than they are paying for maintenance fees ALONE.

    Not to mention I didn’t have to pay their $25,000+ original price tag, so I got a free car out of it, and if I do this every year I get the same thing the owner has, except they are stuck with paying an extra $800 in fees for nothing, plus they have to make all my reservations and setup transfers for me, and I didn’t have to buy the deal in the first place!

    That is disgusting; they are locked into a prison.

    You can buy deeds for 80,000 starpoints or more by just taking over the payments, AND the owners usually pay the $500 closing costs; AND throw in a year of unused points, that’s a DEED for less than a single year of maintenance fees alone. People are giving it away. You are either still going through purchase bias, or you are selling time shares yourself, either way, you’re wrong.

    In all cases, time shares are what “business people” do to legally steal from “suckas”.

  • Bob

    I own 3 platinum weeks with Starwood at Harborside Resort at Atlantis, Bahamas. Maintenance fees are extremely high, but that’s what you get when you want to stay at one of the most expensive resorts on the planet. I easily exchange in network between Atlantis and the Westin Riverfront in Colorado for skiing and sometimes Cancun. Generally the villa I exchange to in Colorado runs for $700 per night when I go peak season. If I paid, it would be $4900 + tax for a week. Atlantis is around the same so now we are at $9800, add my third week and I am at $15000 a year for which I am only paying $3800 in my yearly maintenance fees. If I want to rent one of my weeks out and am smart about booking a high demand week, I generally get around $5000 per week for the 1 bedroom. So in that case, I have $1200 in my pocket after paying maintenance and 2 more weeks to vacation on for nothing. This venture not only paid for itself in 10 years but now I am actually making profit and getting paid to vacation. Not a bad deal if you like going to the same places in network. I haven’t tried Interval and like someone else said, exchanging to Starpoints is a bad deal for us; just rent your unit out, pay cash for the room and earn triple Starpoints with your gold status! Now you earned yourself more free nights!
    Again, it’s a good deal if you own a platinum week in a high demand resort and use/rent your unit wisely. You also have to want and have the budget for high end resorts, if you want to stay in a cheaper place that’s not slopeside at a ski resort, or on the water, has no kitchen, gym or balcony then yeah, you can find budget deals for $150 a night in a motel in these places. I generally an able to get into the resort I want 3 months in advance. Most of my family members, friends and significant others were skeptical when I first purchased but now these individuals are not only seeing the value I get for staying in high end places, they beg me to take me with them every year!

  • http://www.timesharescam.com/ Grace Evans

    Unfortunately, due to the misleading tactics used to sell timeshares, there are lots of people who have become a victim of a timeshare scam, and the best solution to get out of the trap is by cancelling the contract.

  • Jeff D

    I have almost 200,000 starwood points. where can I go to buy a deed using these points?

Print This Page