I Suffered Through a Timeshare Sales Presentation for a Cheap Vacation
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
Timeshares: a word that probably elicits a range of emotions depending on your experience with them. My only knowledge about timeshares, however, comes from what I've read and listened to about the topic. None of my close friends or extended family members have bought or owned a timeshare. (Or, at least, they won't admit to it if they did).
That said, as a travel hacker, I'm enticed by stories from friends and TPG readers about scoring hotel discounts or bonus points for sitting through a timeshare presentation. So, when Choice Rewards emailed about getting a "seven-night resort stay" for 80% off plus a $100 gift card and 10,000 bonus Choice points for attending a "sales presentation and tour," I was intrigued.
Booking the Offer
The pre-Black Friday offer was for seven nights at a Bluegreen Vacations property for $499. The offer clearly stated that both me and my spouse would have to attend a two-hour sales presentation in order to get that rate.
After subtracting the $100 MasterCard and 10,000 Choice points (which TPG values at $60), I figured we'd be paying a net of $339 and four hours of time for seven nights at a two-bedroom property. Besides the sales presentation requirement, the other catch was the nights had to be used by May 31.
After reading pages worth of terms and conditions, confirming we met the qualifications -- minimum income of $40,000, at least 25 years of age, minimum credit score of 575, no bankruptcy in seven years -- and agreeing to the restrictions, I purchased the package.
My wife, Katie, charged the $499 purchase to her Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, both to help her meet the card's minimum spending requirement and also to see if the purchase coded as 3x for travel (it did). We earned 1,497 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which TPG values at just under $30.
Reserving Our Stay
It wasn't until a full month after the purchase I received a confirmation that unleashed the emails from Bluegreen Vacations reminding me to book our nights:
Unfortunately, finding availability isn't easy. While Bluegreen Vacations owners can search for openings and reserve online, this package required us to call to find and book dates. When we did, the calendar was far from wide-open. Ultimately, we booked a three-night stay midweek at Bluegreen's signature property in Orlando, The Fountains.
The call to book took 25 minutes, between finding available dates and reviewing the terms and conditions. Again.
We were able to book a two-bedroom condo at The Fountains that sleeps up to six people. The agent reminded us there would a $125 fee for changing our booking within 14 days -- a term in the original purchase terms -- but said that there would be no other charges or fees to worry about.
A few days after booking, I received a call from Bluegreen Vacations to "confirm" my vacation reservation. The agent again went through all the qualification details. But this time, the agent mentioned $32 of "taxes and fees" required at check-in and a $200 no-show fee. The agent falsely claimed these terms were sent to me in an email.
At the time of the call, my grandmother was in hospice. The agent wouldn't say whether my grandmother's passing would be enough for me to avoid a late change or no show fee, merely telling me I'd need to call them at the time to see.
Frustrated by the additional fees and terms, I asked for a manager. After a 15-minute hold, the manager towed the same line, insisting I was made aware of -- and agreed to -- the fees. She quoted specific terms and conditions she said I agreed to at purchase. I forwarded her the purchase confirmation email and my screenshots to refute those specific terms.
Still, all I got out of the nearly hour-long call was an additional $50 for the gift card to counter the extra fees. After the call, I received a "confirmed" email from Bluegreen reflecting the newly-added terms for the first time:
Enduring the Presentation
When we arrived for our stay at The Fountains, we were directed to check in at the Welcome Center after the 4pm check-in time, but before it closed at 9:30pm. No early check-in, late check-out or other benefits of being a Choice elite would be honored by Bluegreen. When we arrived just after 5pm, the grand Welcome Center was empty, before an agent emerged from the back office.
Upon arrival, we were reminded yet again about the terms of the package and had to sign a Guest Registration Form that noted the increased $150 MasterCard gift and 10,000 Choice points. In addition to our names and addresses, we needed to list:
- Homeowner or renter.
- Marital status (married; married but separated; living with significant other; single; divorced; widowed).
- Age of both the primary guest and the spouse or significant other.
- Combined household income.
- Confirmation that either the guest or the spouse or significant other has a credit score of at least 575.
- Whether or not the guest has declared bankruptcy or insolvency in the last seven years.
- Signature to indicate a credit inquiry would be made.
- Signature to indicate I've read the Details of Participation.
At the bottom of the form, the disclosure makes it abundantly clear that, "This advertising material is being used for the purpose of soliciting the sale of timeshare property or interests in timeshare property."
After filling out the form, the agent seemed surprised by my request for a copy of the forms I'd just filled out, but obliged. From the Welcome Center, we were directed to the Clubhouse to check into our expansive and well-stocked room -- which we are reviewing in a separate post.
Despite all previous correspondence indicating that we needed to arrive for the preview at least 15 minutes early, we were required upon arrival to agree to checking in at least 20 minutes before our 11am presentation.
Not wanting to risk violating the terms, we were sure to show up right at 10:40am. We noticed there weren't many people in the sales waiting room. At check-in, we received our $150 MasterCard gift card and a certificate for 10,000 Choice points. Bluegreen listed a $80 "MSRP" -- which typically stands for Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price -- for the Choice points. That's effectively 0.8 cents per point, versus TPG's 0.6 cents per point value of Choice points.
The rest of our 11am presentation group wasn't as punctual, causing a line to form at check-in that lasted through the top of the hour. While we waited, upbeat music played overhead an d a "refresh" bar offered caffeine and sugar fixes.
At 10:55am, cheery salespeople filed into the room to find their assigned couple. Our agent introduced himself and started off with small talk before leading us to the sales center to brief us about Bluegreen Vacations.
Contrary to what we expected, most of the two hours wouldn't be with this agent. Instead, 24 of us who were there for the 11am presentation were gathered into a small auditorium for a group sales pitch. Our presenter for the 1:45 hour session was Chad Elliott, a licensed realtor who's been selling for Bluegreen for more than 15 years.
Elliott surprised us by addressing the elephants in the room, such as joking about how many people "came in to buy" and referencing how couples had surely psyched each other up to say no.
He also landed some stinging jabs, saying we were all too cheap to pay for a full-priced vacation and how romantic this must be for the wives in the room. Elliott also peppered in some interesting stats, like how we were in the largest sales center of all 69 Bluegreen properties.
Referencing Bluegreen's partnerships with Choice Hotels and Bass Pro Shops, Elliott also noted that Bluegreen pays between $500 and $800 — including the gifts we'd already received at check-in — just to get a couple into the sales center for this presentation. And, he noted, one in three couples sitting through his presentation would become owners.
Whether or not these details were true, his forthright nature was very disarming.
He was also fast and loose with the numbers. He clearly stretched the cost of what a typical vacation would cost, using preset filters to make his live-search of hotel costs serve his point.
He made a big deal about how Bluegreen properties were owned by "nonprofit trusts" of which owners were beneficiaries, implying that we'd only be paying actual maintenance fees rather than an exaggerated number to generate a profit.
But for all the numbers he threw around, he wouldn't mention any specific prices for Bluegreen -- whether it was cost of the points or the maintenance fees -- in the nearly two-hour-long presentation. The lack of transparency on pricing indicated that Bluegreen was likely making individualized offers to sales targets based on our profiles.
The presentation left out other relevant information, too. For example, while Chad often pointed to Bluegreen's partnership with Bass Pro Shops, the outdoor recreation retailer was just 12 days away from ending its partnership with Bluegreen, "unless the Company cures certain alleged breaches to Bass Pro’s satisfaction."
The presentation also referenced a Consumer Reports feature about timeshares claiming Consumer Reports said, "Your bucket of points will buy as much in 20 years as it does today," and that, "Eight in 10 timeshare owners said they would happily buy their timeshare again."
While those are exact quotes from the article, Consumer Reports didn't conclude that a "timeshare has a distinct advantage over hotel stays" or that "most timeshare owners would do it again."
The first quote is attributed to Michael Brown, the chief operating officer of Hilton Grand Vacations at the time. The second statement references a study commissioned by the American Resort Development Association (ARDA).
After a 9-minute-long video full of kids having fun, Elliott launched into the specific benefits for signing up today. One of the more appealing was called Bonus Time, which allows "charter" owners the ability to book any available Bluegreen resort for just $59 for a standard room, up to just $89 for a three-bedroom. He also said we'd be able to access over 150,000 condos across the world from just $269 per week through its RCI partnership.
Comparing the Offers
Elliott wrapped up the presentation around 12:45pm. At this point, Katie and I pushed our salesperson on terms of the benefits: Specifically, how availability worked for the Bonus Time and RCI partnerships.
When we finally got a chance to look at live availability, the Bonus Time perk did seem legitimate, with dozens of properties showing availability. While Elliott said there were no taxes or fees for owners on points stays, that's not the case on Bonus Time properties. Still, there were plenty of one-bedroom options available at $69 per night that increased to under $80 per night all-in.
It wasn't until 2.5 hours into the process that we finally got our first look at the cost of becoming an owner. In Elliott's presentation, he'd listed a variety of point purchase levels starting at 10,000 points per year. So, we asked to see what the purchase price would be for the bottom three packages: 10,000 per year; 15,000 per year; and 20,000 per year.
Our salesperson returned with just one offer at the 20,000 points per year level. The top line price: $48,800. That equates to 2.44 dollars per point, per year, compared to what the salesperson said is the standard price of 3.75 dollars per point, per year. This offer added another $570 of closing costs to finance the purchase and required 20% down. The interest rate for the example was 17.99%.
We said the price was too high and asked about the 10,000 points package. The salesman returned with a more-detailed offer for 10,000 points every other year for $14,520 -- equating to 2.9 dollars per point, per year. This offer listed the maintenance fees as $806 per year.
Looking for another data point, we asked for another offer. He returned with an offer for 7,000 points every other year for $9,910 -- equating to 2.83 dollars per point per year -- with $714 in annual maintenance.
As we prepared to leave, the salesperson added a seven-night cruise for two if we purchased the package.
|Offer #1||Offer #2||Offer #3|
|Points per year||20,000||5,000||3,500|
|Cost per point||$2.44||$2.90||$2.83|
|Fees per point||Undisclosed||$ 0.16||$ 0.20|
I figured the sales presentation would be insufferable, but that it'd be just those two hours we'd have to give up for a cheap vacation. I didn't factor in the hours I'd have to spend on the phone searching for availability, booking, confirming and then reconfirming the stay -- with terms being changed or added along the way.
That said, the sales presentation wasn't as bad as we expected. Elliott was entertaining, and spending most of the time in a group presentation was better than we expected.
We went into the presentation sure that this would be a ripoff and there couldn't possibly be value. But we left the presentation interested in some of the ways we could benefit from the system, whether by staying at properties from Monday through Friday for the cheap points rates or by utilizing the Bonus Time benefit.
However, the purchase price and terms weren't anywhere close to reasonable enough or us to seriously consider buying a package.
Overall, the preview was an enlightening experience about how Bluegreen Vacations timeshares work. And, for those that don't mind spending a bit of time chasing down availability and holding Bluegreen to its terms, a preview package like this could be a way of getting a cheap vacation.
While I don't personally regret doing it, this isn't something for which I'd give a blanket recommendation.