Top Spots for Cheap Luxury Hotels
When Denver aerospace engineer Doug Laczkowski and his family were planning a trip to Hawaii in 2007, he was hoping to keep costs down. Underwhelmed by hotel packages he saw online, he tried a different tack. After reading about a Web site where he could rent someone else’s timeshare, he found a two-bedroom condo at the Hilton Grand Vacation Club at Waikoloa Beach. He booked with the owner, confirmed with the resort, then spent a week in a spacious condo right on the golf course.
The best part? It was $1,200 for the week—about $700 cheaper than if he had booked a rental through the resort itself. “It turned out to be much more economical than staying at a resort and eating every meal in a restaurant,” Laczkowski said.
Laczkowski had taken advantage of a booming market: renting or buying someone else’s timeshare. While there are usually a lot of units on the selling block, the slumping economy is inspiring owners to unload at a faster pace—or at least rent them to cover maintenance costs. “If you have to put food on the table and you get your bill for maintenance,” says Ed Hastry, president of the National Timeshare Owners Association, “what do you pay first?” The upshot is a plethora of great deals for buyers—and renters—of timeshare condos at all price points.
Timeshare, of course, refers to the practice of buying a share in vacation real estate that gives the owner access to that condo or resort for a specific length of time (usually a week) over the course of several (or even unlimited) years. An owner’s week may be “fixed” to one specific week during the calendar year, or “floating,” meaning that it can be used in a wide array of times during the year.
Timeshares started in 1960’s Europe, where a few ski resorts in the Alps started selling guaranteed vacation accommodations, and first appeared in Hawaii and Florida during the 1970’s. But shady companies and scams made timeshare a dirty word for years. (A popular joke: How can you tell when a timeshare salesman is lying? When he’s moving his lips.)
Still, the industry exploded in the 1990’s when hotel brands like Hilton and Disney got into the business and the term vacation ownership increasingly replaced the much-maligned timeshare; regulation and name recognition brought the practice into its heyday. There was even an enticing new model called vacation clubs, in which buyers owned not just a one-week share at a certain property, but rather a certain number of points to spend at a “home” resort or partner resorts elsewhere. (A “fractional ownership,” meanwhile, refers to ownership of two weeks or more, usually at an ultra-high-end property.)
The changes certainly worked. In 2006 (the last year for which data is available), timeshare sales reached $10 billion—a 16 percent jump over 2005, according to the American Resort Development Association, the main trade group for the timeshare industry. The appeal?Condo comforts, resort amenities, and the ability to swap your share for locations around the world. “Year after year timeshare continues to be a fast-growing segment of travel,” says John Locher, vice president of marketing and sales for RedWeek.com, a Web site specializing in timeshare resales, rentals, and exchange.
But the weak economy gives secondhand timeshare seekers a potentially great opportunity. “There’s a lot of inventory, a lot that’s online, and that gives the buyer some real leverage,” says David Simmonds, a Mexico relocation consultant who closely watches the Mexican real estate market. Better yet, “with rare exceptions, these properties are exactly the same as those being sold new at much higher prices,” says Larry Hayden, president of the brokerage Timeshare Resales Worldwide.
Indeed, the price differences can be staggering. While the average new timeshare sells for about $18,000, according to ARDA, experts say that the typical resale price is anywhere from one half to one third of the original sale price. And in the vast majority of cases, there are also significant savings to be had in timeshare rentals as well: typically as much as one- to two-thirds lower.
We checked out rentals and resales—great places to look are RedWeek, eBay, real estate brokers’ sites, or in newspaper classifieds and Timesharing Today, an owner-advocacy magazine and Web site—and found that the destinations and resorts go far beyond the expected sprawls of Orlando, Las Vegas, or Cancún. At press time, we found a Four Seasons unit in southern California for $129 a night, a Wyndham on Hawaii’s Big Island for $71 a night, and a Disney property in Hilton Head, South Carolina selling for arguably one-tenth of its original price.
Of course, you still have to do a little homework. Some timeshare resales end up being for less desirable locales or times of year, but some have more expensive issues. “You have more responsibility as a consumer,” says Howard Nusbaum, president and CEO of the American Resort Development Association. “It’s kinda like a sale at Filene’s Basement—you gotta go through the rack and see what you would actually want.”
Granted, buying a timeshare from the property gives you the security of buying from a big established name—as well as first pick at the newest units and possible perks such as bonus weeks. “It’s like buying a car—people like buying one new from the dealer,” says RedWeek.com’s Locher. “But if you can find one that’s certified pre-owned—well, there are some real savings.”
- Make sure the seller is paid up on his past maintenance fees. If not, you’ll inherit the back bills.
- Know about any special assessments coming next year, like the shared bill for a new roof. A trustworthy seller should provide you with that paperwork, but you should also confirm the unit’s standing with the timeshare property’s company. “Call the home-owners association, call the resort,“ says Howard Nusbaum, president and CEO of the American Resort Development Association. “A legitimate seller should want to share that with you, and can show you the copy of the budget for the HOA.“
- Check with the resort itself to see if it offers resales too. We found property-offered resales, such as those at the Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont and The Banyan Resort in Key West, that were priced at the same or even lower than those on the outside resale market.
- Beware of brokers who list any vague fees attached to the sale (it’s a good idea to run the broker’s name by the Better Business Bureau or the state’s real estate licensing agency), and beware of any seller who balks at using a closing service, which is a great way to make sure the property is legit and that money gets handled properly. (Two commonly used services, which charge flat fees, are Resort Closings, and Timeshare Closing Services.
- Once you’ve bought a resale, join the club that the original owner belonged to—such as RCI or Interval International (usually about $100 a year). You can then swap your newly acquired timeshare for weeks at other affiliated resorts, or get access to member upgrades.
- Renters should have the owner contact the timeshare property to put the reservation in your name, and then confirm that with the property before you arrive (similar to the closing services, an escrow service can handle the funds). You can also approach properties directly about renting out a unit for a week—just realize that you’ll get invited to hear a legendary sales presentation during your stay. “Everybody gets those,“ says Ed Hastry, president of the National Timeshare Owners Association. “You just gotta say no, no, and no.“
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
What We Found: On RedWeek.com we saw many listing for Hacienda del Mar, a palatial, all-timeshare RCI property. Rentals started at $96 a night, but averaged around $200 a night. Resales started at $897 for a studio and $3,000 for a one-bedroom.
Reality Check: Through the resort’s Web site, we found studio rates for $280 a night; new sales start at $20,950 for a studio (52-624/145-6122; haciendadelmar.com.mx).
Hilton Head, South Carolina
Why: There are plentiful property options and—given South Carolina’s moderate climate—a lot of good seasons for either using or trading a timeshare.
What We Found: Marriott’s Grande Ocean Resort for $171 a night based on a week, or as little as $4,500 for a resale. Another family-friendly temptation: Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort, where a one-bedroom resale was $1,700 on RedWeek.com.
Reality Check: We found regular rooms at the Grande Ocean Resort for about $300 a night. A new Marriott Vacation Club timeshare runs from $7,800 to $85,000, according to its Web site (800-845-5279; marriott.com or marriott-timeshare.com). A Disney timeshare averages about $17,000 for ownership, according to its Web site (866-240-3817; dvc.disney.go.com).
Why: Not just for B&Bers anymore, the Green Mountain state has both skier- and family-friendly options.
What We Found: With guided hikes, a kids’ program, and four waterslides to boot, Smugglers’ Notch Resort is very popular with families, as we saw on RedWeek.com. A two-bedroom unit was renting for as little as $136 a night. Likewise, we also saw resale for the über-family-oriented Trapp Family Lodge for $4,000, or $171 a night for weeklong rentals in May 2008.
Reality Check: Smuggler’s Notch sells new units, depending on size and number of weeks, for anywhere from $12,000 to $90,000. Trapp Family Lodge offers its own new timeshares for $8,000 to $14,000 but also offers its own, competitively priced resales, with tags typically under $5,000. Regular rooms we priced started at $281 a night.
Park City, Utah
Why: Western mountain spots are hot for—no surprise—ski season, but if you’re open to other seasons, there are great deals in Utah.
What We Found: The Canyons Grand Summit Hotel for as low as $145 a night, based on one week during summer; high season could near $800 a night, even on the secondary market. Nearby, the Miner’s Club at the Canyons was $150 per night for a four-night stay, or $9,900 for a resale.
Reality Check: New ownership at the Grand Summit starts at $64,000, according to its Web site; nights in a single room at the resort start at about $199 in the off-season. The Miner’s Club starts at $235 during low season, $872 in high season; membership in the resort’s Raintree Vacation Club ranges from $13,000 to $45,000.
Why: You get brand-name options in Aruba, and you’re out of the hurricane zone, so there are fewer seasonal worries.
What We Found: On RedWeek.com we found a one-bedroom rental in late July at Marriott’s Aruba Ocean Club Rental for $136 a night, and a one-bedroom resale for $12,500. At the neighboring Marriott’s Aruba Surf Club, you could get a studio for $100 a night for a last-minute trip in late April, or a two-bedroom resale for $17,000.
New York City
Why: It may not fit the image of the stereotypical timeshare, but the Big Apple is a wildly popular trade among timesharers.
What We Found: The Manhattan Club is a hot, all-timeshare property near Columbus Circle that features hotel-like perks such as concierge, gym, and business center. On RedWeek.com we found nightly rates starting at $171 and resales starting at $4,500.
Reality Check: New ownership starts at $13,000. Manhattan Club’s Web site offers four-night packages starting at a competitive $239 a night per couple—if you participate in a presentation.
Why: Hawaii is a timeshare classic, of course—as long as you don’t mind the airfare to get there.
What We Found: On RedWeek.com we found a last-minute deal in a two-bedroom unit at the Wyndham Kona Hawaiian Resort on the Big Island for $71 a night; most rentals were in the $150 range. You could also buy as a resale (for even-numbered years only) for $3,599.
Reality Check: Booking a regular room at the resort starts at about $215 a night; buying a new Wyndham timeshare ranges from $18,000 to $26,000.
Why: This one may seem surprising at first, but makes sense when you look at a map. North of San Diego, Carlsbad is on the beach and is spitting distance from several family magnets: Legoland, the San Diego Zoo, Sea World, and, less than an hour north, Disneyland.
What We Found: Family-friendly doesn’t have to be downscale. On RedWeek.com we found a last-minute studio rental at the Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara for $129 a night; otherwise, rentals ranged from just under $200 to several hundred per night. A resale was asking $9,999.
Reality Check: A room at the Aviara resort starts at about $400 a night; ownership in its Residence Club, depending on size and season, ranges from $19,900 to $74,900.
Why: Las Vegas is an evergreen trade for timeshare lovers.
What We Found: Hilton Grand Vacation Clubs has three properties right on or just off the Strip. We found an HGVC resale at the Las Vegas Hilton for $5,000 on RedWeek.com, and $3,100 on eBay for the Flamingo. You can even whoop it up for as little as $136 a night by renting at the Flamingo.
Reality Check: No doubt, there seems to be a bottomless pit of low rates in Vegas: through Hilton’s Web site we found rooms at the HGVC for as low as $119 a night. A new unit at the new HGVC on the Las Vegas Strip sells from $12,000 to $50,000; the Las Vegas Hilton and Flamingo no longer have new units, according to HGVC.
Key West, Florida
Why: There are surprisingly wide options in Key West, from big brands to small independents-and the secondary market isn’t just full of hurricane season properties, either.
What We Found: In Old Town, we found The Banyan Resort, a restored old home with more of a B&B vibe than your typical timeshare property. On RedWeek.com a rental was going for $214 a night, based on seven nights, and a resale was being offered for $3,800. In these cases, the rental seems a better bet, since both fall during hurricane season. A resale of a week during winter months was going for $18,500.
Reality Check: A regular one-bedroom rental starts at $235; the resort is sold out of new timeshares, but it also sells its own resales, ranging very competitively from about $5,000 to $18,000, depending on the season (866-371-9222; thebanyanresort.com).