How to Survive a Hawaiian Timeshare Sales Pitch

It’s spring break for the kids and we’ve been excited to get away and find some warm weather on Maui. There are a few excursions we wanted to do with the kids while we are here, and so we took a stroll down the Ka’anapali Beach walkway to find an activity booth. We’ve got some extended family with us so I knew we were looking for accommodations for a large group of people. I originally had my eye on a snorkeling trip to Molokini and a helicopter ride. The advertised prices on the activity booth sign were far lower than any of the prices I had seen online for the tour company websites. The activity coordinator quoted unbelievable wholesale prices as follows:

Excursion Retail Price Discount Price Savings
Lanai snorkeling and dolphin/whale watching tour including breakfast and lunch
(8 person including 4 kids for free)
$350 $210 $140
West Maui and Molokai 45 min. Helicopter tour (6 person) $1,550 $940 $610
Total $1,900 $1,150 $750

What was the catch? We had to sit through a dreaded timeshare presentation. These high pressure sales pitches are famous for scamming well-intentioned vacationers to become timeshare owners responsible for ongoing maintenance fees. I had no intention to become a timeshare owner and the $750 discount was too good to pass up, so my wife and I signed up for a presentation. They require that you meet certain income requirements and that you attend with your significant other. The idea is that they want you to be able to make a snap decision without needing to go home to discuss with your spouse.

Key Tactics to Survive

There are a few key tactics to successfully survive the timeshare trap:

  • Resolve in advance with your significant other that you will not buy a timeshare.
  • Be upfront with the salesperson that you will not buy a timeshare.
  • Agree on a time limit with the presenter and set a timer on your phone.
  • Give as little personal details as possible since anything you say can be used against you.
  • Don’t ask questions to avoid stretching out the presentation.
  • Take notes with a pen and paper. They don’t like analytical shoppers, they want emotional buyers who make snap decisions.

My Experience

We arrived at the scheduled time and dropped our kids off at the free activity center where the kids spent the next couple hours playing games and making crafts. We presented our photo ids and showed them that we had a valid credit card to complete the sign-in process.

Our experience included four contrasting sales personalities.  First, our assigned “vacation counselor” was extremely soft-spoken and easy to speak to. Next, there was a loud and charismatic salesman who had everyone laughing as he presented slides in a group setting.  The “sales manager” was the intellectual closer who dealt with the numbers. Then finally, there was the “exit survey counselor” who was the most aggressive of the entire group.

I was surprised to find that they were selling points instead of a time specific share in a given property unit. If you buy 10,000 points then you are allocated that amount each year to redeem towards vacation weeks at properties around the world. If you don’t like the options from the resort company, you can deposit them to the Interval International exchange network. But what are you actually buying? The timeshare company is actually selling you deeded joint interest in a Hawaiian land trust. There’s nothing that prevents them from selling additional points despite having no additional resort property to sell. Over time, this will dilute the points for others and result in higher redemption prices. 3,500 points might get you a week in a 2 bedroom suite today but later it can go up to 5,000 for the same. The advantage of purchasing the Hawaiian points is that they give you a three month advance booking window over other point holders in their system.

They made a compelling case for becoming an owner. We are going to spend money on vacations every year anyways, and the resort points can be used perpetually and passed down to heirs. The idea is that you will eventually break even and come out ahead (less maintenance fees). However, I’ve never met anyone that ever came out ahead on their timeshare. The other main selling point is that this becomes a forcing function to go on regular annual vacations to exotic destinations. This last point is perhaps the biggest selling point for those who have a hard time planning and arranging vacations.

When our vacation counselor finally acknowledged our choice to decline, he warned us that this was a one-time offer and that our names were recorded in their system for five years. This was fine by me.

Everyone was respectful throughout our experience until the last “survey counselor.” He asked a few questions about our experience and then moved to the last ditch “20,000 point sampler” offer. We declined again stating that the time had gone way over and that our kids were hungry for lunch. With a strong alcohol odor on his breathe, he continued to shamelessly threaten that couples who don’t go on vacation are seven times more likely to get divorced. Wow. It was quite ironic to hear this coming from a single guy. Finally, I told him we were done and we left to gather our children.

Overall, the experience lasted for 2.5 hours. It was interesting to observe how they would spin such a bad purchase and I was impressed with their carefully orchestrated sales pitch. If the timeshare was really such a great value, they wouldn’t need high commission salespersons to lure in customers with gimmick offers. In the end we survived and we were happy to collect the $750 in excursion discounts.

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