Does the timeshare industry love ignorant consumers?

parisvegasBusinesses like to say their best customers are educated ones. But that doesn’t necessarily apply to the timeshare industry.

After you hear Mike Seldin’s story, you might be forgiven for thinking that industry’s best customers are ignorant ones. And you might wonder which other businesses prefer to keep their customers in the dark.

Seldin and his wife attended a timeshare presentation in Las Vegas recently and purchased a trial membership that failed to deliver on its promises. But don’t worry, this story has a dramatic but happy ending.

The couple was hooked with the promise of free show tickets, which is the preferred bait of Vegas timeshare peddlers. Their two-hour, high-pressure presentation emphasized a VIP program, which the Seldins would have access to for their first two years of membership.

“One of the perks of the VIP program was that we would get limo transportation to and from the airport whenever we vacationed and also have use of the limo for short trips,” he remembers.

Too good to be true

Like most timeshare pitches, their saleswoman was persistent, hammering the Seldins with the benefits of buying now. They both liked the perks, but like any informed consumer, wanted to take a little time to think it over. That didn’t sit well with their saleswoman, who insisted on closing the deal then and there.

“She offered us a trial membership at the VIP level for two years for $2,700 which would then be applied to the same purchase price we were offered if we decided to buy,” remembers Seldin. “My wife has always been skeptical of time shares but this even sounded good to her. She kicked me under the table to indicate we should go for it. So we signed for the trial and were even given a limo ride back to the hotel.”

The Seldins bought a trial membership in a timeshare without reading the terms of their purchase, because their saleswoman really wanted them to sign now. Hmmm.

You probably can see where this is headed, can’t you?

You’re not an owner

Almost a week later, the Seldins decided to try their trial membership. Under Nevada’s convoluted timeshare regulations, they had five days to cancel their contract, but their agreement allowed them seven days. So they logged on to the member website.

“The first red flag was the message, “You are not authorized to use this website at your membership level. Please call our travel representative for more information’,” he remembers.

Then things went from bad to worse.

“I then found out there were actually two VIP programs,” he says. “One for owners and one for trial members. I asked what the benefits of the trial member VIP program were. Essentially, the only benefit was that we would have a dedicated travel representative by phone to assist us with our travel plans so we wouldn’t have to go through different people each time we called.”

In other words, the persistent timeshare saleswoman told them a little white lie. While the VIP benefits existed, she wasn’t selling a trial membership in that program.


Seldin phoned the saleswoman and asked her about the inconsistency.

“She seemed to be unaware of the two different VIP programs and was pretty sure it was a mistake,” he says. “She said she would look into it but, since this was Saturday and corporate was closed, she may not have an answer until Monday.”

Ah, but wait! Remember the cancellation period? If Seldin waited until Monday, he’d lose his $2,700. And he was starting to get a bad feeling about the whole operation.

“I then asked about the perks we were promised as VIP members, including the limo service. She said she could only speak for her property but that we would still be entitled to that in Las Vegas. No guarantees for other properties,” he says.

That did it.

“At that point, I was really beginning to feel we’d been taken,” he says. “I indicated that I would like to cancel the contract and she said she had no authority to cancel, only to sell, and she didn’t know the procedure for cancellation. She then said I should reconsider because ‘it’s still a great deal.’ Aside from the lies and misinformation, of course.”

Only at the 11th hour did the Seldins turn to their contract and read it from top to bottom. The agreement specified that they had until the seventh day to cancel, but that it had to be postmarked by midnight on the seventh day.

“Luckily, we have a post office by the airport with late night hours,” says Seldin. “We made it.”

They received a full refund. But other customers, they are certain, are not so lucky. I know they’re right because I hear from timeshare victims almost every day.

While the sales presentation that led to the Seldins’ questionable purchase may have violated the ethics code of the American Resort Development Association, the timeshare industry’s trade group, they would have had little recourse as a practical matter. Because even though their saleswoman danced around a few facts, their contract spelled it all out.

When it came to the Seldins’ timeshare, ignorance was not bliss — a hard but valuable lesson learned.

And it begs a bigger question: Which industries truly benefit from informed consumers? Are there any in the travel industry that actively try to educate their customers? (I can’t think of any, but maybe you can.) How about outside travel?

Does any company profit from having knowledgeable customers, or do they do better when we act dumb?

Does the timeshare industry profit from our ignorance?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Mel65

    I’d say no, they benefit from our greed. What part of “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” do people fail to recognize over and over and over again in their desire to get something more for less?

  • PolishKnightUSA

    This is a common timeshare sales technique: Start out with a nose-bleeder price and then bring it down to appear to be a bargain.

    Here’s a quick way to get rid of all the vampire salesmen (It got me escorted INSTANTLY out of a presentation). Use the words: ebay and “ponzi” scheme.

    They’ll fret and argue with you over how a timeshare bought on ebay is worthless without their special incentives for direct buyers and you can observe then that the timeshare therefore has a zero resale value. Then express your concern that they’re selling more inventory than building in areas you want to vacation and availability is an issue.

    They’ll panic about anyone overhearing ANY of that and will get you to the door, pronto.

    Even where I think a timeshare currently has value on the resale market, I cringe about a lifetime obligation to a deed where I have no control over the association fees and cannot dump the property at will. With conventional real estate, you can allow the property to go into foreclosure or a tax lien sale but timeshares appear to be deliberately designed to prohibit you from escaping.

  • Timeshare Advocacy INTL

    Spot on article. These are the kind of stories that we at TAI see on a daily basis. Timeshare companies want you to know as little as possible about what they’re selling so they can use deceptive sales tactics, like the “VIP membership” discussed above, to get the sale. If you own a timeshare and are at your wit’s end on how to get out, visit our website and see if we can help. We’ve cancelled thousands of timeshare contracts to date, and our services are backed with a 100% money back guarantee.

  • Maya

    Sure, they love ignorant consumers. Innocent travelers get lured into buying a timeshare and pressured to sign a contract that doesn’t include any of the promises made by their salesman. People decide to buy a house or a car and do their research before purchasing one. However, no one ever gets up one day and decides to purchase a timeshare, so they have no idea about timeshare before purchasing one.

    Please check out my Facebook page and kindly like and share it with your loved ones.

  • Harriet Mendler

    Most of people who have purchased timeshare contracts become excited about the travel possibilities express by a sales representative. These possibilities usually are never used. By this time you probably realized that you spent thousands of dollars on a timeshare that is not what you or your family need. Regardless of the reason why you feel you need to cancel a timeshare, you need to know some basic steps to dump it fast and avoiding any possible scam from timeshare sharks. People need to avoid scammers resorts, that’s why they need to know wich ones are the scammers. Villa del Palmar is an example of a fraudulent resort: Villa
    del Palmar

  • Charles Berger

    The best thing to know about timeshares:

    NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!


    Buying a retail timeshare is setting a big pile of money on fire.

    1. Your trades cost money on top of the maintanence fees. By the time you add up the opportunity cost of buying it, the maintenance, and the trades, you have paid for a luxury hotel room.

    2. Uncertainty. You can never be sure that a trade will be available in the place you want to go. You may spend all the money and end up no closer to Mickey. You can probably get a trade for a place in the Catskills though….

    3. Fees. There are yearly maintenance fees. Typically $500-750 a year. On top of the purchase price.

    4. Buying points? Congrats. You just bought the right to contend for vacancies at the time share company. If they devalue them in the future, then you -might- get that place in the Catskills.

    Timeshares are overpriced, but worthless

  • Harriet Mendler

    Without a doubt, timeshare cancellation is the best option to get rid of an unwanted timeshare. Once the timeshare contract is properly cancelled, there are no further financial obligations attached to the resort, which means:
    No more calls
    No more timeshare maintenance fees
    No more timeshare debt
    No more special assessment fees
    Know more about fraudulent resorts:

  • BarbaraFletcher

    Time shares have always been a bad buy. But for those who really feel they need one I make one recommendation: Never buy from the developer. Always wait for timeshares to appear on the secondary market, usually at half-price. People like you get excited at the new developments and jump right in, only to become disillusioned later and dump the property onto the secondary market, at a loss, for a patient, informed buyer to take advantage of.

  • MoDare

    Only morons and suckers buy timeshares. End of.

  • Marcin Jeske

    Pretty much… I have been lucky enough to experience a few timeshare presentation and leave without signing a contract… it is a well-oiled persuasion machine.

    Even if you think you are a rational person who is just there to listen and get your free dinner/tickets/whatever… you will still find yourself thinking, hey, you know, maybe this is a good deal.

    No, they will not actually physically stop you if you get up to leave the room… but psychologically, they may as well be doing that. First, once people “invest’ some time towards getting a reward, you escalation of commitment, known as the suck cost fallacy, where people figure they should stay not to waste that initial investment. That keeps them there, at the table, talking.

    The sales teams offer ever more complicated incentives in direct reactions to whatever reasons the prospect gives to no buy. An elaborate pageant of guides, agents, and managers is staged to make the prospect think that they are getting a much better deal than others. A barrage of well-tested psychological manipulations are used.

    Once they are in the room, only the strong-willed escape. As to willing victims, I would compare it to being told and believing that you are going to be swimming with harmless nurse sharks, put you get put in the pool with Great Whites. Are surfers in seal-like wetsuits willing victims of shark bites? Are sunbathers who don’t use enough sunscreen willing victims of third degree burns??

  • Grace Evans

    The timeshare industry has been into the lion’s mouth for the last couple of years, and it has generated lots of controversy and discussions in many forums and blogs on the web. However, since we’re living an economic downturn, anyone would expect that the timeshare sales collapse, but instead of that the sales seem to be increasing… but this comes with a trap: timeshare scams are increasing too. That leads us to the question: then, why keep people investing on timeshares?