Abercrombie & Kent vacation clubs: try before you buy

Let the tough timeshare and vacation club market work to your advantage this year. Upscale travel firm Abercrombie & Kent’s Residence Club is offering two-year trial memberships starting at $18,700 a year for 15 nights – that’s a tad under $1,250 a night. The residences tend to be around 4,000 square feet and have four bedrooms. A&K suggests that you can “even travel with the extended family,” but I’m sure I could find other uses for the extra space (I’m not a fan of traveling with a lot of people, regardless of connection).

Okay, so it’s basically a decent amount of cash for access to some great properties in places like the Turks & Caicos and Deer Valley, Utah. The details, however, make the difference. A&K takes care of airport pickup, grocery shopping before you hit the ground and the other prep activities that could slip your mind when you’re worried about catching planes and disappearing from the “real” world for a few days or weeks. The Global Experience Manager will take care of all this for you, including any unique needs or interests you may have – from a behind-the-scenes private tour of the South Carolina Aquarium’s Turtle Hospital to skiing withOlympic athletes in Sun Valley, Idaho.

“This two-year trial offer is designed for those considering a second home or who simply want an extended opportunity to experience club life before making a long-term commitment,” says Abercrombie & Kent Residence Club President Scott Wiseman. “Families can enjoy the privacy of a spacious home in their choice of popular resort destinations for much less than the cost of comparable hotel suites. Club membership is an affordable, maintenance-free alternative for those thinking about buying a second home.”

Under this trail program, you can play without having to drop any cash up front. Instead, you pay the normal dues with a 10 percent premium. If you join later, A&K will credit it to your capital contribution. Fifteen-, 30- and 45-night programs are available, so you can choose your level of decadence. If you choose, you can exchange your nights for credit toward other A&K travel, like a cruise in the Galapagos or an African safari.

This is a pretty wild deal – a chance to date a vacation club before marrying it.

Where have all the timeshares gone?

I know there are a handful of people out there who have taken the bait: just sit through a short, two-hour presentation, and we’ll pay for your trip to luxurious-fill-in-the-blank-destination. Well, more and more of you are saying “no” this year. Timeshare sales are expected to fall 30% this year, following the glory days of 2004 to 2008.

Until last year, everything looked great for the timeshare business. Sales did fall 8.5% in 2008, the first downward turn since the industry came into existence in 1975. But, maintenance fees stayed under control (increasing from $471 to $646 from 2004 to 2008), and sale prices surged around 30% from $15,790 in 2004 to $20,152 in 2008. Last year, $10.6 billion in timeshares were sold.

So, with the timeshare pitchers facing their worst year in more than three decades, no might be a decent time to sit through one of those “information sessions.” If you want to go back to the same place on vacation every year, you’ll probably be able to squeeze a bit of extra savings out of them!

Are you going on vacation this year?

The answers seem to be all over the map.

Few have extra cash on their hands, and those who are working are still worried about what the future will bring. It’s tough to dash off to somewhere exotic – or even somewhere that’s not home – when you don’t know if your income will be there when you get back.

But, sometimes you just have to get out of town. There is some truth to the fact that layoffs are hardest on the survivors. Those left behind have more work than before and are unlikely to be rewarded handsomely. All the extra stress is made worse by the fact that the next round of cuts may be around the corner. It may make sense to hoard cash just in case.

So, how do you choose? Do you give yourself the break that you need and spend a few bucks on satisfaction, or do you take the safer route financially and suffer silently?

I decided to conduct a very unscientific survey, posing this question to the members of Helpareporter.com. The responses varied widely.There is one common theme. For almost everyone, the decision of whether to stay or go is a tough one. Money is tight, and nobody knows where the bottom of the market will be. Travel plans were not made lightly. Budget travel is on the agenda almost universally.

Melody Brooke and her husband normally take three weeks of vacation a year, but her business folded this year due to the tough economy, and her husband’s had a tough time here. So, their “timeshare sits empty.”

Lisa Brock is a small business owner, making today’s economic conditions particularly worrisome. Nonetheless, she and her husband are heading out to Egypt. “While we considering NOT spending the money – we decided we have earned it and we can manage – even if we have to give up eating out or theater/concert tickets to do so.” Making cuts elsewhere can give you the elbow room you need to decompress.

Like Brock, Jennifer Tipton is self-employed, and time away from work means that money isn’t coming in (I can relate; I’ve been there. Yet, she says, travel is very important to me. If I do not take a break from working and my daily life I will not be the best I can be at my job.” Working in personal fitness, she needs to keep her energy up and is planning a big trip for the end of the summer.

Christel Hall has seen clients in her writing/consulting business cut back this year and thus calls herself “employed and cautious.” She’s combining her vacation with a three-day conference for work, adding three days to the front of the trip to relax.

Kathryn Rippy and her husband “need a vacation very badly,” but they are “holding onto our money right now.” She hasn’t had a real vacation since before the birth of her child more than a year ago, and her job as an independent management consultant is both demanding and “lumpy” (hey, my old gig, too!). Her husband’s a consultant as well, and a tough market is magnified in that line of work. But, they need a break and are using frequent flier miles and hotel points to take a short trip out to Key West. Several others responded that they are hitting the road but scaling down their plans.

“Some R&R is definitely in order,” for Ty Mays, who was laid off twice during the Bush administration. To unwind for a little bit, he’s driving to Jacksonville and then taking a bargain cruise to the Bahamas … “and there will be no souvenir or duty free shopping for me!”

Carmen Shirkey and her boyfriend are headed to Amsterdam, despite the fact that her boyfriend’s plant shut down last week. They had already booked the trip and are following through with it. “Lots of people at his company said they were taking a trip to blow off post-layoff steam,” she says, “and I think it’ll do him a world of good to just forget about things for a week.” This isn’t the first I’ve heard of this situation. Many choose to get away and relax … and worry about the real world when they get home.

Perhaps the most interesting story came from Anna Broadway. She writes, “I’m employed in a fairly stable industry, but certainly not immune to all the economic anxiety in the air these days.” She hasn’t budgeted for a vacation but did want to head to the Isle of Man for her 30th birthday last summer. To go this year, her plan is to use her tax return to finance her wanderlust, “since I had not included that money in my financial planning for the year.”

“I hear it’s supposed to be a good year for travel bargains,” Broadway continues, “so it seems like the timing might not be so bad for a vacation after all.”

Well, come back to Gadling from time to time, and you’ll see where the deals are!


Talking Travel with Lisa Schreier: Confessions of a ex time-share hawk

Want to get the real scoop on time shares? Here to shed some light on what actually goes on inside the industry is Lisa Schreier, author of Timeshare Vacations For Dummies and Surviving A Timeshare Presentation…Confessions From The Sales Table

What is your background in the timeshare industry?

I started in the industry as a total “green-pea” out of necessity in 1998 as the Owner Referral Manager at a timeshare resort in Orlando. I earned my Florida Real Estate License in 1999 and for the next 6 years, I was a salesperson, a sales manager and the manager of the trial program at a few resorts around town before deciding to dedicate myself to educating people about timeshare.

Are timeshares the right choice for seasoned travelers? Do they lock you down to a single destination year after year?

Timeshares can be a wonderful way to vacation for seasoned as well as novice travelers. Seasoned travelers will enjoy the large range of vacation opportunities around the world, while novice travelers will enjoy the security of having a vacation home that they can return to year after year. With more than 5,800 timeshare resorts worldwide, ranging from quaint cottages to high-rise beachfront condos, there truly is something for everyone with timeshare. However, it is important to know what you want ahead of time so that you don’t get stuck with something that is not valuable or useful to you.

What do you think of the new trend of fractional home ownership?

Fractional home ownership is great for some people. For the traditional timeshare owner however, it can be cost prohibitive. Timeshares are generally sold in one-week increments; and while it is true that some owners own several weeks, fractional home ownership is traditionally 4+ weeks a year. If you don’t use all of your fractional home ownership, you may be stuck with having to find renters to offset your costs. Vacations should be fun, not work!

What are some tips to insure you don’t get scammed by a too-good-to-sound-true timeshare offer?

Well, first of all, let’s differentiate between a “too good to be true” vacation offer that includes a timeshare presentation, and a “too good to be true” timeshare.” Timeshares are still marketed circa 1975. You get a call, fax, e-mail or direct mail piece, or worse yet, are accosted on the beach or coming out of a restaurant, with offers ranging from discounted hotel stays, free or greatly reduced attraction tickets, dinner show certificates or some other “catch.”

Rest assured every single one of those offers is designed with one goal in mind…to get you to a timeshare resort and in front of a salesperson whose mission it is to sell you a timeshare. Are these “too good to be true?” Yes and no. No, in that they are what they are. After the timeshare sales pitch, you will get what you were promised. Thankfully, the days of being promised a “boat” and getting a 4′ long inflatable 2-person raft have gone by the wayside. You have to ask yourself, though, if sitting through a sometimes high pressure timeshare pitch is worth whatever you are getting when you factor in that in most cases, you’re talking about 4+ hours of your valuable vacation time spent at the resort, listening to a pitch and commuting back and forth.

Now, the timeshares themselves…are they “too good to be true?” Understand that the easiest definition of timeshare is the difference between renting your vacation accommodations and owning them. There are differences of course between fixed weeks, floating weeks and points, seasons, locations, etc. I advise my clients at Timeshare Insights to do their homework ahead of time and to stay away from any salesperson or sales manager who uses one of more of these words, “FREE, PERFECT, ALWAYS and/or NEVER.” Free and perfect don’t exist and always and never are very long times!

How difficult are timeshares to sell?

It’s not so much, “are they difficult to sell?”, it’s “what can you get for them”? In 2007, the average price of a 2-bedroom timeshare worldwide was approximately $18,000. If you were to sell that same timeshare today, you couldn’t expect to get more than half of that.

How well do timeshares fare as real estate investments?

In a word, lousy. Don’t think of timeshares as real estate investments, rather as an investment in your future vacations. Timeshares are not “Donald-Trump-type real estate.”

What are the top 5 secrets timeshare companies don’t want you to know?

  • The average price of a timeshare. Last year, the average price of a 2-bedroom timeshare was around $18,000, but the resorts don’t like to advertise this. I think its imperative for consumers to know the average price in order to make wise choices.
  • “Red Time” is not always “Red Time.” In timeshare, “red time” is the terminology used to designate high demand time. Certain places, such as Orlando, Las Vegas and Hawaii are designated as high demand, year round. While it is true that Orlando may still be busier in January than the Wisconsin Dells are in July, if you own a January week in Orlando, it does not have the same trading power as July week in Orlando.
  • Almost everything is negotiable. When it comes to money, you have to remember to figure in the cost of the timeshare itself, the annual maintanance fees, real estate taxes, closing costs, upgrade fees, membership fees, exchange or trading fees, special assessments and so on and so on. If you’re going to be spending $18,000 at a resort, you better ask what they can throw in. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. You should also ask if the price itself is negotiable. Back in the days when I was a timeshare salesperson, I was stunned at how few people actually asked for a lower price. It’s the same as paying “sticker price” at a car dealership!
  • You don’t have to buy it “today.” Here’s one of the reasons the timeshare industry has such a negative reputation. The salesperson and then the sales manager try to get you to part with your money by insisting that the price will be much higher tomorrow, so you had better buy it today. While it is true that some very legitimate timeshare resorts offer what is called a “First Visit Incentive,” I doubt that any of those resorts would refuse to honor that first visit price if you came in the next day with a credit card. However, with due respect for my old profession, DON’T waste your time or insult the salesperson’s intelligence by lying and saying “I’ll be back tomorrow with the cash” when you both know that you don’t have the cash and have no interest in buying the timeshare. The easiest way out is simply to say “No thanks, I can’t afford it” or “No thanks, I’m not interested.” Don’t lie.
  • You do not have to sit through a timeshare presentation in order to buy a timeshare and you don’t have to buy from the developer. Again, this is where the industry gets a bad name. I can’t think of any other product or service where you have to be bribed with offers and then sit and listen to a salesperson before being “allowed” to purchase the product. You are free to visit any timeshare resort in the world and ask to see the property and get some prices without a sales pitch. If they try to get you to a pitch, WALK OUT. On the other hand, you don’t have to purchase a timeshare from the developer at all. There are ways to purchase a timeshare at significantly less than that $18,000 average. The trick is to know who to deal with. Again, that’s where working with an independent firm such as Timeshare Insights becomes valuable. We don’t financially benefit if you purchase a timeshare or not, but we can guide you through the murky waters.

Is it possible to get a timeshare in some off-the-beaten-road places? Southeast Asia? Eastern Europe? South America? If so, what resources would you recommend?

Yes, there are more than 5,800 timeshares worldwide. You are more likely to find them in places that attract lots of travelers, so you probably won’t find any in Vietnam right now, but may find some there in 10 years as global tourism there increases. For instance, if the current trend continues, Dubai will have more timeshares there in 10 years than Orlando! There are pros and cons of buying timeshare out of the country. The most obvious con is if the contract is written in a language that you are not fluent in. If you don’t understand exactly what you are buying, then don’t!

For more information, check her website: Timeshare Insights.