Paradise, slightly used

To get the best deal possible, you have to shop wisely. Here are some tips:

Time of year. The prices for timeshares at the same resort can be much lower in the low season than in the high season. If you’re in love with a given location and don’t plan to swap your timeshare during summer vacation or peak ski weeks, you may want to consider buying a week during the resort’s low season to get the lowest possible price. But if you’re planning to exchange your timeshare, it makes more sense to pay the extra and buy during high season since that gives you the greatest trading potential.

Size. Don’t buy a studio if what you really need is a two-bedroom unit. Not only will you be uncomfortable if you actually have to stay in your unit, but you’re also limiting your trading possibilities. “When it comes time to make a trade, you may rarely get offered a bigger unit than your own,” says Angelika Bullis, a timeshare owner from Winkler, Man. “But you probably won’t get it if you ask for it.”

Reputation. Resorts vary widely in the level of luxury and service they offer. Check out TUG to see if the resort you are interested in has won high praise from other timeshare owners. Top-drawer resorts receive a special designation from RCI: Gold Crown or Resort of International Distinction (RID). Also, most timeshare resales are sold by companies (rather than individuals) devoted to that particular part of the timeshare market. You can check out those companies with the Better Business Bureau or you can also post a notice on the TUG bulletin board, asking those who have had dealings with the reseller to let you know whether they were satisfied.

Location. Timeshares tend to be heavily concentrated in North American and the Caribbean, but other areas deserve your attention, especially if you are looking for a bargain. Remember that even if a timeshare is located far from your home, it can still be valuable as trading material. Timeshares in Australia, for instance, are relatively cheap and are in high demand for exchanges. That makes them attractive buys even if you can’t see yourself flying across the Pacific every year. Europe, too, has some reasonably priced timeshares that are good for trading purposes. On the TUG site, I found a week timeshare in Spain for $1,586 and a week in Holland for $2,062.

If you want to venture even further off the beaten path, South Africa is the current global champ for low-priced timeshares. Guy and Shannon Crittenden, of Toronto, are just two of the many buyers who have taken advantage of the country’s bargain-basement prices and low currency to scoop up deals on the resale market. “Do I ever intend to go to South Africa?” asks Crittenden. “No. But I can exchange my weeks there to get to the places I do want to go.”

The Crittendens bought three timeshare weeks — one in a resort 15 km from Durban and the other two in a resort near Kruger National Park — as well as an RCI membership for a total cost of $3,000. Maintenance and exchange fees for all three weeks come to $1,200 a year. So far, the couple and their two young sons have exchanged their South African timeshare for a summer week in New York State’s Catskills and three winter weeks in Florida at the five-star Sheraton Vistana, just minutes from Disney World. To put that into perspective, if they had booked a regular hotel room at the Vistana resort for three weeks, it would have cost them more than $6,000.

Thanks to their inexpensive timeshare, the Crittendens have said good-bye to hat-box rooms in commonplace hotels. Instead, they’re saying hello to spacious quarters in first-rate resorts. You can too. Just do your homework and start exploring what’s available in resale timeshares. I think you’ll be glad you did.

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From the February/March 2003 issue.

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