Free Timeshare Vacations, Are They For Real?

Free timeshares come with strings attached

View of ocean from inside hotel room
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Timeshare resorts sometimes offer free lodging to potential buyers in exchange for attending a presentation about properties the developer is selling. You may be offered a vacation certificate by telephone, by mail or online. Offers vary, but they are often for three-day, two-night stays at timeshare resorts or nearby hotels. However, there's always a catch.

Common Terms and Conditions of Free Timeshare Vacations

  • Nearly all offers are subject to certain conditions, including age and income requirements. Read the fine print.
  • If you're married, both you and your spouse must attend the sales presentation.
  • Upon arrival you will be asked to show proof of identity.
  • An advance deposit may be required to guarantee your time. The deposit may not be refundable if you do not attend, or upon compliance with the terms of the offer.

Free Timeshare Vacation Lingo

  • A processing fee is probably nonrefundable.
  • If deposit funds are actually called a deposit, refund status could go either way.
  • Some deposits are refunded when you arrive at the location or after you attend the sales presentation.

Before Accepting a Free Timeshare Vacation Offer

  • Contact your local Better Business Bureau to find out if the company is legitimate. Confirm that the company has no black marks against it or complaints.
  • Meet all of the guidelines listed in the offer's terms and conditions section.
  • Determine exactly what you are required to pay for. Get it in writing from the timeshare promoter.
  • Get a copy of the state's timeshare laws. If the resort cannot provide them, request a copy from the state real estate commission.
  • Ask if you must stay during specific days of the week, and if reservations are firm. Verify cancellation rules, too.
  • Find out when (or if) the company will return your deposit and under which types of specific conditions.
  • Find out if free transportation to and from the resort is include.
  • Confirm where you will stay, whether it be at the timeshare resort or local hotel. Also, confirm the price of lodging and taxes.
  • Confirm whether free vouchers for meals at nearby restaurants are provided.

Phone Solicitation

If you are contacted by phone, ask for all details in writing. Reputable companies with valid offers shouldn't hesitate to send written information. Never give your credit card, Social Security or checking account numbers to an unknown solicitor.

If you're on the Do Not Call List, hopefully you won't receive calls from timeshare solicitors.

Free Timeshare Vacation Expenses

  • You might be promised free airfare to the destination, but you'll end up paying a higher than normal rate for lodging.
  • You might receive an offer for free lodging but may be required to pay higher airfares. You might also need to rent a car at your expense.

    To avoid an unpleasant surprise, question everything. Read the fine print, and remember that there's no such thing as an expense-free vacation.

    Also, if you believe you can't be manipulated into buying a timeshare, think again. Professional timeshare salespersons are highly skilled at turning visitors into buyers. So, read the laws that govern timeshare developers in the state where the timeshare is located. If you buy and experience buyer's remorse in a few days, state laws may allow for a 'cooling off' period, where you can back out of a sale with no loss of funds.

    The Bottom Line

    If you are truly interested in the property being offered, the free lodging probably isn't a bad deal. If you're just going because it's free, think carefully before you accept, especially if you discover hidden costs. If you find a timeshare resort that appeals to you, contact the sales desk and ask about free time. Resorts sometimes offer unadvertised free or reduced-price stays for potential buyers.

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