I remember I was traveling for work when Justine called me up and said we had received an offer in the mail for a Hawaiian vacation. Thinking this was the normal mailbox spam that only exists to keep the postal service in business, I didn’t really think any more about it until we both realized that it was actually a pretty good deal: $795 for five nights, a $75 resort credit, and a free 6-day car rental at a Westin in Maui. Neither of us had ever been to Hawaii before, so we figured “why not?” and put a deposit down to reserve one of the packages. Now, the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas (full name necessary since there are two Westins in Ka’anapali) is a vacation ownership property, so it occurred to me when booking that I might be roped into a timeshare presentation as part of the package. However, the phone rep told me I’d be invited but would be free to turn it down. Easy enough.
Fast forward a bunch of months, and we arrived in Hawaii and were give a window to stop by the vacation ownership office to pick up our $75 certificate. It would have been simple enough just to apply the credit to my account, but they make you meet them in person to get the $75 so they can rope you into the timeshare presentation. I was initially dismissive of it, but they laid the guilt on pretty thick when I said I didn’t want to do it. Stuff like, “You do know that’s why you’re here right?” Or, “We won’t send you any more special offers anymore if you say no.” And even, “You’re worse than Hitler, and you might as well drown some puppies in your in-room hot tub.” She also offered 7000 SPG points if I agreed to the presentation, so I figured I might as well learn something, since I actually had no idea how timeshares work.
The presentation itself was fine – they didn’t hard-sell us at all, took no for an answer pretty easily, and gave us free snacks. I’d say it was worth it to earn 7000 points, if only because I now know how timeshares work. And I figured that if there’s anyone else out there who’s curious, I’d pass along what they told me. Bottom line, it’s really expensive, and the economics don’t make as much sense if you pay for hotels with points. See, the whole crux of their argument is that you’d spend as much on hotels over 20 years as you’d spend on your timeshare payments, so wouldn’t you rather own something after that time, rather than owning nothing? But if you aren’t paying a few thousand bucks a year out-of-pocket to stay in hotels when you take vacations, the logic isn’t as sound.
One thing to point out at the beginning: they kept saying, “What sets this opportunity apart from other timeshares is the SPG program.” When I walked down the hall to use the restroom, I heard that same line come out of a few other offices too, so it’s obviously something they coach their sales reps on. However, when I brought up the Marriott takeover, they didn’t really have a clear answer for me. Here’s how it works: Vistana Experiences manages the vacation ownership property, and they license the Westin brand, as well as the SPG program. According to them, Marriott isn’t taking over the timeshare side of SPG’s business, which means that apparently Vistana will continue to be a licensee of the Westin brand. (This doesn’t make sense to me, though, since Marriott would have to be the licensor here, so it doesn’t sound like anything is really changing, except the party from whom Vistana is licensing the Westin brand. SPG doesn’t own the timeshare business now, so I don’t know what there would be for Marriott to take over in the first place.) In any case, the SPG program will not survive the merger, so even if Vistana continues to operate a Westin property, they won’t have a loyalty program to go along with it, unless they take on Marriott’s program. I asked about this to three different people and got mixed answers, but it would make the most sense that they’ll move over to the combined program like anyone else. However: right now Vistana issues SPG points that operate a little differently than normal SPG points in that they have a hard six-year expiration date, regardless of account activity. I don’t know how this would work with Marriott – will they just start issuing triple the points? Unfortunately, I don’t think Starwood has really explained any of this, because even the most senior person I spoke to didn’t know. I’ll get into this more at the end, but they kept trying to throw points at me in order to get me to agree to stuff, and some of these offers were promises that I would earn points in 2-3 years. I kept asking how they could promise me 50k SPG points in two years, when SPG won’t exist in two years, and they didn’t know.
So here’s how the timeshare worked (at least as they offered it to me): If I purchased it, I would get the right to spend one week per year in a two-bedroom suite at the new Westin Ka’anapali Nanea property, which is currently under construction. That right would be represented by a certain number of points (not SPG points; these are separate timeshare-only points) – I would receive 148,100 points per year, and a week in the two-bedroom at Nanea would cost 148,100 points. The points would expire at the end of the year, so I couldn’t hoard them over a few years and then rent the room for three weeks. Any time points are involved, my devaluation alarm goes off, but they assured me that my timeshare deed would guarantee me the number of points required to book the unit I “bought” when I signed the contract.
One of the things I didn’t know about was that timeshares are flexible. I initially thought I’d never want one, because I wouldn’t want to go to the same place every year. However, my 148,100 points could be used at any Westin or Sheraton vacation ownership property, or even redeemed for hotels through their exchange program after paying a $175 conversion fee. The exchange values aren’t terrible either; it’s not like spending Membership Rewards points for Bose headphones or something. Also, since Nanea is pretty expensive, my points might actually go further at other resorts. Even at Nanea, if I wanted a one-bedroom instead of a two-bedroom, I could reserve that instead and get two weeks. Or one week in a one-bedroom and two weeks later that year in a studio. I didn’t go through the whole list of exchange hotels, since they were listed in what looked like a phone book; suffice to say that it looked like quite a lot of choices. Finally, if I decided that I didn’t want to take a vacation one year, I could cash out my points for 80,000 SPG points – the only restriction there is that it can only be done once every other year. (Again, I don’t know how that will work once SPG goes away.)
All in all, they did a good job selling it to me, since I went in thinking there was no fucking way I’d ever want a timeshare, and I came out thinking that I would consider it if my financial situation were different. And there’s the rub – it may be a “good value” according to the economic scenario they lay out (which is, of course, specifically calibrated to make the timeshare seem like a good deal), but it’s also a huge pile of money every month for ten years. Here are the numbers:
Option A (Annual timeshare):
$57,019 list price
Down payment required: $5702
Closing costs: $745
Total due at signing: $6447
Monthly payment, 10-year term: $794
Monthly payment, 15-year term: $679
Option B (Bi-annual timeshare):
$32,212 list price
Down payment required: $3222
Closing costs: $745
Total due at signing: $3967
Monthly payment, 10-year term: $448
(No 15-year option)
Additionally, they offered me the following incentives for booking while I was staying at the hotel:
– Lifetime SPG Gold status
– 100,000 SPG points
– The opportunity to buy 90,000 points for $1875, 4x per year
(The rep mentioned that this was the cheapest that anyone anywhere could buy Starpoints, and I mentioned to her that I had just bought 30,000 points for $525 when Starwood ran a 50% targeted bonus. Oops.)
We thanked them for the offers but said it wasn’t in our budget, and they didn’t really press us on it, which was nice. The last hurdle to jump was the senior senior manager coming in at the end to offer us a consolation prize, which was to come back within the next two years on another special package, this time for 7 nights and with a bonus of 50,000 SPG points. However, this package was priced at $2495 (due immediately), which – even with the points – was a significantly worse deal than the one that had originally brought us to the hotel in the first place.
Bottom line, I’d recommend taking the 5-night/$795 offer in a second. The hotel is a steal for ~150 per night, especially with the free rental car and $75 credit. The rooms have kitchenettes too, so you can eat pretty cheaply if you get groceries from Safeway instead of relying on overpriced restaurants. The grounds are really nice, the room was very spacious, and the area is gorgeous. My only issue is that the rooms don’t have showers, so you’re stuck spraying yourself with a shower head while sitting in a tub, which is super awkward and annoying. Aside from that, it’s a great place to spend a week. I’m hoping I get an invite for the Sheraton Maui next, since I’d definitely do it again.
Anyone out there own timeshares? I’d be curious if it’s actually as easy as they made it sound, or if rooms are often unavailable when you try to book. I’m also wondering if the point system really is as smooth as they described it, or if it’s harder to split points into two different stays or across multiple resorts. It’s not a huge area of concern for me, since I’m not in a position to take on a 10-15 year obligation like that, but who knows where I’ll be five years from now. By then, maybe I’ll be up to my ears in blog revenue and will have to buy a timeshare just to get rid of all my extra money.