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What is a Timeshare and How Does a Timeshare Work? (My Timeshare Presentation Horror Story)

What is a timeshare and how does a timeshare work? I include all the numbers from a sales pitch, plus my timeshare presentation horror story. 

You've likely received an invitation to a timeshare presentation before, with the promise of some juicy free gift (even a free vacation!). 

sales person showing client where to sign, text overlay "my timeshare presentation horror story"

Heck, maybe you've even sat through one (and a few of you might have actually purchased the timeshare afterward). 

Well, I took the opportunity as a personal finance blogger to sit through an entire timeshare presentation just so that I could write about my experience. 

I want to be able to share things like: 

  • What is a timeshare and how does a timeshare work? 
  • What is a timeshare presentation?
  • Are timeshares really worth it?
  • Are timeshare presentation horror stories for real?
  • Can I really walk away with a “free” weekend getaway and a $40 gift card after the sales pitch (timeshare sales presentation)? 

WOW was I in for a shock – but it was my first time, so I had no idea. 

Read along as I share my own personal timeshare presentation horror story, outline what a timeshare is, and reveal what “free” getaways/gift cards I walk away with. 

Psst: did you buy a timeshare and the maintenance costs are just killing you? Or, perhaps, you can't get the weeks that you want, so it's just not worth it to you anymore? While you might be able to find someone willing to takeover your timeshare, you should know that selling it is highly unlikely. What can you do? 

One way to get out of paying maintenance fees for eternity is to go through a timeshare exit company. Newton Group Transfers has been helping timeshare owners safely end their timeshare ownership for over a decade. They also wrote The Consumer's Guide to Timeshare Exit and they can assist you with this by either having the timeshare ownership transferred away from you, or legally ending the timeshare ownership. 

Click through for more information.

What is a Timeshare and How Does a Timeshare Work?

Before we dive into my experience on a timeshare tour + sales pitch, let's talk about what a timeshare is.

How timeshares work: A timeshare is a piece of property where there are joint owners who divide up the use of the property into time-shares (meaning, an allotment of time such as one week a year, two weeks a year, or whatever timeshare is worked out for that particular piece of property). There is a timeshare contract. 

Since a person becomes a co-owner of the property, there are maintenance costs that also need to be paid.

To learn more about the legal rights you have as a timeshare owner, go here.

What is a Timeshare Presentation?

A timeshare presentation is a way for timeshare companies to bring in potential new clients who will buy timeshares.

I've been invited to others in the past but never said yes. 

A few weeks ago, an invitation to a timeshare presentation came in the mail, and I decided to accept it.

What did I have to lose?

  • The prizes they were offering seemed way too good to be true. 
  • I wanted to test it out for both my readers' and my own sake and see if I could actually walk away with something more than I came in with.

Here's what I was promised: 

  • $40 American Express card
  • a trip for two to Las Vegas for 3 days and 2 nights
  • airfare and hotel included or a trip for two on a cruise leaving a nearby port, plus 
  • either a $49,000 BMW, a $1500 shopping spree, $500 cash, or a romantic getaway for 5 days and 4 nights for two

WOW. Those are some pretty awesome promises. 

First up for my day? Was to go on a tour of the Timeshare property. 

What is a Timeshare Tour?

The common tactic timeshare companies use to get more traffic into these tours is by offering high-value prizes (or seemingly high-value prizes – you'll read more about this below) so that you'll show up for 1.5 hours or more the presentation/tour will take.

Note: they say it will take 1.5 hours or so…but in reality, you'll likely be there much longer. Just like I was. Keep reading.

You get an appointment with a group of other people, and you tour whatever property they've offered up to you through the invitation. Then afterward (and throughout sometimes, too), you're handed to a sales representative who uses increasingly aggressive sales tactics to close the deal. 

Timeshare Presentation Horror Stories – My Own Experience

My appointment was set for 10:30 a.m. on a Friday and was to last for 1.5 hours. It was an hour away from where I lived, but with all those awesome prizes lying just beyond the horizon, the drive did not bother me at all. 

According to the flyer, you were “guaranteed” to walk away with at minimum $1295 in gifts, with no purchase necessary

That's certainly enough to cover the gas and a few hours of lost work, right?

Let me set the stage for you: I walked into a room of probably 50 other people. We all filled out paperwork for identification (turns out you cannot get your prize without two forms of ID). On the television screen in the corner was playing America’s Funniest Home Videos, and against the wall was a table with some juice and cookies.

One by one our names were called by a representative, who then took us into another room and individually spoke to us. After twenty minutes I was greeted by a very enthusiastic college student clad in a suit. His major was business.

In the building next door, he gathered some market research about me. 

The rep then proceeded to tell me that by his approximations, my husband Paul and I spend around $2100 per year on travelling (one large trip, and two small weekend getaways) or $200 per month (although honestly it’s $175 if you do the math). Over the course of the next 9 years, this salesman showed me that that would add up to $18,000.

But wait — that didn’t include inflation; he opened up a notebook with a paper in plastic sheeting showing the inflationary values of a Coca-Cola and a movie rental from 1960 until today.

The prices had gone up by nearly 536%! (I didn’t have the heart to tell him that salaries had also risen since then).

He wanted to be conservative, so he told me that I would be looking at an inflation of at least 100%. So I was truly looking at $36,000 for our one week and two weekend getaways per year.

Next came the tour in his F-150.

We saw a cabin on the property, the activities area, as well as the condominium-type buildings. 

I thought the grounds were sufficient, but not as extravagant as I had imagined them to be. At each location that we toured, he left me with the benefits in mind: 

  • you can have your own guests
  • come and stay with us for a week
  • if you want to stay longer, the cost is just $75 per night
  • etc.

He kept quizzing me with leading questions, the words rolling off his tongue with an assurance that he would get the answer he wanted.

Honestly, I just couldn’t produce all of the answers he wanted; sometimes I was confused by the question, or I had to detail to him that once I had taken a trip to Maryland for a long weekend for $7 in total (frequent flyer miles for the airfare, free lodging at a beautiful cottage on my college campus for a special dinner I was invited to attend courtesy of my old department head, borrowed a car from my aunt who lives in Washington D.C. and had a gas gift card to fill the tank up afterward, etc.).

Then, it was time to go back to the building and really get down to it (little did I know the hard sell ahead of me).

How to Say No to Timeshare Salesman

After the tour, we headed back to the building, where it was finally going to be revealed to me the cost of the timeshare. 

The college student reminded me how much I was looking at spending in the next 9 years for my traveling, and as he continued speaking, that huge $36,000 number glared at me from the page.

Here’s how it broke down: 

The promotion for the day was that I would get a one-week vacation each year, plus membership into RCI (meaning I can stay at various timeshare locations all around the world for an extra $189 per week), plus stay extra nights for $75, plus have as many guests as I want coming over, plus have the option of staying in 7 different locations around the U.S. (I have to admit, none were particularly to my liking, and I let him know that)…all for the price of $15,500, plus $65 per month maintenance fee. 

And by the way, this was $20,500 less than what I was going to spend on travel in the next 9 years anyway, so how could I refuse? 

Besides, I had said to myself that currently, we spend around $200 per month on travel. 

For just $289 more per month (so, $489 per month for 360 months) I can actually own something and rise above all of the other people who rent every year.

I said that I would have to think about it, which was exactly what I intended to do. As per usual, I wanted to run some numbers at home, talk it over with Paul, and see if it was truly worth it.

Note to readers: For such large financial decisions, it is always a good idea to step away, run the numbers and truly think about your money decision. Being pressured to buy on the spot is no way to make a purchase. For purposes of anonymity, I am not going to release the name of this particular timeshare. 

It turns out, this was something the salesmen did not want to hear. Not only that, but it was something I'd have to dig my heels in and say over, over, and over again.

How to End a Timeshare Presentation

Repeatedly, the salesman asked me what was holding me back. 

I was completely honest with him; my fiancée and I were closing on a home during that week, and I didn’t want to jeopardize our credit history by taking on a rather large loan during the process, (as well as take on a loan of this size when we are about to take on a huge loan otherwise)! 

The salesman respected that, and waited for his sales manager to come over so that I could receive my gifts. 

In reality, the next timeshare salesman who came was the second man on the 3-salesman timeshare sales tactic to pressure me into buying.

For fifteen minutes I spoke with this second gentleman. 

He was noticeably upset that I had not brought my fiancée, as if I had broken some unwritten rule. 

When I told him that “we” were buying a home soon, he looked puzzled at my sheet, and said “We…who is we?” I said, “oh, my fiancée”. He said “Why isn’t he here” and looked at me as if I had committed a crime. My phone started ringing at that moment and was unfortunately on the chair beside us all because the second salesman saw Paul’s name pop up.

“Oh – go ahead and answer that and talk it over. I’ll go speak with my manager about this”, he said.

I said, “I don’t want to talk with him about this over the phone, and especially while he is at work.”

He replied, “Well, he wants to talk to you; look, he’s calling you.” 

He then stood up, and demanded that I call my fiancée while he went to talk to his manager. Talk about an icky, high-pressure timeshare pitch!

As anyone would, I simply sat there and refused to do so (newsflash: I do NOT take commands from complete strangers). When he returned with a better offer from his sales manager, he asked if I had done as he told me to. I said “no”.

In just fifteen minutes, the price of owning a timeshare went from $15,500 to $8,880. 

The salesman explained that something happened that never happens. Someone reneged on their deal but had already paid down their deed by $6,620. This would be a savings to me. I could just pick up their deed where they left it off. 

I still politely declined, shook hands with the person, and he left.

Then came the third salesman in the guise of another manager to give me my gifts. He asked how everyone had treated me, and I said “fine”, and put in a great word for the first salesman because he had really done a great job of representing the place. 

This salesman came with another type of deal.

“I heard that you are buying a home and that the full price is what is holding you back. I am here to tell you that we will accept $150 down, and $100 per month for the next ten months to hold these prices for you. 

At the end of ten months, we will put that money towards your purchasing price. How does that sound?”

I thought it sounded like they were willing to work with me, which was nice. 

Still, I was not ready to take on that debt and sign on the dotted line on the spot. Honestly, I had every intention of thinking it over and running the numbers at home.

The third man gave up with an air of utter frustration. 

He escorted me out the back door and told me which building to go to for the gifts. He walked away, and I put my hand out to shake his. He shook it, but without even looking at me and shaking his head with utter disdain. 


I had gone from being a Rockstar to feeling like the mistress in a back alley in a matter of an hour.

Timeshare Presentation Deals I *Actually* Received

They delivered on their prize promise…but probably not in the way that you or I expected.

It was a lottery card that you scratched off to see if you won the BMW, or a shopping spree, or cash, or the romantic getaway (which is the token prize that most everyone wins, and the first salesman explained that to me). 

I walked away with the $40 American Express Giftcard, a trip for two to Las Vegas for 3 days and 2 nights with roundtrip airfare and the hotel included, and a trip for two for 5 days/4 nights to a choice of several Caribbean locations with hotel included (you supply your own airfare).

Three and a half hours from when I had first arrived, and with my prizes in hand, I drove away to the symbolic tunes of Tom Petty’s “Free Falling”, feeling entirely relieved from the pressure of buying something that had been building incrementally stronger with each of the three salesmen.

But to be honest, that wasn't the end of the timeshare presentation horror story. 

What it Looks Like to Redeem Your Free Prizes

I attempted to sell the Caribbean package on Craigslist, but it did not pan out. No big deal. 

What I did walk away with that was certainly worth my 3.5 hours was the Las Vegas trip.

Paul just had a birthday in August, and at the time of the Timeshare, we had decided that we wanted to celebrate by taking a weekend trip to Las Vegas and having ourselves a good ol’ time in the dazzle and sparkle that can only be found in the middle of Nevada’s desert.

 Besides, we had a free trip coming to us anyway, so why not?

There were several more barriers to get through to get this trip, and I diligently filled out all of the paperwork involved. 

We had to: 

  • Select three dates that were not within 10 days of a holiday
  • Date of travel must start on a Tuesday or a Wednesday
  • Each potential start date must be at least 60 days apart from one another and was not within the next 14 days
  • I gave a deposit of $100 to cover taxes on hotel and airfare, which seemed reasonable. 

Then I waited for a travel agent rep to call me to make the official booking.

Nina from Casablanca Express was my contact. 

In her chipper and quick-talking voice – as if she were about to rip off a band-aid in order that I may not feel the pain until afterward when all of my nerves had a moment to catch up – she explained to me that I had four options. 

It turns out that 99% of people do not choose to go through with their 3-day, 2-night trip after they hear all of the restrictions, and she was sure that after I heard these restrictions, I would choose against it as well.

So without further ado, the following are the four options we were given:

  1. Use the prize. You will get 3 days and two nights in Las Vegas; however your flight will leave between 6:00-10:00 p.m. on Wednesday night, and between 6:00-12:00 a.m. on Friday morning. Your hotel will not be on the strip; it will be either at the airport or a hotel called Wild Wild West, which is located at a truck stop (Happy Birthday, Paul!). You are coming from Houston, and so most likely there will be stopovers/layovers. There will be no shuttle service to pick you up from the airport, so you will need to pay for your own taxi.
  2. Upgrade. For $483 for the two of you, you will be removed from the restrictions. Your flight will leave Wednesday morning and Friday afternoon or evening. Your hotel will be on the strip in a luxury tower room. You will have a free shuttle service back and forth to the airport. You will get two free tickets to a magic show by Mac King (she assured me I should google him and he’s ultra-famous and sought after). You will get a buy-one-get-one-free dinner at the Blues House, and several other restaurants.
  3. Get there yourself. Pay for your own flight there, or perhaps you have some frequent flyer miles you can use. If you do this, we will upgrade you for free to a hotel on the strip, plus a refund of part of your $100 deposit.
  4. Go to South Padre Island. Drive to South Padre Island, and we will pay for your two-night hotel stay in the Ramada, which has a four-star rating. You will get free breakfast on both mornings. (At this point I asked if we would also receive part of our $100 deposit back, and she was baffled – no one had asked her this before. I explained to her that if we chose this option, we would be getting ourselves to the Island, and Casablanca would not be purchasing airfare, so we should be refunded part of the $100. She simply said, “They are not going to do that”. Is “they” the Timeshare mafia?)
  5. Get a Refund. We will mail you a check for $100.

As crazy as it may sound, this conversation actually did occur, and I tried to use the same language as she did in the descriptions above.

I was particularly impressed with all of the sneaky ways she and Casablanca Express had concocted to get me to basically pay for the trip myself while simultaneously trying to make me believe that we were getting a free deal. 

In a moment of true spite, I almost accepted the original deal (option # 1) just to make them pay for everything and to show them that I was not like other people (who supposedly 99% of the time turned it down once they saw what they were getting). 

Hey, it would have made a great article, right – truck-stop gambling extraordinaire?

My Initial Timeshare Prize Decision

I decided to pay for our own airfare and get the upgrade to a hotel on the strip. 

It still didn’t feel right to me, but Paul’s birthday was coming up and I had to make a decision. 

I just so happened to have a free airfare reward with Southwest anyway, so I would just be paying for his ticket. 

The rep booked us for the Riviera on the strip, gave us a Las Vegas discount card (which accounts for all the buy one get one free offer on restaurants she had told me about – undoubtedly a free promotion they have with a partner), and said that we would get an $82 refund from our $100 upon checking in at the hotel.

Our Final Timeshare Prize Decision

But then…I looked at the hotel we would be staying at and found that during the weekdays any person could book it for just $27 a night. 

I looked up the discount card and found that it was super cheap as well. I had just let these people get away with paying something ridiculously cheap like $70 for our 3-day, 2-night, all-expense trip to Las Vegas. 

I felt scammed!

Paul’s birthday was on August 6th, so I gave Paul his gifts. 

One of them would have included the Las Vegas trip, except that he kept pestering me with the details of the trip leading up to his birthday, and when I finally broke down and told him everything he said “Get our money back, babers!”

I called the woman back from Casablanca and asked for a full refund of our $100. She obliged. Case closed. Las Vegas, we will see you another time.

How You Can Sign Up for a Timeshare Presentation Without Knowing It

Since moving to Texas in 2008 I created a Texas Bucket List where I detailed roughly ten experiences/places I wanted to see while living in Texas. 

When I saw the opportunity to fulfill one of these through a social buying site deal offering a trip to New Orleans at a crazy-great price, I got really excited. 

My friend had passed a deal along where you pay $89 for two nights’ stay at an upscale 3.5 to 4-star New Orleans hotel, plus you have the choice of a special gift (Complimentary $50 Visa Rewards card, or One Additional Complimentary Room Night). This was all valued at $408.

You can start to see where the red flags were raised. 

With Mardi Gras coming up, it is clearly not the off-season for New Orleans where one might find a deal as sweet as this. Also, all travel social buying site deals I have ever seen have been for up to 50% off, not 78% off. 

I began to wonder, is New Orleans on clearance for any particular reason?

I figured it out by perusing around the website a bit more. 

This was a vacation property timeshare disguised as a social buying deal!!!

Terms and Conditions Most Will Glaze Over

Let’s be honest, most people get a glaze in their eyes when reading legalese so they decide to skip over it entirely and rely on the advertising and the fact that others have signed on before them and not faced disaster. Dealster.com, the advertiser of this deal, says on its About Page that it wants to offer compelling deals to consumers, which means “…you get the things you want at big savings and without a lot of fine print…” (italics are my own). 

My two pages of printed fine print clearly do not fit this bill. 

In this case, not reading the terms and conditions will leave you very disgruntled upon arriving at the hotel for your getaway weekend (er, most likely a Tuesday-Thursday per the fine print) when you learn this:

  • Your package does not include any applicable taxes, hotel service fees, or regulatory surcharges (estimated at between $50-60 per trip, and an additional $30 per night in parking fees)
  • You agree to attend a presentation that will last a minimum of 120 minutes and married or cohabitating couples must attend the orientation and tour together
  • Your getaway is for the purpose of promoting the sale of vacation ownership plans

And if you are upset when checking in and decide to leave in a fit of rebellion, you may be very surprised by the “no show” fee that will be charged to your credit card. 

“Participants with confirmed reservations who fail to check-in on their reservation date or fail to reschedule at least two (2) weeks in advance of their arrival date shall forfeit their use of this certificate and be charged a one night “no show fee”.

Timeshares and Travel Deals Should Not Be Combined

Call me crazy, but this is not what social buying sites are all about. 

Can you imagine buying one of these vouchers to New Orleans only to learn that you must attend a 120-minute presentation about buying into the vacation property? How about if you cancel a few days in advance (normally allowed at other hotels) only to be charged a “no show” fee? 

Social buying sites are supposed to unite consumers into a large enough group where their purchasing power allows for a significant reduction in the cost of the experience, service, or item being offered. 

The seller gets exposure for their brand, makes a small profit (admittedly small, but many times during the off-season when profits are harder to come by), and consumers are left with a great deal.

In my mind, a timeshare is a timeshare, and a discounted travel deal is a discounted travel deal. One should not be substituted for the other, especially when you are sending these types of deals to someone’s inbox in the guise of a social buying deal. 

If social buying sites begin to slip in timeshare buying opportunities with their travel deals they will surely create a bitter taste in most of their clients’ mouths (me included). That is just not good for business.

How to Sell Your Timeshare Property

Did YOU sit through a presentation, and − gulp − come out with a timeshare property you no longer want (and might not have wanted in the first place)? Don't worry, there are options to get out of it.

Option #1: Take Advantage of Your State's Rescind Period

Did you just purchase the timeshare recently (as in, last week) and it's giving you heartburn at night? You might have an out through your state's consumer protection laws.

Each state sets its own rules on the rescind period for timeshares (also known as the “cooling off period”). So if you got caught up in a timeshare presentation and would like to get out of your contract, start by checking your purchase documents. There should be an area explaining how to rescind the offer.

But you have to act quickly; some states only offer several days, and the most amount of days where you can give a timeshare back is in Alaska where the cooling off period is 15 days.

Time is not on your side.

Option #2: Rent the Timeshare

So maybe you can't take advantage of the rescind period (doh!) because you bought this thing a year ago, and thinking about selling your timeshare makes your head spin.

Finding someone to rent it for your available weeks is probably your next best option. This will hopefully cover at least the maintenance fees you have to pay each year (industry-wide, these are generally around $1,000 according to the American Resort Development Association), and perhaps help you recoup some of your other costs as well.

Not bad, especially if you have not gotten around to using your weeks anyway and it's just sitting there unused. Plus this option buys you time as you figure out if you're ready for Option #3.

Option #3: Sell the Timeshare…Sort of

You could sell your timeshare…

But before we go into that, I want to point out that there are many scams involved with trying to end your timeshare ownership (mostly around promising to sell your timeshare for you).

The two most common timeshare resale scams are:

  1. A company taking money to list a timeshare for sale, knowing that it will never sell. This can be anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
  2. A company telling a timeshare owner that they have a buyer for their timeshare and asking the seller to put money in escrow. These people never see the escrow money again and there is no buyer. This scam costs people thousands to tens of thousands per incident.

This is why if you're serious about getting out of a timeshare, then you should consider talking to the Newton Group Transfers

There are lots of scams involved you could get caught up in when dealing with Timeshare resellers.

The fact is, most timeshares hold no value on the market. Meaning, other buyers do not find them valuable enough to pay for them. Instead of selling, you might be able to find someone to “buy” it from you (by giving it to them) and in exchange, they now have to pay the maintenance fees and you will no longer have to pay those.

As you can see, the great news is you've got three solid options if you're looking to unload an unwanted timeshare. So don't feel stuck! Even though it will take some effort to take advantage of any one of these options, it is certainly worth your time instead of hanging onto something that is draining thousands of dollars from your bank account.

Psst: here's what to do after being scammed

Are Timeshares Really Worth It?

Timeshares may be for you. 

Honestly, the ability to use my week in foreign countries truly sold me on the concept because it is the ultimate flexibility. Also, the idea that I can ‘will’ this deed to another generation appeals to me (I know, I am only 26, but I have really long-term thinking). 

What didn’t sell me is the fact that on top of paying the $15,500, each year I would be paying $780 in “maintenance fees” to upkeep my property, which, let’s face it, is the cost of my two smaller weekend getaways combined

I also did not buy into the 100% inflation over the next 20 years (even though this could happen, I am confident in my abilities to find ways around price hikes). 

Besides that, the property I saw was only sufficient in my eyes and not the type of luxurious I would be looking for to fork out $489 per month for the next 30 years of my life.

Has anyone else ever had experience with timeshares, or owns one? I’d be curious to hear some stories. How did you handle the aggressive salespeople? Did you have a similar experience?

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Amanda L Grossman

Personal Finance Writer and CEO at Frugal Confessions, LLC
Amanda L. Grossman is a writer and Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 13 years, her money work has helped people with how to save money and how to manage money. She's been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Real Simple Magazine, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here or on LinkedIn.

Resort Legal Team

Thursday 3rd of October 2019

Thanks for this article. You describe very well about Timeshare, this will be helpful for Timeshare buyers.

Aleta Masenten

Sunday 24th of February 2013

Travel agencies probably do not have the best options however they do have information. Information is power, and you want this power in order to take the best decision possible to create your dream holidays. How to find your own dream holidays? In travel agencies. How to get the actual best travel deals? Using the information travel agencies give to you. So, how should I use travel agencies information in order to get the best travel deals for my personal dream holiday? '

Make sure you visit our personal internet site as well


Saturday 11th of February 2012

I have seen some of these great deals too, but I have passed them over without reading the fine print because they seemed too good to be true. Now I know why. Thanks for taking the time to do the research. I wonder how many people were scammed unintentionally?

rene@personal loans

Thursday 9th of February 2012

Man have you ever sat through one of those timeshare talks. Boring is the word. I'd be quite peeved if I bought a daily deal and had to endure one of those on my leisurely discounted holiday. Thanks for the warning. I'll be reading the fine print for sure.

101 Centavos

Monday 6th of February 2012

I'd have a hard time buying something on condition of enduring a lengthy presentation. No wonder timeshares get a bad rap.