Timeshares and vacation clubs are often synonymous with high-pressure sales. With the sun out and their guard down, vacationers can quickly find themselves on the hook for a life-long commitment. And, while they’re easy to get into—these contracts are incredibly difficult to escape, according to a new study by the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
The study – Unpacking timeshare and vacation club sales– examines patterns of customer complaints, dollars spent and lost, customer reviews, related scams and more to show how predatory companies and scammers take advantage of consumers hoping to score deals on travel.
Some timeshare-related businesses, however, treat consumers ethically, resulting in positive experiences for buyers and owners. By calling out and denouncing substandard marketplace behaviors of businesses and scammers, this study intends to make consumers smarter and businesses better.
From the beginning of 2020 until the end of 2022, BBB received nearly 30,000 business complaints and almost 10,000 negative reviews related to travel companies. A majority of those were related to the timeshare industry, with $32 million in disputed funds.
Most commonly, consumers said they felt reality didn’t match the big promises made in timeshare pitch meetings.
“During the high-pressure sales presentation, we were told amazing things about what this timeshare ownership would be. We were told we could easily travel anywhere. We were given this picture of traveling the world in the easiest, cheapest way possible. This timeshare ownership has been nothing close to this image,” a Maine man said.
Complaints to BBB also reflect consumers’ opinions that timeshares can be nearly impossible to sell, and consumers often feel misled about the amount and frequency of maintenance fees associated with timeshares. Some say their timeshare became unaffordable after several years of ownership due to increased fees.
A Maryland woman told BBB years of previously undisclosed maintenance fees and better vacation options led her family to want to sell their timeshare.
“We thought we would be able to give it to our children someday or sell it for extra money for our retirement, and the (timeshare) sales team made us feel like all of this was possible,” she said. “We would have never purchased this had we known how much it would really cost.”
BBB has monitored deception in the timeshare industry and warned consumers about timeshare exit companies for nearly half a decade. But some skilled sellers continue to talk buyers into unfavorable deals that often worsen when desperate investors try to offload purchases through the timeshare exit industry.
Owners looking to sell their timeshares find many exit companies claim to be able to sell timeshare commitments quickly for high prices. Months and even years tick by with no sale in sight, however, as owners continue to pay annual maintenance fees. And complaints to BBB reveal exit companies often fail to honor money-back guarantees.
A Texas man paid nearly $3,000 upfront to a timeshare exit company he thought looked legitimate. The contract stated he had a 10-day grace period to back out of the agreement. He was given the runaround when he attempted to get his money back.
“The person on the phone confirmed that I was eligible for a refund, but that refunds were handled by another department. She said I should look for an email from the refund department soon,” the man said. Two months later, he was still awaiting a refund.
More than 1,100 BBB Scam Tracker reports reveal fraudsters have used the same high-pressure tactics common in timeshare sales to con consumers out of $3.5 million in the last three years. Fake debt collection on supposedly unpaid timeshare fees is also a common ruse used on unsuspecting owners.
BBB urges timeshare-related industries to self-regulate by establishing and following ethical sales practices. Timeshare companies of all types should cease high-pressure sales tactics at pitch meetings and ease restrictions for longtime, non-delinquent customers who wish to cancel their timeshare.
BBB Tips for Anyone Considering a Timeshare or Exit Company:
- Extensively research timeshare properties, vacation clubs or exit companies and thoroughly read contracts for language about lifetime commitment, heirs’ obligations, maintenance fee increases or guarantees.
- Beware of misleading or high-pressure sales tactics. If you feel like someone is trying to push you into a deal, walk away.
- To sell a timeshare, contact the resort directly and see if they have a resale or buyback program.
- Be realistic about what you can get for your timeshare. Most of these contracts are not investments and may return considerably less than you paid.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it is. There are deals to be found on travel, but scammers know consumers want to save money and take advantage.
- Be wary of paying timeshare exit companies all fees upfront until services are rendered.
How to Report
If you suspect you are the subject of fraud or dishonest business practices, there are many avenues to report your case:
Better Business Bureau (BBB) BBB.org/ScamTracker
Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – ReportFraud.ftc.gov
State Attorneys General can often help. Find your state Attorney General’s website to see if you can file online.
American Resort Development Association (ARDA), timeshare trade association – email email@example.com