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Free Vacation – with a Timeshare Presentation – Is it a SCAM?

You’ve probably seen the ads for a trip to the Caribbean at an unbelievable price or get a call for a free weekend getaway at a resort. How can they be giving away these trips for a fraction of the normal cost or even for free? If you take the time to read the fine print or press the salesperson on the phone, you’ll find out that your only obligations are to meet their eligibility requirements and to attend a “short presentation” during your stay. As soon as you hear the word presentation, you can be sure that you are talking to a timeshare salesperson.

There is certainly a negative connotation around these types of trips and many people will call them a SCAM. I’ve done a number of these “deals” ranging from a 1 hour “presentation” in return for a free sunset sail, to a 5-day all-inclusive deal in Cabo where I paid a fraction of the regular cost for 4 nights in a beautiful resort with all meals included. I’ve also done a similar deal in Vegas with hotel and show tickets for $99. So, let’s break it down to see if it is something you might want to try.

First, let’s briefly review the concept of a timeshare. Essentially, you buy the right to use a shared property for a designated period of time – usually one or two weeks a year. The timeshare business has evolved to the point that you can be quite flexible in when or where you use those weeks but the model and the sales pitch have been the same since the start of the timeshare business – “Why pay for a hotel when you can “own” a place at the destination of your choice”.

I’ll do another blog on whether a timeshare investment is a good idea (usually no), but today let’s focus on whether the “free trips” are scams or a great way to take a vacation.

Let’s start with the obligations. In return for your trip/experience, you agree to meet the eligibility requirements and attend the presentation. Let’s start with the eligibility requirements. They vary but most have a minimum age (usually 25), and often a requirement that you a married or living with someone. And both people have to attend the presentation, or you will be liable for the full cost of the vacation (which will be expensive). If you are not married you’ll need proof of living together such as a matching addresses on driver’s licenses or both names on a utility bill. Often there is also a minimum income requirement, but I’ve never heard of them verifying that (and not sure how they would). As long as you carefully follow their directions, you’ll be fine.

The presentation is exactly as you’d expect. Usually a tour of the property followed by a well-rehearsed sales presentation which typically focuses on the high cost of normal vacations (hotel prices) and how much you’ll “save” with a timeshare. The cost of the timeshare will start high and by the end of the session it will be half or more off the initial offer due to some special promotion they are having just for you. They will do everything to get you to buy and even appeal to your sympathy by saying that they personally don’t get paid unless you buy.

Of course, they are paying for your vacation because some people are convinced by the sales pitch and buy the timeshare. But my experience is you just have to be polite and firm about your lack of interest and it isn’t such a bad experience. It helps if you treat the experience as a master class in salesmanship and try to discover the techniques they use to get you to buy. You become less invested in the process that way. You can also be very strict on timing. It will probably run longer than advertised but as long as you remind them that you have some place to be after the time scheduled for the meeting, you should be able to get out of there with most of your day intact.

So, that’s it. As long as you can verify that you meet the eligibility requirements and stoically sit through a very professional sales pitch, you can enjoy the vacation that you are getting for free or at a reduced price. I’ve never had or heard of anyone having an unusual experience with their vacation. Most of the resorts have a mix of people getting the “timeshare deal” with others who are timeshare owners and those who are paying for their vacation. Everyone seems to be treated the same.

As long as you are careful, you’ll have no problems and can enjoy a great vacation at a fraction of the normal cost. If you can do it every year, you’ll definitely not need to buy a timeshare!

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