Saturday, September 26, 2020 Edition: U.S. & World | Regional

Travel for Free Without Buying a Timeshare

Free vacations are the best kind. Fortunately, there are a lot of opportunities to do it, if you look around—or just answer unknown numbers once in a while. Of course, most of these opportunities involve subjecting yourself to the endless boredom of timeshare pitches, but it’s a small price to pay for the adventure you’ll find yourself on. The key to successful traveling this way is to resist the urge to buy what they’re advertising. Here’s how to travel through timeshare pitches, without ending up buying a second home in Florence.


Rule 1: Answer the Phone. Talking to salespeople isn’t super fun, but now and then it can score you a free vacation. My husband and I get about six or seven calls a month from people trying to get us to listen to timeshare pitches and get a free vacation in return. Sadly, we are at a point in our lives where we don’t qualify for many of these opportunities, but if you’re fairly established and over the age of 22, you could very well plan a practically free vacation every year. Take the time to answer those calls and find out what the offers are all about. Be cautious and screen for scammers, but if you find something legit, then go for it. When we were planning our honeymoon, we received four or five of these offers. We had to do a little research and find out which were actually a good deal, and we ended up choosing a Bahamas trip. It turned out to be a dream vacation in a magical paradise.

Young woman hands using phone


Rule 2: Barter. If you’re good at bartering, you might get some extra freebies, too. Once, during a timeshare-prize cruise, my husband scored us a magnificent resort suite with ocean views for a small fraction of the listed price. He did it just by calling acting marginally interested in booking a room and island excursion during our free cruise. The salesperson on the other end of the phone kept lowering the price and throwing in benefits until my husband got a price and a package he liked. You can do this, too. Also, keep in mind that the salespeople deal with crabby, cranky, and just plain mean people on the phone all day. Being that one guy who is respectful and kind can make all the difference not only for their day, but also for your bank account.


Rule 3: Free means Free. Well, sort of. Nothing is really free. Keep in mind that the only thing you’re getting for free is what’s in the fine print on your voucher. You’re still responsible for things like airfare and extra tours you want to take. But when it comes to the free prize, you are not obligated to buy anything to get it.

When my husband and I were planning our wedding, we entered a drawing for a free honeymoon cruise. Because, why not? We were planning a nice, cheap trip to the mountains, but hey, a free cruise would be cool, too. Imagine our excitement when we found out we had been selected as one of the cruise recipients! However, we quickly discovered that the trip came with strings. Or rather, handles and lids. In order to get our voucher, we had to sit through three hours (I kid you not—three hours) of listening to a frustrated middle-aged guy try to convince us to buy overpriced, albeit very nice, pots and pans. We didn’t have any money, and we didn’t want any pots, so we politely listened, took our vouchers (and the complimentary apron) and left. On our way out the door, the salesman angrily blustered after us, “If you can afford the plane tickets to the cruise terminal, you can afford the pots and pans!” Okay, but we’d rather have the plane tickets. When you attend one of these sessions, remember that free means free. If you’re not obligated to buy anything, don’t do it. Seriously. Don’t give into the pressure.


Rule 4: Resign Yourself. Once you get to your location, you’ll almost certainly have to attend a breakfast and tour of the timeshare facilities. Ours was supposed to be two hours, but it was four. It wasn’t exactly what we wanted to do on our honeymoon, but we made it enjoyable. If your attitude is awful, you’ll hate this part. But remember that it’s paying for your trip. Think of it as working for your vacation—framing it this way, the hourly pay is great, by the way. The tour or seminar can be fun if you decide it will be. It was actually pretty cool to get free hot breakfast, a private beach trip, and a tour of a beautiful condo.



Rule 5: Don’t Feel Guilty. During our timeshare tour, our guide was the new kid on the block and seemed to be under genuine pressure to sell something. She was kind of terrified about the whole thing and was incredibly relieved to get nice people on her tour (so here’s an unofficial rule: be nice to the salespeople. It’s not a super fun job). That combined with the convincing argument she made about the amazing vacations we could take made our resolve a little weaker. But not weak enough. As our steel will was obviously unbendable, more and more skilled salespeople joined our table. They went as far as pointing out what an investment the company has already made in us and our current trip. At the very end, one woman was visibly angry at me for refusing to purchase timeshare, as if I had done something wrong. But remember Rule 2: Free means free. They advertise a free vacation, and it’s perfectly fine to take advantage of it. You’re doing nothing wrong, morally or legally.

Family Vacation


Rule 6: Be Realistic. Is there really room in your finances for a timeshare property? Do you really want one? If the answer to both of those is “no,” it shouldn’t change after your tour. Our saleswoman crunched the numbers and came up with a timeshare cost plan that supposedly fit into our budget. On paper, it worked, but there were two problems: we don’t want timeshare because we’re freewheelers when it comes to travel. Also, we just got married. I was still in college. My husband was planning to apply to med school and quit his job the next year. We had no idea how our finances would look in the future. Most people aren’t settled enough to make that kind of financial commitment, and we knew for a fact that we weren’t. So if you never considered buying timeshare and it never fit into your financial plans, a two-hour sales pitch shouldn’t change that.



Rule 7: Don’t Get Emotional. The salespeople around you are going to be trying every last strategy to get you to open your wallet. They have lots of training that has taught them how to make you pay up, and they’re also invested, since their pay check depends on how much you fork over. One of their best strategies is to wrap up your emotions in a transaction. This is especially true if they have time to talk to you and learn what you care about before the sales pitch comes. They’ll play on your lifelong dream to see New Zealand. They’ll remind you how much your aging mother would love a trip to Florida. They’ll encourage you to build your marriage by taking vacations—through their timeshares, of course. As tempting as it can be to try to fill an emotional need with a vacation home, resist the urge. Spending money does not bring happiness.

A picture of a group of friends taking selfie on the beach


Rule 8: Remember the Extra Costs. When it comes to travel, pretty much nothing costs what you expect it to. Even the free cruise we took for our honeymoon ended up being at least twice as expensive as the mountain trip we originally planned. It was worth it for the price, but it did have a price tag still. On your free prize vacation, you’ll have to foot the bill for a lot of stuff: plane tickets, transportation, some of your accommodations, depending on the package, any upgrades you want to do, some of your food, and whatever adventures you want to take. And those are just the really obvious expenses. If you get a timeshare, there will be those things plus hidden costs like property tax, cleaning fees, upkeep costs, etc. A timeshare is a huge commitment, and it has constant annual and monthly costs. I know people who have a timeshare and actually use it to make money, but most people can’t swing that. Don’t assume you can.



Rule 9: Introduce “No” Into Your Vocabulary. You might find yourself sounding like a spoiled two-year-old, but that’s a good thing. The word “no” should be coming out of your mouth over and over again when talking to timeshare salespeople. Don’t let that “yes” sneak out, no matter how right it feels. Remember, you took this particular vacation offer to save money, so there’s no reason for you to spend more than you originally would have. Just say no.



Rule 10: Have a Blast. The final rule is to put all the timeshare stuff behind you and enjoy your trip. Don’t let all the commitments that come with a free prize derail your R&R time. Go through it, get it done, say the word “No,” and then go enjoy your time. After all, you’re going to be in a beautiful place with no responsibilities for the rest of your trip. Where will you go? The Bahamas? Cancun? New Zealand? Adventures await!


If you know how to do it right, timeshare free vacation prizes can be a fantastic way to travel. If you know that you can resist the urge to buy, don’t be afraid to take advantage of these heavily discounted vacations! It may be a little more hassle than booking a trip you’ll fund on your own, but remember how much you’re saving on the way. In the end, it’s more than worth it.


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