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5 things to know about renting a timeshare

June 08, 2020
7 min read
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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.

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

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.

Related: Why Airbnb is better than hotels for family travel

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: Weeklong stays with no strings attached.

Related: Should you listen to a timeshare presentation for a discount vacation?

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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 $359.

One available platform for finding timeshares to rent, KOALA, is a vacation rental marketplace connecting timeshare owners to travelers looking for the resort experience without the resort price. By renting directly from the owner, you can often snag deals up to 70% lower than the big travel sites.

Photo by @fara64/Twenty20

If you want to go to Disney's resorts in Florida, Hawaii, California, etc. you can look into renting Disney Vacation Club (DVC) points or existing reservations at the Disney resorts that DVC owners have made. Disney doesn't often use the word timeshare, but in essence, that's what it is and you can save on stays in much the same way you can at any other timeshare by booking this way.

Last-minute timeshare rental steals

SkyAuction takes the model to the next level by adding in a splash of eBay. 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.

Deals available through SkyAuction. (Screenshot courtesy of SkyAuction)

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:

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 to spend a week in a condo can be a scorching deal.

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 by marcoisler/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 a timeshare rental for just $560 for the whole week.

When you shouldn't book a timeshare vacation rental

Like anything, timeshare rentals aren’t for everyone. A major drawback is that they're nonrefundable, so your plans need to be firm. I suggest travel insurance if you’re opting for a timeshare rental. In fact, here's why I buy travel insurance.

Related: The best travel insurance policies and providers

You’ll also be disappointed if you expect five-star service while on vacation. Timeshare rentals usually have midweek housekeeping and, if you’re lucky, daily trash removal. If you need turndown service or daily 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 and never looked back.

Featured image by Photo by Hector Arguello/Unsplash
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.