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Is your timeshare vacation being affected by the coronavirus shutdown? Here's what you need to know

April 29, 2020
10 min read
Marriott's Grande Vista
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By now, most travelers have become well-versed in the complex language of airline, hotel and cruise change and cancellation policies. In the lodging space, all the attention has been on the major hotel chains and home-share platforms, but there's another segment of would-be guests that are dealing with the fallout of the coronavirus: timeshare owners.

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The vacation ownership industry is a crowded space, with many operators and many business models. In the past, you would purchase a "share" of a unit within a resort property, typically in increments of a week. However, in recent years, the model has changed -- at least among some operators -- to purchasing a fixed amount of points that owners receive each year to use at any property with availability, at different rates, depending on the individual destination.

Disney's Polynesian Villas & Bungalows (Photo by Matt Stroshane/Walt Disney World Resort)

For those that still have weeks that they own, there are timeshare exchange companies -- Interval International and RCI being the two major players -- through which owners deposit their weeks and then "trade" them into other resorts on that network.

During the coronavirus pandemic, timeshare owners around the world are trying to figure out the best way to change and cancel their previously planned vacations, and still get value from their annual maintenance fees that they have to continue to pay, despite not being able to use their vacation. Just like hotel chains, the cancellation and change policies depend on the individual chain, but there are additional layers with timeshares, including if you own points or weeks. And, if it's the latter, there are the exchange companies to deal with as well.

Related: How hotels can assure cleanliness after coronavirus

COVID-19 policies for major timeshare groups

Before we see how policies are affecting real travelers, let's take a look at what some of the major timeshare companies' policies are. We reached out to major groups and researched their coronavirus updates pages online to get the most current information -- here's what they're saying:

Hilton Grand Vacations Club

(Photo courtesy of Hilton Grand Vacation Suites)
(Photo courtesy of Hilton Grand Vacation Suites)

According to a HGVC spokesperson, the chain is offering the following to its customers:

  • An updated cancellation policy for Club Members who need to cancel their reservations for travel through May 31, 2020:
  • All Points, transaction fees and Open Season rental rates are being credited back to the Member’s account
  • Bonus Points used for a canceled reservation that have since expired will be returned and given a 60-day extension
  • No reservation fees through May 31, 2020, when booking a 2020 or 2021 vacation online
  • An extension of previously Saved Points for use in 2021
  • Bonus Points that are set to expire while travel is interrupted will be extended at least 60 days

Take a look at this page, for more details on policy adjustments and flexibility.

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Marriott Vacation Club

(Photo courtesy of Marriott Vacations Worldwide)

With more than 660,000 families that have ownership with Marriott, it's a colossal feat to make cancellation or change arrangements with the thousands of people who had reservations for the weeks and months affected by the stoppage of travel. Making things more difficult is the fact that most properties see occupancy rates of 91–92%, and typically fill up a year in advance.

If you have a reservation within the Marriott Vacation Club network, your options for changing or canceling depend on how you booked and when your scheduled arrival date is. According to a Marriott Vacations Worldwide spokesperson, "Owners that were impacted from COVID-19 and had to cancel their reservation, they will have until Dec. 31, 2021 to use their time throughout the collection of resorts that they normally would choose from but will need to arrive within 120 days from booking their reservation." The spokesperson continued to say that "those who are impacted and need to cancel will have any cancelation fees waived."

Still, you'll want to check MVC's website to see what guidelines apply to you and your specific situation and then call to make any changes or cancelations that you need to.

Wyndham Vacation Club

According to a spokesperson for Wyndham Vacation Club, the chain has made changes to almost 30 of its corporate policies with the goals of "getting travelers who had a vacation interrupted rebooked for later in the year; ensuring that no one loses their points – or is forced to pay additional fees – due to the resort closures; and ensuring owners can maintain their ownership through the crisis if they are experiencing a financial impact."

If you are booked with Wyndham Vacation Club, see the company's website for more detailed information on how to change or cancel a reservation, depending on your specific situation.

Disney Vacation Club

Disney's Polynesian Villas & Bungalows (Photo by Matt Stroshane/Walt Disney World Resort)

Unlike some of the other timeshare operators, all Disney Vacation Club properties within the United States (including its properties on Hilton Head Island, Vero Beach and Aulani in Hawaii) are closed and so DVC is automatically canceling reservations on a week-by-week basis.

Depending on how you booked your vacation, and where your points came from in terms of their Use Year and when they're set to expire, you'll be subject to a different set of specifics in terms of your options. Check out this page on DVC's website and contact customer service if you have questions about an existing reservation.

Hyatt Residence Club

Hyatt Residence Club -- which is actually owned by Marriott Vacations Worldwide -- says that it's made reservation and cancellation policies "more fluid" during the outbreak but for specifics, you'll have to log in to view the most up-to-date cancellation and change policies.

Vistana Signature Experiences

(Photo courtesy of Marriott Vacations Worldwide)

Vistana -- another group that falls under the Marriott Vacations Worldwide umbrella -- says that it's "committed to monitoring the current situation and will make adjustments as necessary" when it comes to changes and cancellations. Members are encouraged to log in to view the specifics of its cancellation and change policies.

Third-party exchange companies

If you've booked your vacation through a third-party exchange platform like Interval International or RCI, you'll need to work with those companies directly to change or cancel your reservation. And, if you're in the Disney Vacation Club system and have rented points through David's Vacation Club Rentals, the major platform for DVC points rentals, you can find the latest updates here.

Experiences with timeshare changes run the gamut

Due to the complex nature of this industry, including the weeks versus points model, the myriad ways by which vacations can be booked and the typical far-in-advance reservation schedule, your experience with changing or canceling your reservation will depend almost entirely on your specific travel situation.

We surveyed the TPG Lounge to get an idea of how timeshare companies have responded to individual situations. Predictably, navigating this landscape has caused confusion and frustration in some, though others have had more success in reaching a favorable resolution to their question of what to do with their timeshare vacation.

Lounge member Sally H. said of her experience "Own with Vistana. They are waiving cancellation fees BUT when you cancel (60 days or less to your arrival) your options become restricted and you can only book 120 days prior to arrival. I own ocean view in Maui and I will no longer be able to book that. Look at Vistana owner Facebook page, lots of upset customers!"

Several comments echo this sentiment. While Vistana (a part of Marriott Vacations Worldwide) has doubled the window for rebooking and then traveling from the typical 60 to 120 days, many members are finding that they're not going to be able to commit to a vacation within that time frame, given the continued uncertainty about when people will be able to travel again.

(Photo courtesy of Marriott Vacations Worldwide)
(Photo courtesy of Marriott Vacations Worldwide)

And, since vacations of this sort are typically planned exactly a year in advance, many resorts don't have availability within these two- or four-month windows that guests are being told that they have to rebook within.

Even within the same group, though, experiences can vary widely. Lounge Member Rob R. describes his pleasant experience with making changes to his vacation plans with Vistana: "First-year owner with Vistana for the Westin Nanea Ocean Villas in Maui. We had a week booked in April. Called them to reschedule long before the shutdowns and travel restrictions in Hawaii. They moved me to later in the year and waived the charges."

He goes on to explain that he canceled with less than 60 days to go until arrival and he was moved to just past the 120-day rebooking window, without having to pay any fees.

Lounge member Gillian L., a member of Hilton Grand Vacations, has been happy with how the chain has handled her situation, saying "I’ve got [a] Timeshare with Hilton Grand Vacation Club. I’ve been able to cancel my reservation for Hawaii next month with no problems. Points appeared back in my account instantly. I believe they were also refunding booking fees but I’m an elite premier member so didn’t pay a fee for this reservation. Have to say I’ve been happy with how they’ve been handling the situation so far."

As some of the responses to our inquiry show, each person is likely going to have a different experience trying to cancel or change their timeshare vacation. Your best bet is to call your timeshare operator, approach and explain the situation with patience and hope you'll be able to reach a favorable solution.

Bottom line

The timeshare industry is much different from the traditional hotel industry. Due to many factors, including advanced bookings, tight availability and a plethora of operators and exchange companies, there's no possibility of a blanket, one-size-fits-all policy that will keep everyone happy and still work within the confines of the system.

When it comes to changing or canceling your timeshare vacation, your mileage certainly will vary.

Featured image by (Photo courtesy of Marriott Vacations Worldwide)