Is Your Timeshare or Travel Club Legit?

Everywhere you turn, someone is trying to sell you something. Often, the pitch is that spending some money with them now will "save" you lots more later. When even the honest suppliers are as hungry as they are in today's economy, it isn't easy to separate honest over-the-top sales pitches from the outright scams. And travel "clubs" are among the most problematic "opportunities" dangled in front of you. A reader who was considering a pitch asked:

"How can I tell if this travel club offer is legitimate?"

Clearly, if someone could hand you a reliable "scam-meter," you'd have no problem. Sadly, nobody has such a meter, and so you often find it hard to tell the difference. Although I can't provide a foolproof answer, either, you can at least ask some questions.

What Kind of Travel Club Is It?

That's not as easy to answer, you might think—travel "clubs" come in a range of sizes and styles:

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  • Many are nothing more than benign—if a bit overblown—sales techniques. That gamut ranges from resorts that call themselves "Club something" for a bit of snob appeal to the many online sales operations that require you to "register" and "become a member" before you can buy a ticket or arrange a room. Membership fees, if any, are nominal. Many of those, of course, are perfectly good places to go/shop, ranging from Club Med to Sam's Club. Here, "club" is nothing more than harmless marketing hype.
  • Also benign are those clubs and associations that bundle together a mix of programs for travelers, including AAA, AARP, the several oil company highway clubs, single-matching services, and others. Many offer hotel and other travel discounts, in addition to their core services. The discounts they claim may be no better than you could get through open discount sources, but they're usually not worse, either.

Timeshare and Vacation Club Scams

The problem club operations are those that ask for big bucks in up-front "membership" fees, on the promise that "members" will get great deals in the future.

  • Among these, the more benign subset consists mainly of timeshare promotions in disguise—presumably to avoid the "timeshare" label, widely viewed as flawed.
  • But not all of these are benign, and that's the problem. All too often, say law enforcement officials, the promised "discounts" and "savings" never materialize: The promoters provide prices that are no better than travelers can buy openly, through a wide range of discount sources, and the promised "dream" vacations never seem to become available.

What Do I Get for the Money?

In a base timeshare proposition, what you actually buy is a one-week "interval" (or set of intervals) at a specified resort, usually with automatic membership in an exchange operation that allows you to exchange your interval with others of equivalent value or classification. Check the fine print on the exchange, especially for limitations on how you can use your exchange "points." In other promotions, all you get is a glowing promise of really great prices—which may remain nothing but glowing promises.

What Is My Ongoing Obligation?

In most timeshare-based clubs, your buy-in is only the start. You're also on the hook for various monthly/yearly "maintenance" payments and assessments. And the operator typically reserves the right to increase these payments without your approval or right of refusal.

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