Vacation Timeshares De-Mystified: a Look at Marriott Vacation Club

I remember my first encounter with vacation time shares like it was yesterday: I was thirteen, and bored stiff sitting in a stuffy hotel ballroom on a beautiful Hawaiian beach day. I was waiting for my parents to exit a time share sales pitch so we could embark on the promised snorkeling excursion at its conclusion. We never bought that time share —who wants to vacation in the same place, the same week every year?— but certainly enjoyed snorkeling at Molokai.

time share facts

This image of time shares, with limited, inflexible week-long vacation condo rentals is a thing of the past…provided you’re looking in the right place. To better understand how vacation time share experiences work in today’s travel industry, I visited a Marriott Vacation Club property for the weekend and sat down with vacation club sales members, PR, and real vacation owners. Marriott’s Oceana Palms on Singer Island, Florida provided a good backdrop for our discussion. (I know, I have a terrible job.)

How Marriott Vacation Club works:

Say goodbye to the concept of ‘buying’ a week of time at a single resort. Marriott Vacation Club members instead buy points, which can be used as currency at literally hundreds of properties. The system is comprised of three main collections:

  • Marriott Vacation Club (over 50 properties)
  • Marriott Hotels (access to over 3,700 hotels using Marriott Rewards points)
  • Explorer Collection (which connects to adventure, cruise, and speciality vacations)
  • World Traveler Collection (use Interval International to use points for international hotels)

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Members can use their points in more combinations than I’d realized: maybe they want to take one traditional vacation at a single Marriott Vacation Club property per year (there are over 100, by the way). Or maybe they want to take a few overnight stays at a traditional Marriott hotel for a sports tournament, and then use their remaining points on a shorter beach getaway. Maybe, they’d rather ‘bank’ their points for several years, going all out for a family reunion. Honestly, the possibilities are limited only by the number and locations of Marriott destinations (which, as we all know, are numerous).

When families buy into the club, they choose how many points they’d like to buy. Points are essentially vacation currency. To give parents a general idea of the investment, one Marriott Vacation Club point is roughly equivalent to $10. Families can start by buying a smaller number of points, then buy more should they find they need them, or vice versa: it is possible to sell points. When ready to book a vacation, owners can use the Marriott Vacation Club call center (based in Salt Lake City for US owners) or opt to use the integrated website.

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What it costs:

I like that unlike in the past, Marriott Vacation Club is very transparent about price. Here are a few examples of what the lowest point buy-ins can get you. As noted above, one point is roughly $10, so 1,500 points would be $15,000. Most owners finance, paying monthly. Remember, every owner also pays an annual maintenance fee and club dues. 

  • 1,500 points = 3 nights in Las Vegas in a 2-bedroom villa or 7 nights in Vail in a 1-bedroom villa
  • 2,500 points = 7 nights at Palm Beach in a studio villa or 10 nights in Miami in a 2-bedroom villa
  • 3,500 points = 7 nights on Oahu in a 1-bedroom villa or 7 nights in Orlando in a 3-bedroom villa

All these examples (and more) are available on the marriottvacationclub.com website.

What Marriott Vacation Club actually looks like:

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I had the pleasure of sitting down with two Marriott Vacation Club owners, both local to the Palm Beach, Florida area. Both owners I spoke with were mothers who love traveling with their kids, make most of the travel decisions for their families, and enjoy planning trips. One owner had owned with Marriott Vacation Club for 10 years, and the other had owned for five years.

Both women testified to the ease of using the Marriott Vacation Club booking system. One loved using the call center agents, while the other preferred to figure out her reservations online. Either way, both women agreed that planning trips in advance is crucial to getting the most out of the program. This fact doesn’t have to be a negative; after all, haven’t we been preaching the importance of trip planning at Pit Stops for Kids for years? Vacation planning can be nearly as fun as the trip itself! One of the owners put it this way: Our vacation starts when we start planning it.

And remember all those combinations of trips owners can book, ranging from club stays to cruises? The two owners I talked to actually have used their points for a wide variety of vacations. One had traveled internationally with hers more than once, and the other likes to convert points to Marriott Rewards to book hotel stays before air travel days.

I asked about ease of use: both owners used the call center staff and the forums on the owner website to figure out which properties to book for which days to stretch their points the furthest, and to ask for reviews of each property and get advice about which would be best based on their family’s needs. The owner with young kids frequently asks call center staff for resort information: which property is best for kids who want a beach without waves? Which has the best kids’ program? These women have taken their families on trips ranging from city hotel stays to week-long ski vacations to beach getaways to college-touring overnights. Flexibility is crucial to the new face of time sharing.

Common questions:

Whenever I start learning about time share opportunities, I want in immediately. But parents more level-headed about travel opportunities will have questions, and lots of them. I went straight to the source, and talked to the folks at Marriott and the American Resort Development Association (ARDA).

Q: How much does it cost to buy into Marriott Vacation Club?

A: Marriott says points start at 1,500, which equates to $15,000. Financing is available. My first impression: $35,000 (which would buy 3, 500 points) is a lot of money. Our cars don’t cost that much, in our family. But we take multiple vacations per year, as family travel is one of our most cherished activities. Points renew every single year, and yet families pay for these points only once. Conclusion: it’s worth crunching the numbers for your family before dismissing the time share option based solely on price.

Q: Can I sell my points? Can I sell my entire membership?

A: Yes. It’s as simple as that. But we’ve all heard horror stories from former time share owners who didn’t get ‘back their investment’ when they sold. I posed this question to ARDA president and CEO Howard Nusbaum. His answer: vacations are not a financial investment. They’re a lifestyle investment. Just as you’d never expect to get a return on the sale price of a car, you won’t ‘make’ money off your time share. Unlike time shares of 20 years ago, families today aren’t exactly buying real estate. They’re buying time. Much like the ZipCar or bike share model of business, Marriott Vacation Club is all about trading, using, and sharing.

Q: Won’t I have a hard time getting the rooms or availability I want, much like when I try to use airline miles?

A: Not if you plan ahead. The Marriott Vacation Club sales team pointed out that while last minute deals can be found (just as they can be found using any hotel reservation site), the primary reason families cannot get into the properties they want to book is due to poor planning. They suggest families plan their major vacations up to one year in advance. If this recommendation warms your heart, you’re a planner like me, and this won’t be a problem. If it worries you, a Marriott Vacation Club ownership might not be for you.

Q: Are Marriott Vacation Club properties all condos?

A: No. They are resorts, with villas ranging from studios to three-bedroom units. I was pleasantly surprised by Marriott Oceana Palms, which to all extents and purposes is a full-scale beachfront resort. Families certainly don’t have to be vacation club owners to stay there, so there’s much more of a resort feel than a condo feel. The villas are spacious with full kitchens and living spaces, and families use the common areas (pool, beach, bar, restaurant, play areas) as spaces to hang out, grill (BBQs are for guest use), host small family reunions, and, basically, vacation.

Q: Won’t I be limited if I like to plan my own travel?

A: This is a worry I have, too.Those who love to plan travel don’t want to feel restricted. I felt better when one owner explained how she used her Marriott Vacation Club points as only one tool in her vacation planning. She still went where she wanted to go and booked what she liked best. She cross-referenced her destination picks with the thousands of Marriott and partner properties available to her, but didn’t limit herself to them. Only you can decide whether this approach would work for you.

Q: What do I need to bring with me?

A: Marriott vacation units have the necessities in place for cooking and serving family meals, such as pots and pans, utensils, and the like. You’ll need to check out what staples are in each unit, such as spices, and shop accordingly when you get there. Don’t forget necessities like dishwasher detergent, food wrap, and baggies. For each family member personally, you shouldn’t need towels, but of course you WILL need extra clothing items like extra clothing items, warm-weather gear for tropical locations, and layers for ski locations.

 

Other time share programs worth a look:

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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