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Timeshare Sales Pitches: Ninety Minutes at the Hanoi Hilton

November 12, 2012

San Carlos, Mexico (photo Bob Bowers)

When my good friend, Ed, told me he wanted to spend a few nights in San Carlos, Mexico, I jumped at the chance to save him some money.  I told him about a multi-storied tower right on Algodones Beach.  I told him a one bedroom suite with sweeping views of the Sea of Cortez, normally a hundred fifty a night, could be his for three nights at no cost.  I told him that all of this—free luxury lodging, discounted meals and fifty bucks worth of gas, was available with only one small proviso—he just had to sit through a ninety minute timeshare sales pitch.  Ed told me that he’d rather have his eyes put out with a hot poker.  Ed always showed considerable insight.

But when you are living on Social Security, ninety minutes at the Hanoi Hilton might be worth the pain.  You just have to know how to say no.

You also have to read your junk mail and be willing to talk to con men on the beach.  Most of these offers include accommodations at four star resorts, or meals and other rewards, like the tank of gas in San Carlos.  My wife and I have taken advantage of so many of these offers I’m surprised our mug shots aren’t hanging in timeshare sales offices, like those photos of card counters in Vegas.

However, ‘no pain, no gain’, and the biggest rewards come with the toughest sales teams.  Some of the promotions promise ‘entertaining presentations’ and ‘no high pressure selling’.  Don’t believe this.  You have to train for days to handle these guys.  I’ve seen fellow guests reduced to tears, some of them finally caving in and pulling out their checkbooks.  It takes an iron will to walk out of there with your checkbook intact.  My personal worst was in Cabo San Lucas at a resort under construction some thirty minutes outside of town.  They picked you up at your hotel and promised to return you after the “ninety minute” presentation.  Don’t ever fall for this arrangement.  Always walk or drive your own car, and never hand over your keys.

All presentations are similar. If you agree to buy, you get a shared ownership that allows you to spend one or more weeks each year at one of the company’s resorts, or at a reciprocal resort, often with worldwide choices.  A recent visit we made to a resort in Sedona was typical.

In exchange for an ‘entertaining and low pressure ninety minute tour of the resort, we were offered two nights at a three star hotel for thirty eight dollars plus tax.  We would also get a fifty dollar voucher for our choice of four top restaurants in Sedona and a discount shopping card.  Our hotel experience started poorly when they put us in a room  resembling a bat cave.  We refused that and were moved to a brighter room, but it turned out to be one of five smoking rooms in the ‘non-smoking’ hotel.  Since the only other available room was Batman’s, we checked out and the sales office found us a room at La Quinta.  This was a five mile drive from the resort, but it was smoke free, and at $19 a night instead of $119, we stopped complaining.

Our sales appointment was for one o’clock the next afternoon, so we enjoyed our free breakfast at La Quinta and spent the rest of the morning hiking Oak Creek canyon.  We arrived on time and met our salesman, Frank, who ushered us into a large room where several other couples were meeting with their salesmen.  Frank was friendly and so were we.  As soon as we were seated, my wife smiled and told Frank we were not going to buy a timeshare.  Frank was unfazed, smiled back and told us we would be surprised by the number of new owners that had said the same thing.

Frank told us about the size of the resort’s parent company (huge), assuring us that this insured stability and security.  He told us about the dozens of resorts we would have access to, as well as the hundreds more that would be available through reciprocal agreements.  He took us to a screening room where we watched a fifteen minute film with inspirational music and proud couples extolling their purchase decision.  Then he asked us to list our three most important considerations, and was overjoyed that one was money.  He wanted to know how many days we traveled annually (sixty), and our average hotel cost (fifty dollars).  He led us to a computer, entered our numbers, including an estimate of twenty more years of vacationing and hotel room inflation of three percent.  The computer displayed our projected twenty year vacation cost at just under a quarter million dollars.  Frank shook his head and sucked his lower lip.  Then he brightened, smiled broadly and blew away the gloom.  The alternative, he pointed out, was to purchase his timeshare.  At only twenty five thousand dollars, plus some incidental annual maintenance charges, we would have access to all the wonders and amenities of his company’s resorts for the rest of our lives!

My wife and I looked at each other, stunned by Frank’s generosity.  If we happened to be a little short, he explained how we could buy in for only a hundred and fifty dollars, financing the balance at a mere twenty three percent.  Suddenly it was clear why so many people buy timeshares—you could cut your vacation cost by ninety percent and stay in comfortably furnished resorts instead of seedy motels.  Why didn’t everyone do this?  Frank put on his happy face and pulled out the paperwork.  But, wait, I said.  Twenty five thousand only gets us seven days of vacation a year, right?  And, even at the hundred and fifty per night resort price, that only comes to a thousand fifty for seven nights.  Twenty years of one week resort vacations, including three percent inflation, would only equal twenty eight thousand dollars, not a quarter of a million.  Frank had used our sixty days of vacation to justify seven days of timeshare!  I then pointed out to Frank that if we invested our twenty five thousand at five percent, instead of buying his timeshare, we would earn about twelve hundred a year—enough to pay for an annual week in any resort we chose, and at the end of twenty years we would still have our twenty five thousand.  Frank’s smile faded.

Defeated, Frank led us to his manager, where, he told us, we would have an opportunity to grade his presentation and pick up our gift vouchers.  The manager, Jim, did ask us to rate Frank, but then he launched a new sales pitch.  Shocked that we would have turned down Frank’s unbelievable offer, he explained that, effective this day only, he had been authorized to make us a special, Godfather-type offer.  For only three thousand dollars (again available at twenty three percent), they would let us buy a year’s trial of the system.  We would get enough “points” to get as many as seven weeks of resort vacation, according to Jim.  But the total points would only buy three weeks of non-prime time at the resort we had just toured, and there were but four weeks of such time available.  More likely, we would have to buy our weeks during prime time, when the point total would get us just two weeks.  Since we could easily find three weeks of good vacationing elsewhere for the same three thousand dollars, we turned Jim down.  Jim then took us to his manager, where new, “today only” offers were made and rejected.  This process took us to four different sales people before we made it out the door with our gift vouchers.  It lasted two hours, not ninety minutes.

It was three o’clock.  We had our vouchers and a free dinner waiting.  Holding hands, we headed for the bar.

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