There's a reason the words timeshare and scam often go together: in most cases, buying a timeshare is a bad financial decision. Because of their notorious reputation, timeshare companies tempt you with freebies like dinner vouchers, concert tickets, or awesome vacations. All you have to do is survive a gruelling, high-pressure presentation. If you like playing with fire, here are some tips for making it to the other side without caving -- and with your free gift.
Some of these presentations can last a few hours (or eight, in some extreme, nightmarish cases) and they're chock-full of high-pressure sales tactics. It's as simple as saying no, sure. But it's not that easy: the whole concept is to make it increasingly difficult for you to say "no," so that you'll eventually bite and they will reel you in. Still, plenty of people have made it through a presentation to collect their freebie without forking over any cash. I've never actually been to one of these myself, but I've always been intrigued. So I consulted experts: sales presentation survivors who have scored concert tickets, free dinners, vacations and more.
Calculate the Value of Your Time
Before you go into this, make sure you have a clear idea of how long the presentation is going to be, then ask yourself how much your time is worth. Are those free magic show tickets worth three hours of your life? Personally, I'd rather take a three hour nap than sit through a presentation or go to a magic show, but hey, this is your life. Other times, the freebies are pretty valuable. A pair of Disneyland tickets cost a couple hundred bucks, which is totally worth a few hours of your time.
But it's not just about time. It takes effort to get through these things. You'll go through a series of screenings to make sure you're a good mark, and that can take hours. It takes a long time to shake someone down, after all.
Still game? Then let's get to it.
Bring a "Bad Cop"
There's safety in numbers. Even if you have every intention of saying no, every part of the sales pitch is carefully designed to convince you otherwise. The company knows your excuses. They have studied them, and they have worked hard to find a way for you to cave. For this reason, bringing another person is crucial.
One reader (who prefers to remain anonymous) said she went to a timeshare presentation and admits she got caught up in the hype:
I was two signatures away from signing away my life. The way I was able to get away timeshare-free was that I brought one of my best guy friends who was able to talk some sanity into me and help me pass on the offer. The line that worked the best was, I need to check with my [financial planner] to see if this is a good investment. They handed me the papers and I was on my way with no timeshare to my name.
If you have any trouble at all saying no, they will find your weak spot, so make sure to have a backup person ready to talk some sense into you. And if you still can't stand up for yourself, blame an imaginary financial planner or life coach.
Choose Your Strategy: Offence or Defence
In order to reel in customers, the company obviously wants to reduce the amount of people they think will say no. It's a numbers game, as Certified Financial Planner Jason Hull points out.
They want to reduce as many false positives, people who sound like they're going to agree but wind up not agreeing, as quickly as possible. If you're not going to buy a timeshare, you're a false positive -- one who got through the initial screening...but isn't going to buy.
To be clear: you want to be a false positive. But you want to disguise yourself so they don't weed you out. In order to do this, Hull recommends being agreeable. This way, not only do they think you'll bite, you'll also get through the presentation quicker. The salesperson doesn't have to stop and further explain the situation to you. They will get to the end, where you politely say you're not interested and they realise they let in a false positive.
That's a great strategy for defence, but what about your offence? Once you make it through the initial screening, you might prefer to take a more aggressive approach, depending on your personality and the nature of the presentation.
One anonymous tipster -- we'll call her BJ -- has survived three timeshares to score free theme park tickets. She starts by asking the presenter how long the process will last, from start to finish. In her experience, they say it will be about 60 minutes. BJ reminds them of the time every 15 minutes, which she says helps keep them from dragging it out. But the real fireworks come at the close:
The last 15 minutes we are in a large conference room, filled with the other salespeople, managers and of course, lots of people like me. Each group is seated at a table and the "pitch" begins. When I'm given the final price of the time share, I immediately pick it apart. I pull out a calculator, and begin to assess exactly how much this timeshare "free vacation" will cost me. I then tell them that how many years it will take me to pay off the timeshare, before my vacation actually becomes "free". Most are at a loss for an argument back, and they rush for a manager who comes to talk with me. I simply repeat the same argument.
Sound too easy? She admits her strategy did ruffle some feathers during one presentation:
I did get one agent, who after realising I was not going to buy a timeshare, became very aggressive and obnoxious. So I simply spoke very loud and clear, so the entire room could hear me, and said, "I don't appreciate you trying to pressure me like this....I told you no, I'm not going to sign those papers." I then stand up and say, now where are my free tickets?
Even though her story made me cringe, BJ is my new hero, and according to her, it's best to beef up your offence. Not everyone has the stomach for this, though. If you're not an aggressive person, this could backfire and you could fold when crap hits the fan. If so, a more defensive strategy may be in order.
Turn It Into a Game
One way to avoid getting caught up in the dramatics of a timeshare presentation: don't take it so seriously. At the end of the day, it's just about sticking to your guns.
Pamela Hanson says she and her husband were on vacation when they sat through a timeshare presentation in order to score free dinner and breakfast. They realised that, after adamantly saying no, the were handed off to a new person offering a different deal. She said:
We made it a game when we realised this was the pattern. We enjoyed the food and then relaxed and let the timeshare company ferry us to different people offering us "a deal we could not pass up." The last sales pitch came from an ex-football player who tried to get us to buy the mortgage on a foreclosed timeshare unit because the deal was too great to pass up. He was good, too. He worked that angle flawlessly, and we were impressed with his initiative. When he finished and was convinced we were not parting with any cash, he lead us to a room where they gave us our restaurant voucher.
Hanson said she actually enjoyed the experience, describing it as a day filled with "good food, great entertainment, and a break from the sunny beach, which our skin welcomed."
It's all about your attitude. If you can actually enjoy the process, it will make it that much easier to get through the whole ordeal. Just don't enjoy yourself so much that you forget to keep saying no.
Come Up With Your Exit Strategy
An exit strategy is an absolute must, and it's easier said than done, because the timeshare company has prepared for this. They're betting that you're going to say no, and their whole plan is built on finding cracks in your excuse. Can't afford it? But it's less than you spent on one night at your last hotel! Don't travel enough? You will when you have this sweet-arse timeshare!
You can't just come up with any excuse. It has to be a solid one. A good salesperson won't take no for an answer, and rather than ask you if you're interested in a package, they will ask you which package you want. When you tell them you can't afford it, they will bring up the fact that you're on vacation now, or they will ask you how much you spent on your last vacation.
Financial Advisor Matt Ahrens confirms this. When he went to a timeshare presentation on his trip, he simply told the company he budgeted for the vacation over a year ago, when his financial situation was very different. Then, he said he had nothing extra in his budget to pay for a timeshare.
Ahrens says it's about explaining your own numbers to them. He reveals what he explained to the company in his exit strategy:
We just bought a home with a 4% interest rate on our mortgage. If we purchased the timeshare we would be paying at a minimum 11% interest on the remaining balance of what we owe. It doesn't take an expert to know we weren't getting a good deal on financing….If we or our kids wanted to sell back the timeshare we would get 60 cents on the dollar. Being a financial advisor I would rather invest that money somewhere else than know I would be taking a 40% back end charge.
Then again, this sends you down a rabbit hole of rebuttals, Melissa Heisler of ItsMyLifeInc.com points out. When you come at them with numbers, they will just come at you with more numbers. She shares her exit strategy:
Find a "no" that they can not rebuke...I finally said that my mother was ill and I could not commit to any long range plans right now. A lie, I know. But one they could not counter.
Basically, when all else fails: lie to get out of the presentation.
Lying your way to a free vacation is pretty evil, but don't feel too bad. Timeshare companies expect this and have built it into their model. In fact, their tactics are pretty evil, too. As the saying goes, you can't fight fire with fire, but in the case of timeshares, you might be able to score a free lunch out of it.