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When people think of using points for hotel stays, they typically think of cashing in at major hotel brands such as Marriott or Hyatt. But traditional hotel rooms don’t work for many families — mine included.

I avoid booking a single hotel room with my family of four like the plague. The bottom line is that a teen boy and a tween girl aren’t going to sleep in the same bed by choice, and I’m not going to force them to do it. So we usually end up with a boys in one bed, girls in the other sleeping situation. The result? Usually four sleep-deprived, cranky and all-around miserable people. Yay, vacation!

Thankfully, there’s a better way with timeshare rentals. For less — sometimes much less — than a hotel room, you can have a kitchen, living room and that all-important bedroom door that shuts. Even better, you can use points to help defray the cost.

Photo by @criene Twenty20
Photo by @criene Twenty20

What is a timeshare rental?

Vacation rentals come in two, shall we say, flavors: independent and timeshare. Independent rentals occur when a single homeowner offers his or her property for rent through a company such as Airbnb or VRBO.

Timeshare rentals can deliver outstanding value while also offering one significant advantage over independent rentals: peace of mind. Renting from a company that owns entire buildings means there are more options if you reach your destination and find your room is not as you hoped.

Think of a timeshare exchange company as a bakery — the bread and pastries it sells become worthless after a certain date. If excess inventory is expected, those units are often sold at a discount as the stay date creeps closer, just like the “day-old” bread and pastries.

How to book a timeshare rental

Renting a timeshare unit for a specific vacation is entirely different than debating the merits of purchasing a timeshare. And we’re also not talking about “vacation packages” that include tickets or other incentives. Those packages typically require a timeshare tour — hardly my idea of a great time while on holiday. Weekly rentals are just that: week-long stays with no strings attached.

My favorite source for timeshare rentals is Endless Vacation Rentals (EVR). Wyndham owns both EVR and RCI, the largest holder of timeshare exchanges in the world. I have rented numerous weeks through them in destinations such as Spain, Ireland and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to name a few.

Explore St. Martin while saving on accommodations with timeshare rentals (Photo by Getty Images)
Explore St. Maarten while saving on accommodations with timeshare rentals (Photo by Getty Images)

The booking process through EVR is very straightforward. If you see a week that works for you, you simply purchase it. You may find a week in a two-bedroom condo in Orlando for $350, or a unit in an 18th-century castle near Dublin for about $1,100 per week. (We once rented a one-bedroom in a castle near Salzburg, Austria for a week, and spent just $600.)

Units are usually sold in week-long increments, but you are under no obligation to stay all seven nights. Renting for the full week can even make financial sense when you only require three or four nights. For instance, we booked Memorial Day week one year in a large two-bedroom unit at King’s Creek Plantation in Williamsburg, Virginia. Even though we only stayed three of the seven nights, the $249 we paid was still significantly less than we would have spent to stay in a hotel.

When I search for units, I always compare ratings and reviews so I have an idea of what I’m getting. Keep in mind these are more like apartments or condos, not hotels, so people sometimes leave unfair ratings based on unwarranted complaints like “no maid service.”

If you’re in the military, are a veteran or a first responder, the deals can get even better, as Armed Forces Vacation Club and Heroes Vacation Club both offer weeks from $349.

Photo by @fara64/Twenty20
Photo by @fara64/Twenty20

Last-minute timeshare rental steals

SkyAuction takes the EVR model to the next level by adding in a splash of eBay. The weeks that EVR is worried it really can’t sell are turned over to SkyAuction to liquidate at an extreme discount. You’ll usually see tons of great locations within 30-days of arrival and a smattering of destinations that are available pretty much year-round. To save as much as possible, be sure to check SkyAuction if you’re visiting anywhere off-season or are heading to a destination on this list:

  • Orlando, Florida
  • Williamsburg, Virginia
  • Branson, Missouri
  • Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Lake Tahoe
  • The Poconos
  • Cancun/Riviera Maya
  • Canary Islands
Cancun for less (Photo by Arthur Gonoretzky/Getty Images)
Cancun for less (Photo by Arthur Gonoretzky/Getty Images)

The aforementioned destinations have a large number of timeshare rentals and pretty much always have some level of inventory available. Just don’t get too excited when you see $1 listed as an auction price, as in the fine print you’ll see a service fee of $229 or more, on top of a $20 SkyAuction fee. Even still, paying $249 for to spend a week in a condo is a scorching deal.

Using points for timeshare rentals

There are two ways to use points for a timeshare rental, including one I suggest and one I don’t.

I recommend using flexible points worth one cent each so you can jump on these great deals and keep cash in your pocket. Two credit cards that earn this type of point are the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and the Barclays Arrival Premier World Elite Mastercard. Timeshare rentals usually code as travel charges, so using points from these cards to “erase” some or all of the charge is a straightforward process.

Unfortunately, using traditional hotel points to book chain timeshare rental properties is rarely a good redemption value, especially for a larger unit. For instance, Wyndham charges 30,000 points per night for two-bedroom units across the globe (15,000 points per bedroom, per night). I’ve rented two-bedroom Wyndham properties for less than $100 per night via the rental opportunities mentioned in this article.

Some travelers may think booking through a chain makes sense due to their status. While timeshare nights booked directly through the chain will earn points and stay credits, they are not generally subject to upgrades. Breakfast benefits, if there are any at all, might include a muffin and juice from the resort convenience store.

When timeshare rentals might work for you

  • You’re a last minute traveler. Peak locations often come available 30 days or less before departure, just like some of the best airline award tickets.
  • You like to travel during the off-season.
  • You’re willing to consider destinations that are beyond the average tourist’s wish-list.

If you use availability for inspiration, as I do, you can have some real adventures. For instance, I would have never considered the Canary Islands if I hadn’t seen timeshare rentals available there at a good price. I’ve since been twice, using timeshare rentals both times — and I’m even planning a third visit.

Canary Island (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
Canary Island (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

My first visit to the Canary Islands was to the Island of Tenerife, booked with SkyAuction. I paid $353 all-in for a week in a lovely one-bedroom condo in Puerto de la Cruz. The second time I brought my family to Gran Canaria for spring break, and booked a two-bedroom oceanfront condo through EVR for just $560 for the whole week. There was even a private hot tub on the balcony.

Bluebay Beach Club Jacuzzi
Image Credit: Bluebay Resorts

When you shouldn’t book a timeshare vacation rental

Like anything, timeshare rentals aren’t for everyone. A major drawback is that they’re non-refundable, so your plans need to be firm. I definitely suggest travel insurance if you’re opting for a timeshare rental.

You’ll also be disappointed if you expect five-star service while on vacation. Timeshare rentals usually have mid-week housekeeping, and if you’re lucky, daily trash removal. If you need turn-down service or room service, a vacation rental is probably not for you.

And because timeshare inventory is placed in real time, you should be comfortable booking the moment you see something you like. If you first need to gather your thoughts, call family members, check the calendar 10 times and consult your horoscope, someone will steal that deal right from under you. But if you can pull the trigger quickly, you might land a week in a huge two-bedroom ocean view unit in Hawaii for $279. I know I did — I booked this deal five minutes after I saw it.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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