What happens when you attend a timeshare presentation?

We sat through three timeshare presentations so you don't have to.

Timeshare presentation pain

  • Timeshare agents and managers try to wear you out with their tactics, numbers and perseverance
  • You feel coerced into signing because the deal is only available then and there
  • In these cases the contracts run for over 60 years
  • CHOICE does not recommend timeshare products

Saving up over one or two years to go travelling is hard work. That's where timeshare companies promise a solution. A solution that's attracted more than 178,000 Australian members so far, with numbers increasing every year.

To understand what timeshares are all about, I read the product disclosure statements (PDS) of five vacation timeshare companies, and my partner and I sat through timeshare presentations from Accor Vacation Club, Classic Holiday and Wyndham World Mark South Pacific Club.

This article also reveals how you must meet certain criteria to even attend a timeshare presentation, and how difficult it is to get out of a timeshare contract.

Find out what rights you have when things go wrong with your holiday accommodation.

Finding a timeshare presentation

Since timeshare memberships are mostly sold at presentations, I assumed it would be easy to attend one. Turns out it's not – especially if you only want to hear the facts without signing up for a 'heavily discounted' holiday offer. We eventually managed to get appointments after the agents checked our eligibility over the phone.

The criteria included:
  • minimum annual income for couples (which for these companies was $80,000 or $100,000)
  • permanent residency or citizenship
  • must be aged between 28 and 65
  • not having attended a presentation in the past 1–5 years.

We were told the presentation would take around 90 minutes and that we should bring our ID and Medicare card – and be punctual.

The hard sell

At each presentation, most of the other attendees were couples in their thirties, some with babies. Agents and their managers were introduced, drinks were offered and a light conversation started about how we holiday, what we expect and what we plan for the future. Apparently this is important for the agent to determine the amount of points you'll need to be able to holiday properly.

A lot of time was spent showing us available properties and explaining how a timeshare can save us a lot of money in the future. After estimating how much travel accommodation currently costs us, the agent tried to convince us these prices would double every decade. According to them, a timeshare would give us the opportunity to holiday at today's prices for the rest of our lives.

And since we attended the presentation, the agents said they could offer us a premium membership, which comes with perks such as being able to use the points internationally, cheap last-minute travel and even reduced flights or cruises.

Timeshare sales people can be notoriously pushy, with allegations of targeting people dying of cancer. But the agents and managers seemed pleased with us. We showed interest and we love travelling – a perfect match. But then we started to ask questions.

The hard questions

How can we get out of the contract? In these cases the contracts run until 2080 or 2084. That would make me either 96 or 100 when it ends. We were assured that the companies will still be running for another 80 years after that.

I'm not sure I'll have the need to travel by 2160, but the agent told us not to worry; we could gift our points, rent them out, sell the timeshare, or leave them to our children. Classic Holiday also gives you the option of requesting a refund for part of the annual costs when you don't use your points.

Selling a timeshare with no real financial loss would be another option, according to the Accor Vacation Club manager. But he also made us aware that the super premium membership would be downgraded to a normal standard membership when sold, so it doesn't make much sense to sell. Instead, it would be better to gift it to a family member. While doing my research I saw plenty of offers for timeshare memberships being sold, far cheaper than their original price, and some even being given away for free.

After almost two hours, we finally got to the point – the price. Upfront costs, how to finance (over a period of seven to 10 years) and annual costs were covered. To prove that all of this was much cheaper than planning our holidays and booking an Airbnb or hotel ourselves, they threw a lot of numbers at us. Unfortunately for them, we're both quite good at maths and told the Wyndham agent the numbers didn't add up. A shrug and, "life doesn't always work out the way it should" was the response.

Getting out

We told the agent and manager we were interested, but wanted to think about it. After all, a lifelong financial commitment like this should be considered carefully and it takes a while to read the 60-page PDS with all the details.

To our surprise, that wasn't an option. The decision had to be made right then and there. After leaving, we wouldn't be able to attend another presentation for years, and the premium membership would be off the table.

Their reasoning was that they put a lot of effort into their presentation and wouldn't want to do it again for someone who wasn't committed the first time. They also assume that you'd only decline due to a lack of money, and generally financial situations only change over a period of three to five years. The manager of Wyndham suggested we sign and use the seven-day cooling-off period to consider and read the PDS. In his opinion, that's what the cooling-off period was for.

I thought getting in and sitting through all the information was the hard part, but it turned out leaving the presentation was even more difficult.

After being told what a great deal we'd miss out on, we were left to think it over. This tactic was repeated two to three times, and each time the manager came back with a new offer, including free weeks in the resorts and discounts on the premium (discounts which are declared in the PDS anyway).

Even when our decision was final, each timeshare company presented us with new offers: Accor Vacation Club, Classic Holiday and Wyndham each came back with a discounted trial membership, which locks in the full membership prices for one, two and three years respectively. We finally managed to leave the Accor presentation after two and a half hours. It was a bit over three hours for the Wyndham presentation, and almost four and a half hours for the Classic Holiday presentation.

It's completely understandable how people can get sucked in. Almost everyone around us happily signed up. The timeshare agents and managers wear you out with their tactics, numbers and perseverance. You feel coerced into signing because the deal is only available then and there and it's tempting to trust them. Being a polite and patient person makes it hard to say no. We almost felt sorry that we didn't take the deal. It would have been so great for us, right?

We crunch the numbers to see if timeshare membership works out cheaper than booking your own accommodation each year – see our holiday timeshare comparison

Tempted by timeshare?

Based on our number crunch and complaints received from CHOICE members, we do not recommend timeshare products. These are products that typically leave you with high-costs over decades and you're most likely better off booking holidays as you need them.

If you still think holiday timeshares could be worth it, follow our tips:

  1. Think again. It's not worth it.
  2. Carefully read the PDS before you go to the presentation. You're signing a lifelong commitment and won't have time to study 60 pages of terms and conditions on the spot.
  3. Think about when and where you'd travel. Our timeshare comparison found that it takes at least 16 years to recover the costs for a timeshare in Surfers Paradise when travelling in high season (school holidays and national holidays) and 11 years in mid-season.
  4. Show interest, but let the agents sweat. The longer you wait, the better the offer gets.
  5. Consider trying the trial membership if it gets offered. It might give you a better idea of the exorbitant price and potential lack of accommodation availability.