Timeshare Adventures

Points-based timeshare programs let you vacation on your own terms — when, where, how long, and what kind of villa you want.

If someone had asked me 20 years ago “what is timeshare?”, I’d have a very different answer than I have today. That’s not just because timeshares have changed (although they have), but because my first exposure to timeshare was the type of horror show that was all too common back in the day.

Exploring Options

My wife and I — newly married, with a small child and a smaller vacation budget — were lured out to Cape Cod by a mailer promising a free weekend stay at a beach resort in exchange for attending a timeshare presentation. The pitch took place in a large, open room filled with desks, each with a salesman talking to a couple about purchasing their dream vacation for life. When someone made a sale a bell would ring, and all of the salespeople would stand and applaud.

We didn’t ring the bell. In fact, when we made it clear we weren’t prepared to buy right there on the spot, our previously friendly salesman turned downright nasty, all but berating us for publicly wasting his time. Needless to say, we couldn’t get out of there fast enough. The episode not only cast a cloud over the weekend but soured us on the whole idea of timeshares for a long time.

“Timeshares have a negative stigma from years of hard sell,” said Brian Rogers, owner of the Timeshare Users Group, an online community that includes many Marriott Vacation Club Owners. It’s no coincidence that the industry has moved away from the term “timeshare,” preferring “vacation ownership,” instead.

Despite our rough start in the timeshare world, however, we are now satisfied MVC owners — which makes us pretty typical, said Rogers.

“By and large Marriott Vacation Club is always very highly rated, and Owners are generally happy with their purchase,” he said.

Making Trading Simpler

Like most timeshare owners up until about a decade ago, my wife and I purchased a week at a home resort — Marriott’s Aruba Surf Club®, in our case. We could either stay there year after year or trade via Interval International (II) to stay in one of their listed properties, which included other Marriott Vacation Club resorts around the world. Under typical timeshare rules, we had to use each annual week within a span of a couple of years, and we were obligated to pay annual maintenance fees as Owners to provide for the upkeep of our home property.

“In the old days, when Owners had a home resort, they would contact us at Owner Services to reserve a week within their season,” said Jennifer DeRosier, director of education for Marriott Vacation Club. “If nothing was available, or maybe they didn’t want to stay at their home resort, we’d always have to place an exchange through Interval International (II). Almost every exchange was through II, even if you wanted to stay at another Marriott Vacation Club resort.”

That process involved paying fees to II and was relatively complicated, especially when Owners tried to get comparable value for their trade, said DeRosier. Plus, “our Owners said, ‘we’re Marriott people, and we want to deal with Marriott, not another company,’” she recalled.

Getting to the Points

In 2010, Marriott Vacation Club switched to a points-based system, where Owners get the right to use available inventory at most Marriott Vacation Club properties rather than a week at a single property.

“Purchases are now by deeded beneficial interests in that land trust,” which is based in Florida, explained DeRosier.

New Owners buy beneficial interests in the trust and get usage allocated as Vacation Club Points, but do not purchase weeks. Existing Owners of timeshare weeks have the option of enrolling in the Marriott Vacation Club Destinations Exchange Program, allowing them to either use their week as they did prior to that enrollment — or elect to convert it each year into a set point value based on a number of factors, including the type, location and season that they own.

Owners still must use their points within a certain period of time, and they still pay annual maintenance fees plus annual Club Dues. Those who own weeks continue to have the option of trading through the II system, but if they want to stay at a Marriott Vacation Club property, it’s easier to just elect to use Vacation Club Points and use those — especially now that booking via the Marriott Vacation Club website has been simplified.

“The shift in the industry is definitely toward points now,” said Rogers. “It’s easily understandable, like credit card points or miles, and the next generation of timeshare owners wants more flexibility.”

Beyond Swapping Properties

So what is timeshare, in this era of points? With the Marriott Vacation Club Destinations Exchange Program, Vacation Club Points give Owners far more choices in how to use their timeshare than trading weeks. Owners can stay as few or many nights as they would like, check in whatever night they want (not just on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday) and book whatever size villa they prefer, all based on availability and the number of Vacation Club Points they have to use.

In addition to resort stays, Owners can use Vacation Club Points for rooms at big-city Marriott Vacation Club PulseSM hotels, cruises, guided group tours and vacation homes. Or they can convert them to Marriott Rewards points for use at Marriott hotels worldwide. “There are literally thousands of things to do,” said DeRosier.

Vacations for a Lifetime

DeRosier said there is no “ideal” timeshare owner. Although married couples are required to attend sales presentations with their spouse because of the shared financial commitment ownership entails, plenty of single people are Marriott Vacation Club Owners. Timeshare ownership makes sense for families because parents can stay with children in the same unit but still have a separate bedroom. And having a full kitchen can save big money on dining out — which itself can be an ordeal with younger kids.

“It’s for people who value spending time with their families and enjoying their lives,” said DeRosier. “They don’t want to defer vacations until their retirement.”