Timeshare exchange networks were created to allow the exclusive resort member the possibility of travel to other high quality destinations. But recent years have highlighted systemic faults...
Timeshare owners bought into what used to be exclusive resorts. They paid a lot of money for higher quality than was available to regular holiday makers, but did not want necessarily to go to the same place every year. So the idea of 'exchanging' was born.
Exchange systems allow timeshare owners to swap their unit for equivalent standards in an alternative destination and/or timeslot. There are three major exchange networks: Resort Condominiums International (RCI), Interval International (II) and 7 Across (formerly Dial an Exchange). The largest, RCI, boasts destinations in 110 countries.
On the face of it this sounds ideal. A huge amount of choice, and always guaranteed great quality wherever you travel. So what's the problem?
There are extra charges for exchange. On top of the regular annual fees (already usually the equivalent of the cost of a regular holiday) there is an additional annual fee for being a member of the exchange system, even if you don't use it. Currently this is around £76 per year
It costs another £191 to actually make an exchange. The fee for banking a week (saving them for another time) is £52. And there is a fee of £68 for allowing another person to use your own timeshare if you are not using it.
This means that doing anything other than what your original membership guarantees, comes with spiralling costs. The non timeshare owner pays only for the holiday they have. If a holiday costs £700 for a week in destination A or destination B, they will pay the same in either, there are no fees to exchange if you don't holiday with timeshare.
For non timeshare owners, booking holidays is pretty straightforward. You go on the booking site, choose a hotel and dates, then pay for it.
For timeshare owners there are complex, systematic rules:
Like with all holidays, the popular destinations book up first. In the RCI system there are around 4300 resorts to choose from. If the choices in a particular destination at the preferred time are full, then the owner can't exchange there.
For a regular holidaymaker there is a wider selection of choices. The non owner can choose to stay in a timeshare resort, but also can choose anywhere outside the timeshare system without incurring extra fees.
The timeshare owner has already paid for his holiday. If his preferred exchange destination has no availability, then he must pay for an entire extra holiday outside of his membership, as well as paying his own annual fees.
Timeshare resorts are also no longer exclusive. They rent out weeks to non-members, for around the same price as the members pay in maintenance. Putting aside the fact that this is grossly unfair on people who paid tens of thousands of dollars to join a club they could now stay in without being a member, this means that those weeks are now not available for members who have paid for them.
Many members can never get their choice of holiday, or their second or third choice even in regular years
The two countries directly involved are not timeshare destinations. But due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many timeshare owners in the Balkans, or Central and Eastern Europe are expected to request exchanges further from the conflict zone.
Nobody can predict whether the war could spill into neighbouring countries, if it did and any of those were a NATO country, then the whole region could flare up. Already the skies over Russia and Ukraine are off limits to commercial travel, and this no-fly zone could expand as safety requirements dictate. The shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in 2014 by Russian backed rebels in Ukraine was done in comparative peacetime. Flying anywhere near missile toting military forces is not going to be a popular choice in 2022.
This all means that there will be extra demand on 'safe countries' like Spain and Portugal. With a fixed amount of resorts, a high number of people will be disappointed.
Many industry experts believe 2022 could be the 'perfect storm' that breaks the exchange networks beyond repair. CEO of European Consumer Claims, Andrew Cooper explains: "In that first pandemic summer of 2020, members assumed that their maintenance wouldn't be charged because they couldn't take their holiday. With resorts standing empty all summer, running costs would be reduced to a trickle and people thought that the savings would be passed to them. Instead the resorts chose to charge in full and make record profits. The only consolation offered was the option of members banking their weeks to use the following year.
"Those of us who understand the timeshare model knew that this could never work. In 2021, around double the amount of holidays would be owed to members. Where would the extra inventory come from to provide that accommodation?
"Then 2021 arrived and travel still wasn't back to normal, meaning weeks needed to be banked yet again. Now in 2022 an impossible amount of holidays are due. Resorts have promised something they simply can't honour.
"These are just weeks banked with resorts. What about the families who deposited their weeks for an exchange they couldn't take for one of the above reasons? Maybe their deposited week was already used, but now RCI owes those families weeks which there isn't enough inventory to honour.
"Add to that the extra pressure from the war and this summer is going to deliver disappointment to people relying on their timeshare memberships for holidays. This is likely to affect the foreseeable future."
Timeshare owners are looking for ways to escape costly memberships. "The idea of timeshare is dated," explains Cooper. "The resorts are all available on regular booking sites to non members. And nobody wants to be committed to annual fees for something they often can't use. People would rather go where they want, and when they want. They would rather pay exactly for what they use."
Getting out of timeshare contracts is far from easy. "Because new member sales have flatlined, the resorts rely on annual fees from members. They don't let people leave without a fight. Timeshare companies have even been known to enforce those fees with UK debt collectors like Daniels Silverman. If you just walk away from the debt you could end up with CCJs and enforcement actions taken against you.
"It is possible to escape with expert help from companies like ECC. And for those lucky enough to fit certain qualifications (the majority of Spanish timeshare companies operated illegally for decades) there is the possibility of not only freedom from the timeshare, but a significant compensation payment as well."
For advice on how to escape a timeshare contract, or to find out if you qualify for compensation, get in touch with our team at Timeshare Advice Centre.