|Your Location: Timeshare Users Group Advice: Timeshare Prospecting is Gold for Seniors |updated: 1/14/08|
"The system" hurts us in so many ways that when it blesses us, accidentally, we should joyously take advantage of it. Retirees, and a few others, are being given an almost limitless access to many of the best benefits of timesharing without buying more weeks, adding new yearly fees, and paying for exchanges. This assumes that they have a timeshare, and are members of TUG. If not, there are inexpensive ways to gain entry. What is necessary is rejecting the attitude that special deals, like RCI's vacation escapes and instant escapes and Fairfield's rented points systems, represent "trash," times and places no one would want. Instead, they are frequently at some of the most favorable times and at the best resorts in the country. The peculiarities of public demands does put them "off" season, but popularity is not closely associated with real value.
My wife and I like to travel and as retirement approached we looked forward to a chance to go lots of places when we liked it most--when the crowds were gone. But I had only a fairly modest annuity and social security, which would provide for our needs, not much extra for car expenses, airline tickets, and hotels. At first I was impressed with the advertisements of timeshare resorts, including the claims of very low cost, and considered buying "a few" weeks at various locations, then exchanging into others. Visiting several resorts, we had our appetites increased, but even "blue" weeks were so expensive I would have to cut into our capitol and so cut future income. We might buy one, or even two, but even if we got resales, the loss of interest on investments, the maintenance fees, and exchange fees would use up our travel budget, and we had hoped to have much more opportunity to travel than two weeks a year.
Then, by chance, we met a young couple who had a timeshare and was willing to rent us their owned week at Banff for the price of their yearly fee. At first I assumed that they were disappointed with timesharing and willing to "write off" their investment and just get out from under their yearly costs. But they explained that, without buying new weeks or using the one they had, they used as many weeks as they wanted through the RCI "instant vacations" at extremely attractive prices. Because he could go "off season" they were having a ball, traveling all over and exploring unknown places. That sounded like it had great promise for us.
So, we tried again, going to a presentation at a Fairfield resort. I was cautiously willing to invest in a week chiefly as an entry into RCI so we could qualify for vacation escapes, if I could get some documentation of how the system works. Our salesman was unwilling to talk about the RCI system, although he said we would be given membership and gave me a brief peek at an Endless Vacation catalogue. But, there was no information about the benefits other than exchanging. Perhaps it was because he didn't know much about it, himself, or maybe he considered the listed resorts as competition. I became skeptical, and did not buy. I decided to go to RCI itself and discover if it would work like I hoped, but the two representatives of the company I reached would not even talk to me until I was an timeshare owner and qualified for membership. Again, I was ready to give up on timesharing. Was the secrecy a cover-up?
Then I got an invitation to visit Fairfield Branson, with a very good deal on hotels and tickets. That time the salesman soon understood that I would not buy a week for its sake alone, but that the RCI vacation escapes could help pull me in. The salesman was offering Fairshare Points, which sounded good, and he pointed out that I would be qualified to rent more points, which had the same advantages of use without ownership. Although he didn't know the RCI system, he was willing to call in a supervisor who did, and who was willing to furnish details, printed materials, and even the loan of a RCI catalogue overnight. When he threw in a couple of "bonus weeks," I bought.
Almost immediately I began to use the system. I was going to an elder hostel in Oregon, anyway, so bought vacation escape weekends both before and after. The first, at Ocean Shores, Washington, almost turned me against the system, but the second, The Eagle Crest resort near Bend, made a believer out of me. Next we used the bonus weeks in North Carolina and won more bonus weeks at the introductory sessions. We used Fairshare Points in Colorado and Arizona. The real bonus is in the special deals offered by RCI, especially with the introduction of the less expensive "instant escapes." In the next two years we spent 27 weeks in timeshares. We went to Gold Crown resorts at Hilton Head, Orlando, and Montana; walked on the beach in Carolina and California; and watched the changing of the leaves in North Carolina in Indiana, Arizona, and Idaho then the blooming of the dogwoods and azaleas in South Carolina and Georgia, the bluebonnets in Texas, and the cactus in New Mexico. We have fished in all over the Rockies and watched whales in California. Never since that first experience have we been disappointed in the quality of the unit, and frequently were delighted. We have paid as little as $150 for a two bedroom week, and $199 for a three bedroom. We still own only the original points, and have only the one yearly payment--which includes RCI membership. I don't see any need to buy more weeks, or more points. Because this is not buying, exchanging, or renting in the traditional sense, it needs another term, so I have come to call it "prospecting."
When I tell other retirees about prospecting, they often assume that it is too good to be true, believing the common fiction that the only deals that would be available are trash that no one else would want. That may be true for the average Tugger, but probably is very bad reasoning for people in our condition.
There are some limitations of prospecting. It almost never works during the summer, but for most of us that is the least desirable time of the year to travel. Prospectors have to take what is offered, instead of going to the catalogue and picking a particular resort, but that just adds spice of the unknown and the thrill of the chance taken. The lead- in time for prospecting is short, from tops at three months to as low of 2 days, but the prospector is not limited by the problem of scheduling time off--when he has the inclination, prospecting furnishes the opportunity. Prospectors do not have interval ownerships to leave to our children, but many are not interested, anyway.
There are some points to consider in successful prospecting:
(1) The best deal is RCI's new instant escapes at $199, even if they are offered only 10 days out. Although the company puts some of the deals on its web page it is much better to call the office 800 number because they have plenty of units which are not on the web list. Call 10 days before you want to go and see what is available. You will probably going to be offered 2 bedroom units for that price, but may get one, or three. If there is nothing you want, call again the next day and the next, 'til you find what you want, or until the time is too short.
(2) It is wise to find a good agent at RCI, so if you get someone on the phone that is particularly knowledgeable and helpful, get his/her name, and ask for them when you call back. Then, now and then, ask for the supervisor and tell them that your agent is a really doing a fine job and that you appreciate it, and write to the manager of the department, including your contact's name. The person deserves it and it will help you too because they will gain recognition in the office and be more able to help, and more willing to go the extra mile for you.
(3) The next best deal is "vacation escapes," which cost a little more but have lead-in time of up to 90 days, 120 overseas. They have 3 night week-end deals, but the per/night cost is higher. If you are going this way, it is well to start looking at the maximum lead time, but don't give up if something you want is not available then. Keep calling back, new offerings are constantly going on the list. It is best to call early in the morning, I find they have more "new stuff" then. The person you are dealing with may be in a different department, so you need to cultivate a contact here, too.
(4) Fairfield points can be used at any of their resorts, and some affiliated ones. To work the system, I like to spend my points early in the year. After that you can "rent" as many more points as you want, to be used up to 60 days ahead, for any number of nights. They cost only $3 per 1,000, so it appears that you could get a single night for as little as $9, but there is also a healthy "housekeeping fee" to pay, no matter how many night you spend (up to 7), plus a $15 reservation fee, so short stays are not really a good deal. The cost is still very reasonable, for over five days, and better for a week. Frequently, I have called the Fairfield office and asked for if one of their resorts is available on rented points for a week, or weekend, and been given the cost of renting the points (but not reminded that I will be charged the other fees). No itemized bill ever arrives, so if you do not check your credit card monthly account, you would never know you paid above the rental of points. When I have added up the cost, including the extras, then called RCI, several times I have been offered the same deal for less, sometimes much less! And, I could have rented it 30 days earlier through RCI. Naturally, in that case, I take the RCI deal, with no hidden costs. Why Fairfield offers its overstocks to RCI for less, and earlier, than it does to its paying members is a mystery, and a serious aggravation. .
(5) Bonus weeks seem free, but not infrequently RCI charges for them, and the lead-in time is only 90 days, so they may not be worth the trouble of collecting them, although they seem to have a little more priority than vacation escapes in getting access to properties.
(6) Another source is "renting" weeks directly from a private owner. I expected that the Tug BB for late rentals would provide rich soil for prospecting, when owners had a late change of plans or illness and needed to get some of their costs back. Most of the places offered there are much higher than those being offered by RCI, though, more in line with the prices in the "for rent" ads, and there is more demand than supply. I intend to keep watching that board, but expect to use RCI most of the time.
(7) Some of the best experiences we have had was "serial prospecting, " putting several weeks together and covering an general area of the country. You can even do it using instant escapes. I recently made flight reservations to Oregon for two weeks although I had no resort reservations in hand. Ten days before the flight, I reserved my first week, at one of my favorite resorts--a 3 bedroom 3 and a half bath charmer--for $199. After I arrived I called RCI and was offered the same resort for the second week, or another in Washington. Worked like an enchantment.
(8) Successful prospecting requires some mental conditioning. You have to be willing to go to new places, take some chances, act on the spur of the moment, get away from the crowds, put up with a smaller activities staff at the resorts, experience the impact of the seasons. Sounds like being young again, doesn't it? Remember, it is not necessary to accept poor resorts, or to expect dismal weather conditions. Be flexible, look for a general area, not a special resort, and be willing to change the dates where possible.
(9) Don't go bragging about the great deal you got to other people at the resort. They may go to the management and complain because they paid much more--maybe just in annual fees for an owned unit. Too many complaints could sour the deal, even though the resorts really made money, which helps keep annual fees down. Precisely that has seriously diminished the offering of "short breaks" in Europe, which provided another wonderful "placer" for prospectors in England. The exception is in telling other people who can be happy prospectors (as this article intended), but caution them about rule #9.
By the way, I find that being close to a Southwest airlines terminal is a real asset to prospecting. Senior rates with them are especially low and do not require advanced purchases. They will make changes in reservations without charge to seniors, even after the trip begins. Even if you buy non-refundable tickets to tie down a sale price, and then have to cancel, they often give seniors a voucher good for a new ticket of equal value. Their new sales on the web every Tuesday show great promise. In addition, they have an excellent policy for frequent flyers--free flights much quicker than mileage-based grants on other airlines. These things make Southwest especially good for serial prospectors. Perhaps other regional airlines have similar policies.
Those who do not own a timeshare, but are interested in prospecting., can purchase then very inexpensively, and get the necessary entrée into the RCI , II, and similar systems, and use the timeshare in their travels. Check out the Tug for sale ads. I have not used II, but intent to join and try its "getaways" for a year. I am presently investigating the possibilities of a similar association in England.
Prospecting is not for everyone. It has little value for most younger timesharers, especially those with children, who need bright red time and who like to chose favorite resorts. Nothing said here is intended to disparage timeshare sales, or exchanges, but my advice to other retirees, and those approaching that state is to try prospecting before buying more weeks, or points. You may not need them.
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