So you’re thinking about buying a timeshare.
Hey, we get it! It’s your dream vacation spot, and you can enjoy all the benefits of a vacation home, without the hassle of owning one. It’ll be great!
That’s what timeshare companies want you to believe, but it’s a far cry from reality. When it comes to timeshare pros and cons, they’re only going to tell you the pros. And we’re here to tell you there are only cons!
We want you to know the truth about timeshares so you can find a better way to take the trip of your dreams.
What’s Wrong With a Timeshare?
Okay, we’re going to get real with you here. Ready? Timeshares are run by scummy companies that take way too much money from good, hardworking people like you. From the ridiculous buy-in costs to the over-the-top maintenance fees, they are just not worth it.
But if not a timeshare, then what? What are your other options?
This side-by-side comparison of timeshares and their alternatives will give you budget-friendly vacation ideas—and show you how to take your dream vacation on your terms.
Timeshares vs. Club Memberships
The past few years, companies have started advertising vacation clubs and travel clubs as alternatives to timeshares. They’re appealing because the club makes travel arrangements for you, saving you the stress of planning a vacation.
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Unfortunately, these clubs are just timeshares in disguise. To help you avoid them, we’ve broken down why you should avoid these clubs and what you can do instead.
Vacation clubs offer you a discounted vacation, but like traditional timeshares, they come with big buy-in costs and high annual fees that can change at any time.
The biggest difference between vacation clubs and timeshares is that the clubs can actually give you more chances to waste money.
They try to lure you in with the promise of choosing your destination, then limit your choices. Then they’ll convince you to unlock more options by buying more “points” to get the destination and time you want.
If you really want to flash a membership card, skip the vacation club and start with the memberships you already have. You can find some great discounted vacation packages through club stores like Costco, and hotels offer discounts for members of certain organizations (more on that later).
And if you want the convenience of someone else planning your vacation, simply work with a reputable, local travel agent instead.
It’s easy to confuse travel clubs with vacation clubs, but there are a few differences.
With travel clubs, you still have to buy a membership, but not all of them have annual fees. The fees they do have may be lower than you’d pay with a vacation club. (But that’s not really a win—you’re still shelling out money you could have spent to pay cash for an awesome vacation.)
One “perk” is that you’re with a group. Travel clubs are based on hobbies, careers, types of vacation or stages of life. People choose the club that fits their needs, then travel with other club members who have similar interests. It’s a great way to meet friends, and it can be safer for singles than traveling alone.
That said, these clubs still come with risks—like accidentally signing up for crazy fees, weird conditions or limited destinations. You’re better off working with a travel agent or planning your own vacation. If you want group rates on hotels or activities, invite family or friends along.
Or, stay in a hostel. Okay, we know what you’re thinking. Some hostels have gotten a bad rap, so it’s important to pick a good one by checking reviews and finding out what types of guests stay there. Once you know that, these are great places to meet new people. You have at least one thing in common with them, which is a desire to see the same city. Who knows? You may make a lifelong friend, and at the very least, you’ll get a great rate on your room.
Timeshares vs. Hotels
Some people think hotels are too impersonal and expensive, but don’t knock this option. You can have the trip of a lifetime in a hotel, and you can do it at a great price.
The average hotel room in the U.S. costs about $130 per night.1 That’s right: Seven nights in a hotel costs less than your timeshare maintenance fees. And you can go anywhere in the world, instead of staying in the same timeshare over and over.
And the best part is, you can almost always find a discount. Hotels have lower rates for AAA members, seniors, military service members, teachers and more. You can also check the hotel’s website or coupon sites like Groupon or RetailMeNot to find offers.
If you want to get a discount the old school way, call the hotel and negotiate for a better price. This can mean asking them to price match a cheaper hotel in the area, or simply asking if they have a similar room that costs less. You’ll want to do some research so you can negotiate a deal that’s a win for you and them.
You can also give yourself an instant discount by booking hotels during the off-season. You’ll save money and vacation with fewer crowds.
Timeshares vs. Airbnb
People often fall for timeshare scams because they want the space and luxury of a home. But home rental services like Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway let you stay in a vacation home with amenities like a kitchen and actual bedrooms—which you won’t get in standard hotel rooms—without the crazy cost of a timeshare.
When it comes to timeshares versus Airbnb, Airbnb is much more reasonably priced. Even in expensive destinations like New York City, you can find options for under $100 per night. You could vacation for 10 nights a year and still spend less than your timeshare maintenance fees!
Just be aware of where you’re booking—if you think the pictures look fake or the price seems too good to be true, you’re probably right. Remember to choose wisely and pick a place that will be safe and enjoyable.
You can save even more money by traveling in a group and splitting costs. This also gives you the safety and companionship benefits of a travel club without the financial risks.
And like hotels, home rentals give you unlimited flexibility in choosing when and where to travel. That’s super important. After all, your vacation is your time . . . so why would you let someone else control when you can and can’t take it?
Timeshares vs. Bed-and-Breakfasts
With all the hype about Airbnb, sometimes it’s easy to forget actual B&Bs. Bed-and-breakfasts are a good compromise if you want to stay in an established hotel and have the homey feel of an Airbnb.
Besides the free breakfast, most B&B owners will serve other meals or pack you a sack lunch for the day. That’s a great way to cut restaurant costs and get the most out of your vacation budget. Some B&Bs also have equipment, like kayaks and bikes, that you can use for cheap or free.
B&Bs give you a great feel for the local culture, and you get to support small businesses instead of massive corporations that just want your money. And most of them run about the same price as (or even a little cheaper than) a hotel. That’s a win for everyone!
Timeshares vs. Camping
You might be thinking, Camping? Really? Yes, really! Camping doesn’t mean getting stranded in the woods with no food, no cell service and no sign of civilization (unless you’re on Survivor). Modern campsites give you the peace and quiet of nature—but with the convenience of electricity and running water. Some campgrounds even have water parks and restaurants!
And camping is one of the most flexible vacations you’ll ever take, since you can spend as much or as little as you want.
Instead of paying $22,000 for a timeshare, buy a used RV. (Remember, RVs are vehicles and depreciate quickly, so you want to buy used instead of new.) With an RV, you can go anywhere, and you have the luxuries of a bed, kitchen and toilet. The only things you won’t have are the hassles and restrictions of a timeshare.
As great as going to an exotic, faraway destination sounds, you may not actually need to leave your own home. There are a ton of great staycations that let you relax and recharge without the hassles of traveling.
One of our favorites is to pitch a tent in the backyard. You can buy a family-size tent for under $200—the cost of one night in a hotel—and use it over and over. You'll be amazed at how peaceful you can feel eating toasted marshmallows and looking at the stars. (You can even cheat and microwave the s’mores if you don’t have a firepit.)
If you are really set on getting away, taking your tent to a campground is the way to do it. In fact, tent camping was the Ramsey family’s vacation of choice for years.
Why? Because it’s cheap. Campsites cost around $50 a night on average. Some offer discounts just like hotels do, and others are completely free. So you’re mostly looking at costs for equipment, food and actually driving to the campground.
Sure, it might rain, and your back might hurt from sleeping on the ground. But with a little planning and a good foam sleeping pad, the memories you make will be worth it—especially since you’ll still have money in your pocket after your trip.
This is the best way to vacation if money is tight!
The Results Are In!
Compared to these other vacations, timeshares always come up on the losing end. They offer almost no value in terms of cost, destination, flexibility or any of the other things you look for in a vacation. Instead, they’re expensive, restrictive and insanely hard to get rid of.
You can do better! With any of these great alternatives, you can still have fun and not break the bank. So, get out there, get creative and find the vacation alternative that works for you—not the other way around.