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Timely Timeshare Tips for Families

How to coordinate the use of your unit without breaking the bank

By Bart Astor | June 4, 2014
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Bart Astor, an expert in life transitions and elder care, is the author of the book AARP Roadmap for the Rest of Your Life: Smart Choices About Money, Health, Work, Lifestyle and Pursuing Your Dreams and Baby Boomer’s Guide to Caring for Aging Parents. His website is BartAstor.com and he can be reached at Bart@BartAstor.com.

Timeshare companies like to say that owning a timeshare is an investment in vacationing, not a financial investment. And it’s true that if you use your timeshare, you can definitely save money on vacationing over the long term.
 
But coordinating everything so family members can actually use the timeshare is tricky. And if you don’t handle travel plans just right, the cost of the timeshare can really add up.
 
3 Hours to Coordinate My Timeshare Use

Trust me, I know. I recently made plans for two Florida timeshare locations that my family and I will be using a year from now. It took me over three hours to coordinate everything.

(MORE: 12 Money-Saving Travel Tips)
 
Given the increased complexity for timeshare owners, I’ve spoken to experts for advice on how to manage your timeshare and keep your travel costs down.
 
Timeshare Reservations Have Changed

Reserving your timeshare lodging is not as easy as it used to be.
 
Unlike in the past when you bought a specific week at a specific resort, most big timeshare chains (such as Marriott, Hilton, Westin, Sheraton and Disney) now sell deeded points.
 
The number of points you buy roughly equals the seven nights at the resort you’re most interested in. That gives you a lot of flexibility in using your points, but also makes things more complicated.
 
Sometimes, you can exchange your timeshare points for the hotel chain’s frequent guest reward points or airline frequent flier miles (which can also be used to buy products from the carriers’ online stores). Or you may be able to use them on some cruise lines. Or you can bank them for future use or use next year’s points this year.

(MORE: Watch Out for Timeshare Scams)
 
What’s more, by using points you no longer have to book an entire week at one timeshare resort.
 
My Experience Managing Timeshare Points

The possibilities are practically endless, but what a tangled web it has now become to make reservations, monitor timeshare deadlines and ensure that you don’t lose those precious points for which you paid handsomely.
 
When planning my Florida trips next year, I had to coordinate a mess of reservations, since I wanted to pay for some of the nights with hotel reward points and others with timeshare points (some of which had to be brought forward from last year and some brought back from next year). In addition, coordinating the availability of the resorts with my family’s schedule meant making several changes while I was on the call with the facilities.
 
I did all of this a year in advance — 13 months ahead, actually — since that’s the earliest I could book my lodging and because a clever customer service rep explained how I could book a month before most other owners. Because it was a popular week, I knew I had to be one of the first callers in the morning and set aside time to get everything to work.

(MORE: All-Inclusive Resorts Are Back)
 
Timeshare Owners Are Getting Cranky

Not every timeshare owner has the savvy and time to delve into the weeds, though. And their kids generally have no idea what they’ll need to do to work the system when they inherit the timeshares from their parents.
 
April Margolin, of Travel Leaders in Ocean, N.J., a full-service travel agency, has spoken with several unhappy clients who’ve come to her for advice about the timeshare tussles they’ve encountered.
 
“They complained that it had gotten so complicated and they couldn’t get the timeshare weeks they wanted or that they had missed deadlines,” Margolin said. “So they’ve come back to the more traditional ways of planning their vacations by booking vacation packages.”
 
Some years, these clients used their timeshare points; other years they didn’t. The owners, Margolin said, just don’t have the time or inclination to navigate all the intricacies. One client said he’d gladly pay her to help him book his timeshare lodging, manage the points and get the necessary flights.
 
Advice for Timeshare Owners

Rather than give up altogether, you can get help managing your timeshare and tips about using your points from timeshare firms’ customer service representatives. They can be especially useful because each timeshare company has different rules and policies.
 
But a largely-overlooked source of assistance is the sales agent who sold you your unit. He or she knows most of the tricks of the trade and uses that knowledge in sales presentations; many agents are timeshare owners themselves.
 
Another great resource: the webinars conducted by timeshare companies. Marriott, for example, periodically holds free one-hour webinars that are generally helpful, especially to new owners. If you pick up one bit of information you didn’t know, it can be worth the hour.
 
And — don’t laugh — but you might try sitting in on one of those sales presentations held at the resorts. Ostensibly they’re marketing tools to convince new and existing owners to purchase more points, but I’ve found they can be wonderfully informative about some of the nuances of timeshare ownership and the best ways to manage points. You often get a nice little reward for sitting through the 90-minute presentations, too.
 
Online Groups and Sites That Can Help

Also, check out the online group for timeshare users, TUG (The Timeshare Users Group). It has community forums, resort ratings, articles with tips and even a marketplace where you can list your timeshare for sale or rent. The group’s membership fee: $15 a year.
 
If you’re looking to rent or sell your unit because you can’t use it, try the website RedWeek.com (membership: $15; ads: $25 apiece). You can also find timeshare rentals and sales on Craigslist and eBay, but on a much more limited basis than RedWeek.
 
Another site, Vacation Rentals By Owner, also helps people find or rent timeshare properties.
 
This Rubik’s cube of timeshare point usage is not likely to get simpler, unfortunately.
 
In fact, there’ll probably be some smart person who’ll come up with a new, brilliant way to sell vacation ownership. That could be great —  if you can navigate through the intricacies. I’ll look forward to that new product, until I hear about someone who figured out a way to book lodging 13 months plus one week ahead.