If you’re like me, you belong to all kinds of travel-related loyalty plans. Every frequent flier program, every major hotel chain, several credit cards who have conned you into getting a “free flight” or two. With great loyalty comes great marketing. You’ve shown yourself to be a discerning traveler. Now they will try to entice you into the deal of a lifetime, a timeshare condo in a top location that you will “own” and will be so wonderful that you will pass it down to your children’s children’s children in perpetuity. For this wonderful opportunity, they will GIVE you a FREE vacation at their property so that you can see just how great it is. You’ve probably got a million of these and thrown them all away. Or maybe you get the thousand or so telemarketing calls. But at some point you will wear down and ask yourself,
“Should I do the timeshare free vacation?”
The purpose of this post is not to talk you out of going. I’m assuming you’ve been worn sufficiently down to want to take them up on their offer and get away from Pittsburgh for a few days. All you have to do to get the free vacation (in this case to Orlando) is to:
- Obtain flights for you and your family (~$300/person X 3 = $900
- Obtain a rental car ($250/wk even though you’re only there 5 days)
- Pay a small upgrade fee ($150) to get a 1BR suite with a pull-sofa instead of a hotel room
- Agree to sit through a 2-hour sales pitch on purchasing a timeshare
So your “free” vacation costs you about $1300 before you add in food and attractions. But, hey, I’m a travel blogger. I do this stuff as a service for my public. Plus, getting away for a few days sounds pretty freaking nice about now. So sign me up for the Hilton Grand Vacation Parc Solieu in Orlando, baby!
Here I come.
Back during the Reagan years, things were tight. So when I got the letter in the mail telling me I had already won one of three valuable prizes (two were obviously valuable, and one you could imagine was a cheap Chinese trinket), I was a little tempted. When they also told me that all I’d have to do to get this wonderful prize was tour a new development called (and this was the first I’d heard of this term) a “timeshare” in Deep Creek, MD, and they’d throw in a night at a Holiday Inn in nearby Grantsville, well, I was packing the 3-year old in the car and on my way.
The Holiday Inn was a dream. It had an indoor swimming pool and it was mid-February. My daughter talked dreamily about “The Holiday Inn” for a couple of years after. After a night at the hotel, we drove the 30 miles or so down to Deep Creek. Deep Creek is a resort area about equidistant from Pittsburgh and Washington, DC. Because of this, it’s about a million times more expensive than other places that Pittsburghers can get to, so we don’t typically go there. I guess if you’re in DC, you don’t have a lot of choices of where to drive to go skiing and such, so here’s where you go.
No matter, I was on the hook for the tour, so off we went. We, I say, because this included my ex-wife and my 3 year-old. I had the strategy meeting with the ex-wife beforehand where we agreed that we were not there to buy anything no matter the cost or how great the deal sounded. This was mainly because we had absolutely no money, so the choice was an easy one. After taking us around for two hours and touring these little alpine chalet-type condos (which were nice), we sat down in a little room to endure “the pitch”. It was pretty hard core, but I knew in my heart that I had no money, didn’t like to ski, and wasn’t buying anything this, or any other day. We could have this wonderful chalet condo for a week every year in a place where I didn’t want to be. It would pay for itself over and over again. Yes, there was a big up-front cost and a yearly fee, but people would be dying to get these places, but they’d be already gone. If we bought today…….well, you get the picture.
I was a rock, however, the ex-wife was the weak link. The guy made it sound pretty great and the ex had been practicing her signature when I put a halt to things. I told the guy that I had run the numbers and that it didn’t look like it was something we could do. After intense pleas that were obviously going nowhere, he asked me what I did for a living. When I told him I was an engineer, he threw his hands up in the air and wailed, “Engineer??? They never buy anything.” I was never more proud of my profession. The ex-wife didn’t speak to me on the way home, and the free gift was a crappy black-and-white portable TV set made in China that never did work.
At this time, nobody knew about timeshares. About how once you bought the place, you were on the hook for fees for infinity years. That if you tried to sell, you’d see a huge drop in value over what you paid for it. In the end, you were stuck with a place that you had for week 43 which was at the start of November, in a location that you really didn’t want to visit more than once, if that.
Fast forward about 30 years to the Parc Solieu in Orlando.
The place was very nice. The people were great. There were a TON of people working there which pretty much shows you where your timeshare fees are going. As a potential buyer, they treated us great. While the place wasn’t brand new, it was very well apportioned. Our suite was sweet! A huge kitchen-dining room-living room complex and a separate bed room (with a door!) and an enormous bath with tub and shower. We had a balcony overlooking the parking garage. I guess the paying guests got places a little higher up. We didn’t have to wait to check in which was a HUGE advantage, so I’m not sweating the view.
The place had a pool measured in acres with a water slide. An activity center for kids, movie rentals, and tons of stuff to do should you decide to stay at the resort. Of course, being in Orlando, you’re expected to hit the attractions. This place was close to Disney and Universal. Having gone to school at the University of Florida, having spent much of my previous 35 years of vacation visiting my parents who have a place north of Tampa, and having already dropped $1300 on the “free” trip, we chose to do other, less mortgage busting things like soak up sun and enjoy things outside of Orlando.
So, I have to admit that we had a blast on our 4-day vacation at the resort. Max loved the pool. There was plenty to do. The suite really felt like home. If my life’s ambition was to spend a week or two each year doing exactly the same thing, then this might be a really great deal.
Alas, it’s not.
On our third day, in the morning, we had our appointment with the sales people. We were assigned to a wonderful woman, Mari, who did a great job of showing us places that were much nicer than the place we were in. On the whole, the place was very much as advertised.
After the tour, we retired to Mari’s desk to get the pitch. Things have changed a lot in 30+ years in the timeshare game. Hilton has a pretty slick deal. Instead of buying a particular unit for a particular week each year, you purchase a number of points. These points can be used to “purchase” time in any of the Orlando properties at any time during the year. We were recommended to purchase 4800 points. This would allow us to have either one week during prime time, or up to two weeks during non-prime time at any of the Hilton Orlando properties. We also could use these points (at increased costs) at any of the Hilton properties world-wide. And they have some great places. If we would sign up today, we would get a significant discount. The 4800 points would run us about $26,000 up front, with an obligation to pay about $1600/year thereafter.
For this, you’d get a suite similar to what we had which would probably sleep 3 people. Any more than that, you’d need multiple suites.
There were other non-trivial perks. Like you could get very good deals (~300/week) on week-long rentals at other Hilton properties depending on availability. This was the thing that caught our eye. So after your $26k up front and your $1600/year to get your 1-2 weeks in Orlando, you could pony up an additional $300 to get a week in Tuscany. Of course you’d have to pay the $1500/person to fly to Tuscany, rent a car, etc., etc.
In the end, we let Mari down easy. We told her (truthfully) that we were not in the market for a timeshare at the present time as we have elderly parents who live with us which makes it difficult to go away for weeks at a time. What went unsaid was that we didn’t have the $26k lying around, and we could probably set up a really nice week-long rental anywhere we wanted to go for considerably less than $1600. So this didn’t make sense for us, although we did appreciate the “free” vacation. I even told Mari that I wrote a travel blog and would write about our experience, which I, of course, did.
When I got home, I went on line to see if I could buy Hilton Grand Vacation Points. I found I could get 7000 points in Orlando for about $7000, and the maintenance fee was about $1100/year. Man, I thought cars depreciated quickly.
If you have to borrow money to pay for a timeshare, it is probably not for you.
If you like to go different places all the time, and you have a wife who is an expert at scoring sweet rental deals in Hawaii, Sonoma, Tuscany, and everywhere else for a fraction of $1600/week, it is probably not for you.
If you have tons of money that you don’t know what to do with, you love going to Orlando the same week every year, and you like hanging out in a resort, then this just might be for you. But if you really want one, check the resale market as things may be quite a bit cheaper.
If price is no object, the ask for Mari. I feel we owe her one.
Daytripping With Rick