Friday, June 08, 2007

The Most Expensive Vacations Ever

A bunch of years ago, back when our future was mostly unwritten (i.e., before kids, before stable careers, before the shackles of every day diapers, bottles, dog feedings, lawn waterings and other myriad responsibilities that cannot be procrastinated), Kara and I used to attend time share presentations for the sport of it. You know those overly excited productions put on by zealous salesmen bent on making a quota, no matter what the tactic.

We went for the prizes, the free stuff, the swag that gets you in the door, and the more you go to, the more you get to go to, as your name is carved on some list of potentials, those highly coveted members of the frequenters, those on the fence that just might need a little nudge. I’d say we did about 10 of them over the course of our young marriage, and each time, Kara and I would sail through the hard sell period with flying colors. We didn’t have the money. We didn’t want to vacation. We don’t like the system. Whatever they said, we had a comeback that was greater than the one before it.

And then they pair you off with a salesman, pull you aside in the little rooms and try to sweat it out of you, dig at your patience and sensibilities with half-truths, too-good-to-be-truisms and flat out lies. “Would you like something to drink? A Coke perhaps? Now, wouldn’t you like to vacation on an island resort anywhere in the world? Do you know how much gas costs? It’s expensive, dangerous, and uncertain to vacation in America… and tot travel on the roads like hobos, living in RV parks like vagabonds, eat food on paper plates over a table that will fold down into your bed… like turtles. Who travels like that? Certainly not a good, honest, hard working, intelligent couple such as yourselves, right? Only fools pack up their little campers and drive for hours and hours to get to some over crowded campground full of screaming kids and overpriced food to stare at overly commercialized tourist traps. You’re not a fool, are you?

Of course not… sign here.

We heard it all, from how much money a time share will save you on regular travel costs, to how wonderful the experience it is, to how, once you join, you’re part of a big family of time share owners…as if there is an annual picnic, or a fellow time sharer will stop to help you on the side of the road. “Oh, you own a time share? Let me get that tire changed for you. We time sharers gotta stick together you know.” Rubbish. They crammed down our throats exotic pictures of faraway places I'll probably never see and wonderfully happy people I'll probably never be—all teeth and big smiles—enjoying the splendorous vistas outside their spacious, lavishly appointed resort lodgings. Money was an afterthought, a mere number that we resort owners need not be bothered with.

No matter how they presented it, it seemed like they were trying to sell me the Brooklyn Bridge. No thanks. Now where’s my free Red Lobster dinner for two and my gift certificate to Nordstrom’s?

In 2000, we visited a timeshare near Disneyland, and for whatever reason, it made sense that day. It was near Disneyland, and we were told that trading it for any other resort anywhere in the world would be a snap; who doesn’t want to come to Disneyland? On top of which, it seemed like a logical way to spend a vacation and we were told that time shares appreciate, like regular real estate; on the fa├žade, it actually appeared to be leisurely, a welcomed reward every year to be spent at a nice resort, doing absolutely nothing. The concept of which goes against every vacation I have ever taken in my life, and every urge to vacate I’ve ever had. I don’t vacation in resorts. I like museums. I don’t lay around by the pool. I like to explore battlefields and obscure nooks in time. I came from an RV background, those site-seeing, history-absorbing, educational treks into Americana. When I was younger, if we weren’t at a historical landmark somewhere in the middle of nowhere, we were headed to one or we just came from one, so the idea of a resort as a vacation seemed, this time, new and different. Let’s sit by the pool for a while and have a cocktail…hey, let’s do nothing at all.

And you know what they say: the grass is always greener on the other side, so why not? Let’s buy a time share and do things a little different for a change. It sounded like an adventure.

Well, six years later, nuts to all that, I say. Give me my RV back. Which way to the museum? What the hell is this cocktail doing in my hand… that was 10 bucks?!? You’ve got to be freaking kidding me? What? There’s an extra cost for freaking kidding me!?! You gotta be double freaking kidding me!! There's a cost for that too.

If you are considering buying a time share, gladly heed my uncomplicated advice: Do not. No matter what they tell you, whatever the wonders that will befall you when you sign on the dotted line and write out the check, walk away. Just walk away. They’re a scam perpetuated by some kind of secret society of time share realtors, and the only ones that are actually enjoying themselves are the ones that cash your checks.

The whole point of having a time share is that it should be simple. You own a week at a resort near Disneyland. That’s simple. I’ve got a week. I can stay there for a week every year with no problem, just call and set it up. But… that’s at Disneyland, which is maybe 25 miles from my house, hardly the vacation of my dreams and hardly that exotic resort feeling I signed up for. In fact, my home resort is the last place that I want to stay at. However, no problem again: Just bank your week. Merely call RCI—the bank for time shares—and say that you wish to “bank your week,” that is, toss your seven days into a giant pile of weeks and simply pick out a new week. There’s a thick book with thousands of places in it. If you want to go to Paris, just tell them: “Paris please.” Here you go. Here’s your week in the City of Lights; send us a card. How about a week by the beach? Sure, no problem, here you go, you can almost feel your toes in the sand.

The only problem…and this is a big problem…exchanging your week is a physical impossibility unless you plan it out years in advance. And that's the Catch-22. You can only deposit your week when your home resort assigns you a week, and that happens only after to pay your annual association fees (more on this later), which are due sometime around late November. Great, pay your fees, bank your week and put in for a search. You can’t just cherry pick a week from somewhere like they said you could; you’ve got to request it. In January, we put in a search for anywhere on Cape Cod; it didn't matter where, as long as we were on the curvy part that sticks out into the ocean and we can see the tops of the sailboats at least. Last year, we didn’t go anywhere, so for fear of having our week expire (no, you can’t save them up), we had to use it by February of this year… but no luck. Cape Cod, my friends, seems to be full up. Too many time sharers changing each other’s tires on the Cape, so you're not welcome.

But wait, to add to the fun, your week will expire if you don’t go anywhere by February… no, it won’t… just pay another fee and you’ll be fine; we can extend it for three months. Just pay the fee. Three months? That’s perfect. Kara’s off in June, we’ll stay local instead. We put in for a search for anywhere in California, on the beach or in the desert or in Arizona for the month of June. Who cares where. Let's just go somewhere, otherwise the cash we've been shoveling into the Money Pit will all be for naught.

We waited, and waited, and waited… Why then, we waited some more.

While I was waiting for them to call, the wool slipped from their fingertips and I saw the light. We were getting screwed, and the number one reason for owning a time share—to save money over conventional vacations—was a sham, a complete sham. I started to crunch the numbers and I came up with a startling revelation (hint: it involved me getting screwed).

Follow along:
1. We purchased the time share originally for $6250.00 in 2000. We’ve used it twice, which equals 14 days of resort time.
2. Every year, we pay approximately $700.00 association dues to our home resort. They don’t tell you about that in the sales pitches.
3. Every year, we pay approximately $50.00 in property taxes. They fail to mention this little tidbit too.
4. We pay approximately $50.00 a year for membership to RCI (remember, the big bank for time shares…well, they don’t do it for free apparently).
5. When we “bank” our week, we pay $120.00 to exchange it with another week…that is, we pay to begin a search. And don’t think for a second that we get it back if they fail to find something.
6. Our time expired this year, so we paid $60.00 to extend it until June. It's June and I'm still home...and there's no second extension.
7. Then they went and changed a policy without telling us: Usually, when you hold a reservation for a resort (to think about it), it automatically cancels itself by the end of the following day if you don't confirm it. Instead of that, now they do the opposite: They automatically book the trip if you don’t call back and cancel it at the end of the day. The cost for canceling it after it automatically books: $120.00 (the search fee).
8. If we were to go to Cape Cod this month, here is the breakdown of the associated costs: Flight for four: $1200. Rental car: $250. Boarding Elsa: $200. Parking at the airport: $200. Food and miscellaneous for the week: $750.00.

So, let’s just say that we did go to Cape Cod this month, adding another week to our impressive travel history of two weeks, giving us 21 days of time share usage in the last seven years. So, adding up everything we have spent in the last seven years, including the past two trips (with a rough estimate of $500.00 additional expenses during those trips), we will have spent… hold onto your hats: $15,290. To go on vacation… for three weeks.

That’s $728.09 a day. Un-freaking-believable.

Imagine the resort I could have stayed at for $728.09 a day. We could have taken a three week cruise around the world for $728.09 a day. I could have bought an impressive RV for $728.09 a day.

So, we’re selling it, with a vengeance, and with any luck, we’ll get all the money we spent back out of it so we can go on with our lives and forget that this little chapter ever happened. We’re not going to Cape Cod for all the financial reasons I mentioned above and I’m glad. However, we still have a week to spend, so now what? We decided to stay local, hey we’re going to lose it if we don’t use it…and I don’t mind staying anywhere but our home resort. So we figured it would be no problem to find a place within 500 miles of here. Right?


That was two months ago when we started a search and we haven’t heard from the since… at least, until yesterday that is. An overly cheery guy on the phone called to announce that they’ve located the perfect resort for us and that we will be forever grateful to RCI for matching us up with this most wonderful of wonderful places. The conversation was kind of weird. They're based in Indianapolis, as far away from the beach as one could get, but he spoke like he was a stereotypical stoner surfer. He probably thought that since I am from California and I'm looking to go to the beach that I too think everything is radical or bitchin' and that my life is spent riding the perfect wave, so it seemed that he geared his language to better associate with somone who uses the term tubular to describe something impressive. I hate those people, always trying to make a sale. In fact, he actually told me the resort will be, “a kick-ass party.”

Kick-ass indeed.

Guess where it is?

That’s right, Disneyland, my home resort.

Sigh. Anyone want to buy a time share? It's an inexpensive and exotic way to vacation. No really.

1 comment:

Ryan or Kara said...

It certainly is a big disappointment isn't it? It did sound good at the time but you're right, it's quite a pain to find a place to stay. Oh, and both those places we stayed at were last minute cancellations, remember? And remember when we wanted to go to Hawaii in December? We tried almost a year in advance and didn't even get a call!



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