Timeshare Presentations – What to ExpectAugust 27, 2011 No Comments
If you’ve ever vacationed in a major city, you have probably been approached by someone offering free show tickets, dining or even cash. Most people keep walking, but a reasonable number stop to listen. After all, who doesn’t want something for free? Of course, nothing in life is truly free. At some point, the friendly person offering you all sorts of great-sounding stuff will get around to the catch: you must sit through a two-hour timeshare presentation. Only at the end will you receive your gifts. Should you go? Are timeshare presentations worth the hassle?
Dad and I are thinking of adding a points-based timeshare to our collection of travel options. We mostly travel by RV, and we are very happy with our memberships in the Thousand Trails and Escapees organizations. But sometimes we want to invite relatives or friends along, or simply stay in the heart of the action. A points-based timeshare would allow us to choose the location and length of stay, and we would get to take advantage of multi-bedroom, high-end condos. So we decided to take a few timeshare tours while in Las Vegas this year. What we learned is that not all timeshare pitches are created equal. Listen closely to the offer, read the fine print, and know when to walk away.
Wandering through the casino hotels on the Vegas strip, we were approached literally dozens of times, often by reps from the same company. Their initial game is pretty standard. A friendly, well-dressed man or woman wearing a name tag steps out in front of you. “Hi! Where are you visiting from? How long are you in town? Can I get you some free show tickets or dining?” If you aren’t interested, just smile and keep moving. If you stop to chat, you will soon be escorted to a desk staffed by more smiling, friendly people. Your greeter introduces you by name and city and turns you over to the next representative.
The reps are great at sizing people up and determining what they might like, and then tailoring the pitch accordingly. If you’re a gambler, they’ll offer free chips. If you like shows, they’ll pull out a book full of show photos and ask you to pick your favorite. If you mention food, they’ll talk about free buffets.
Eventually the conversation will turn to specifics. In general, timeshare reps are looking for couples–either married or cohabitating, as demonstrated by matching IDs. Either the last names or the addresses must match. You must also meet specific income guidelines. In Vegas, the minimum pre-tax income ranged from $50,000 to $75,000 per year combined. Some companies will qualify singles who meet the income guidelines, and some waive the income requirement for seniors.
In order to receive your free gifts, you must agree to sit through a timeshare presentation. Depending on state law and company policy, the required presentation length may vary from 90 minutes to three hours. You will not receive your gifts if you do not stay for the entire presentation. But the reps make the presentations sound like fun.
If you agree to the terms, you must sign a formal invitation. In general, it’s just a statement verifying that your income and couple status meet the guidelines, that you can read and understand English, and that you understand that you will be attending a timeshare solicitation. But the details can and do vary, so take the time to read the fine print. Ask for clarification on anything you don’t understand, and walk away if you feel uncomfortable.
You must also pay a deposit. Typically this is a $20 or $40 cash payment that guarantees you will show up for your presentation (usually the next day). The cash is returned at the end of the presentation along with your free gifts. However, some presentations in Vegas offer tickets to major shows such as Cirque du Soleil. These tickets are heavily discounted, but not free. If you choose this option, you must pay for the tickets in cash when you sign up for the presentation.
When you receive your invitation, your rep will give you detailed instructions on where and when to meet for your tour. Most timeshares offer shuttle service from major hotels to the timeshare location. If the timeshare is nearby, you may walk in an escorted group instead. Arrive a few minutes early to check in. Bring matching photo IDs and a major credit card.
Note that travel time does not count against the total presentation time. If the timeshare is far from the pickup location, you may spend 30 minutes or more on the bus each way. Factor in that time when making plans for later in the day.
When you arrive at the timeshare location, you must stand in line to check in again. There is a bit of paperwork to fill out. Again, read everything carefully, ask for clarification and be prepared to walk away. You must show your photo IDs and major credit card, but your credit card number is never recorded. You can even hold your fingers over the number. The company just wants to see that you have credit.
After checking in, you will sit in a comfortable lobby to wait for your personal representative. Coffee, tea and water may be available. The room may be plastered with photos of different properties within the timeshare system.
Soon you will be approached by your representative. Say good-bye to any new friends you may have made on the bus, because the sales model focuses on each couple working with a single rep. The first order of business is always food. Some companies provide a hot food line, some offer cold sandwiches, and a few only provide snacks. Your rep will chat lightly while you eat, setting you at ease.
What happens next varies widely from company to company. Some places start with a group presentation that feels sort of like a team-building exercise, complete with PowerPoint demonstrations and games. Others go straight into private facility tours with the reps. Some require you to tour the entire complex, while others focus more on discussing all the other places you can choose to visit.
If you are not interested, let your rep know. Some reps will use high-pressure techniques, playing on your emotions to try to make the sale, but many will simply respect your decision. Keep an eye on the time, though, since you will not receive your gifts if you leave too soon.
If you are interested, the reps will go out of their way to answer questions and clarify the system. Most timeshare programs today use points instead of weeks. This means that you are not locked into going to the same place at the same time year after year. Instead, you can use your points for the vacation of your choice anywhere in the company’s system. Many companies are also linked together via massive point systems, allowing you to use your points at other properties as well.
No matter how interested you are, never accept the first offer. The reps generally pitch huge packages with high costs that are more than the average family needs. If you buy small, you can always add new points as you need them. Ask what other programs might be available, and work with the rep to customize something that meets your specific needs.
If you are not interested, at some point your rep will recognize that he has done all he can. He will walk away, and soon someone else will take his place. This person is sometimes known as a closer. They’re great salespeople who often have the authority to offer different customized packages. If you are still not interested, your closer will walk away.
At this point, one of two things may happen. A final closer might join you at your table, or you might be sent to the Gifting Department, only to be intercepted by the final closer. This person might offer you a much lower package price, or might offer you a no-obligation trial membership. Their job is to get you in the door, in hopes that you will love the program once you try it.
The Gifting Department
Once you have turned down the final closer, you will be directed to the Gifting Department. These representatives are not salespeople, and their only job is to present you with the agreed-upon gifts. You may be asked to make some decisions, such as how to divide up your dining vouchers or what day you would like to see the show you selected. Within a few easy minutes, you will leave with gifts in hand and directions to the shuttle to take you back to your resort.
Or at least, that’s how it should work. We actually walked out of one presentation because our personal rep was nice enough to disclose the catch at the beginning. For that particular company, after the entire presentation, after you have said no to the timeshare, you must authorize the Gifting Department to pull your personal IRS records! Supposedly this is to “verify” your income and ensure that you meet the qualifications. If you say no, then you do not receive your gifts! Each person must make his own decision, but I refuse to expose my financial records to possible identity theft in exchange for a crappy buffet and tickets to some comedian I’ve never heard of. We did get our deposit back.
Tips for Parents
Children are permitted to accompany their parents on the timeshare tours. The free gifts are generally for two adults, but you may be able to negotiate free kids’ tickets as well. The time to negotiate your gifts is when you initially sign up for the presentation. You cannot change your mind later.
The reps are generally good with children, and do their best to keep kids engaged. Of course, this could also be a sales technique designed to further put you off your guard. If your children are hyper, consider bringing an electronic game with headphones or other distraction.
Is it ethical to take the tour if you are not interested in buying a timeshare? Why not? Our reps told us that the average closing rate is somewhere between 12 and 35 percent, so the cost of the gifting is already built into the sales model. The gifts are there to get you in the door, and many people who initially go for the gifts end up buying. So there’s nothing inherently wrong with going for the gifts. Just be honest with your rep. Timeshares fit very well into some lifestyles and not at all into others. It’s the rep’s job to convince you that it fits into yours. If that doesn’t happen, then take your gifts and walk away.