27 October 2016
CHOICE is warning consumers about the pitfalls of timeshare schemes that boast holidays of a lifetime yet can leave you significantly out of pocket and dealing with tricky contract clauses and ongoing fees.
A CHOICE investigation has found one consumer, who invested in Worldmark South Pacific Club, lost a staggering 90% on her investment after paying $12,300, or $2.05 a point, only to redeem them at 19 cents on a holiday to Fiji.
“Although they market themselves as lifestyle companies selling dream holidays, the reality is these schemes are more the stuff of nightmares,” says CHOICE Head of Media Tom Godfrey.
“With 700, representatives engaged in selling and promoting timeshares in Australia, it’s little wonder consumers are being dropped into rotten investments.
Timeshare schemes are technically financial services and those selling them are often giving financial advice. However, advisers flogging timeshares are exempt from many parts of the law designed to protect consumers, like the rules around conflicted remuneration.
“This is one area of the law where financial advisers have preserved the cowboy tactics of the past – high pressure sales techniques, high commissions and shocking consumer outcomes.”
Members use points not cash to book hotel rooms and holidays. These can be purchased at any time or included as part of the membership. Worryingly timeshare operators determine the value of the points and can change that value anytime.
“The fact is, these are often complex contracts which leave buyers to pay hefty annual fees and hidden levies for years which operators can increase or add to unilaterally during the life of the contract,” Mr Godfrey says.
“Sellers often hawk in shopping centres or theme parks and try to lure people into sales seminars with the promise of a reward, like a free holiday. Once there, timeshare operators use ’now or never’ tactics, and minimal cooling off periods, generally seven days, to pressure people into signing contracts which can last for decades.”
CHOICE’s investigation reveals timeshare operator ULTIQA gives consumers little information about the length of the agreement they’re entering into and there’s no clear and fair way to cancel the membership.
“Timeshare works on the premise that it’s a cheaper way to take a holiday. Instead, these contracts often bring with them a steady drain on your finances,” says Mr Godfrey.
“It’s hard to see why anyone would want to invest in these schemes when you consider the points you are purchasing can halve in value and you can face legal threats if you try to exit the schemes.
“In reality you’d be far better off avoiding timeshare schemes and paying directly for a holiday when you need to take a break.”
CHOICE has referred ULTIQA to ASIC for signing people up to unfair contract terms and is asking the regulator to launch a wider investigation into the sales practices of timeshare products.
For more details on CHOICE’s timeshare investigation go to: choice.com.au/timeshare
Tips for consumers:
• Always read the Product Disclosure Statement, ask how long membership will run for and how you can cancel it
• Don’t feel pressured into signing a contract on the spot
• Remember the value of points purchased can change significantly and without warning.
• Make sure you can contact the timeshare provider within the cooling off period.
• If you’re unhappy with a timeshare operator, lodge a complaint with the Financial Ombudsman Service or the Credit and Investments Ombudsman
Tom Godfrey, Head of Media and Spokesperson - 0430 172 669 - @choice_news
To read more on CHOICE tests, reviews and campaigns, go to choice.com.au
Set up by consumers for consumers, CHOICE is the consumer advocate that provides Australians with information and advice, free from commercial bias. As vital today as when we were founded in 1959, CHOICE continues to fight for consumers and uncover the truth. By mobilising Australia’s largest and loudest consumer movement, CHOICE fights to hold industry and government accountable and achieve real change on the issues that matter most.
 ATHOC submission to treasury
 CHOICE investigation