Need to know
- Based on our number crunch and the complaints we've received from our members, CHOICE does not recommend any timeshare product.
- In addition to membership fees, there are annual levies, mandatory fees and other costs to pay, whether you book a timeshare or not.
- Some timeshares can take 38 years to work out cheaper than booking your accommodation yourself each year; others will never be cheaper.
We look at five timeshare companies – Accor Vacation Club, Classic Holiday, Marriott Vacation Club, Ultiqa Lifestyle and Wyndham World Mark South Pacific Club – to find out how they compare to the costs of booking online accommodation in Surfers Paradise, Queensland.
The short answer is no. Based on our number crunch and the complaints we've received from our members, CHOICE does not recommend any timeshare product. The best thing you can do is avoid these high-cost holiday traps and book each holiday as you need it.
Some timeshares can take from 11 to 38 years to work out cheaper than simply booking a Surfers Paradise apartment online every year. Other timeshares will never be cheaper than booking online.
The contract is the catch. A typical timeshare contract locks you in for 40 to 60 years or more, and you're obliged to pay fees every year, whether you book a timeshare or not.
These fees are also subject to a percentage increase every year, compounding your costs. For the cost of a timeshare in Surfers Paradise, over the life of the contract, we found the entry fee plus the ongoing fees could add up to as much as $450,000.
Another downside? If you're travelling at peak times you may have to plan up to a year in advance to secure your timeshare accommodation, so it can be far less flexible than booking yourself or visiting a travel agent.
Timeshare memberships come with a set number of points for members to spend on accommodation each year. For example, you might buy into a 6000 points a year membership for a one-off cost of $30,000.
Every year you receive the 6000 points – but you also have to pay fees every year.
The number of points you need to book accommodation will vary depending on the season (high or mid), how long you stay and the type of accommodation, but they're capped at the original price for the duration of your contract.
Accor Vacation Club, Classic Holiday, Marriott Vacation Club, Ultiqa Lifestyle and Wyndham World Mark South Pacific Club have accommodation in several destinations in Australia and worldwide.
Accommodation reservations can be made online or over the phone. Bookings are available from 11 to 20 months in advance, depending on the contract, and you're encouraged to book early.
They're processed on a first-to-book, first-served basis, subject to availability. Higher or different level memberships have a larger booking window at Accor, Marriott and Ultiqa. Some of our CHOICE members complained about the long lead-time and a lack of available accommodation when they tried to book.
- Accor Vacation Club's contract runs until 2080
- Wyndham has two options: the Premier ownership with all the perks runs until 2080, while the Standard ownership will continue for the lesser of either 40 years from purchase or the life of the Club
- Classic Holiday runs until 2084
- Ultiqa Premium ownership continues until 2081, or the Standard option for 40 years
- Marriott operates until 2061.
There are no termination clauses in any of the product disclosure statements (PDS), so once you sign up, you're locked in for the lifetime of the club or the agreed contract period.
Fees and levies
Membership comes with a series of costs:
- Upfront membership fee
- Annual levies, increasing every year at up to 6.5% or the Consumer Price Index (CPI), for operating expenses such as management fees, landscaping, cleaning and refurbishment costs, as well as administrative expenses
- Additional costs for housekeeping once you've used the limited complementary allowance
- Additional costs for using international properties
- Mandatory fees like 'establishment fees' and exchange fees
You can buy a timeshare by attending a presentation by the club, or you can buy one online or privately from a member looking to offload theirs.
But you can only buy a timeshare contract with full or premium membership by attending a presentation.
Timeshares bought online or privately usually come with restrictions. For example, your accommodation options might be limited to the number of resorts available at the time of signing up, or to resorts within Australia, or you might have smaller booking windows.
We sat through presentations at Accor, Classic Holiday and Wyndham to bring you this information.
At the presentation, an agent:
- flogs you the membership perks
- asks questions about your holiday patterns
- determines the amount of points you need a year for your travels
- offers you a membership according to your travel habits.
The membership offered will include a certain number of points each year. If you need more points, you can accumulate them for one or two years or borrow from an upcoming year (for Wyndham this only applies to the Premier Ownership).
Alternatively you can switch to a higher membership with more points included, but you may have to pay a fee for upgrading.
So, if you've got your head around all of that, the timeshare structure seems quite straightforward. You sign a timeshare contract and you're locked into compounding annual fees, much like the compounding interest on your mortgage, for the duration of the contract.
For the full membership option, that's until 2061 for Marriott, 2080 for Accor and Wyndham, 2081 for Ultiqa Lifestyle and 2084 for Classic Holiday timeshare – much longer than the standard 30-year mortgage.
So how much money are we actually talking about over the lifespan of the contract? From around $100,000 to $450,000.
The least it will cost you for one week's accommodation each year for the duration of the contract is $103,637, if you holiday in a one-bedroom apartment in mid season with Accor.
At the other end of the scale, a two-bedroom apartment with Marriott in high season will lock you into $450,001 for the term of the contract.
At timeshare presentations for Accor Vacation Club, Classic Holiday and Wyndham, we were also offered a financing scheme. With a 10% upfront deposit on the membership fee, you could finance the rest over a period of seven and ten years respectively, with an interest rate of 14–15%. Doing so would of course add even more debt to your timeshare contract.
To figure out if a timeshare is worth it, we calculate how long it takes for the ongoing annual costs of a timeshare in Surfers Paradise to be cheaper than the cumulative cost of booking an apartment online every year. This is listed as 'Years to recover costs' in our comparison table below.
The result? It would take a minimum of 16 years before a timeshare became cheaper than booking your own holiday online, based on an annual family vacation in a two-bedroom apartment during high season (based on Accor Vacation Club and Ultiqa Lifestyle contracts).
But if you're booking that same holiday with Marriott Vacation Club or Wyndham World Mark South Pacific Club, your timeshare is unlikely to ever be cheaper than booking independently online.
OK, so perhaps timeshare isn't for families travelling to the Gold Coast in the school holidays. What if you're not bound by the school holidays?
Ultiqa Lifestyle's two-bedroom apartment will become cheaper that a DIY booking in 11 years, but a one-bedroom apartment with Marriott Vacation Club, even outside school holidays, will again be more expensive for 43 years. After five years, Marriott's costs for a two-bedroom apartment for one week in high season is 938% more than booking.com.
|Cost after 5 years ($)||31,672||29,908||132,694||25,246||46,465|
|Lifetime cost of timeshare contract ($)
|Years to recover costs compared to booking.com*||15||15||43+||11||25|
* Cost of booking.com after 5 years: $14,122
|Cost after 5 years ($)||35,307||35,683||154,823||32,790||89,846|
|Lifetime cost of timeshare contract ($)||143,563||214,079||450,001||158,463||308,908|
|Years to recover costs compared to booking.com*||16||19||43+||16||62+|
* Cost of booking.com after 5 years: $14,907
The fees and costs used in our calculations were collected by us from Booking.com and provided by the timeshare companies between November 2017 and January 2018. For Classic Holiday, Marriott and Wyndham, we use averages of the offered rooms to calculate the number of points required. An inflation rate of 1.8%/annum is applied to the average cost of similar accommodation on Booking.com over the same time frame. The period 2018–22 was used to calculate the estimated cost after five years.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.