A “sampler” timeshare contract is not a trial membership that can be rescinded

Sitting through a timeshare sales presentation can be a tiring, painful experience. But what’s worse is giving in to the sales pitch, signing an agreement, and then trying to get out of it later.

Just ask Gerry Brague of San Francisco. He and his husband stayed at a Diamond Resorts International (DRI) property at Lake Tahoe and attended a sales presentation. They signed up for what Brague thought was a “trial period” vacation plan. What they got was something else. Now they want out, but we can’t help them.

I’m resisting the urge to make this story another warning about timeshares. Instead, it’s about the importance of reading a contract before you sign.

If you’ve ever been to a timeshare or vacation club sales presentation, you know that there is a lot of pressure to buy. One of the inducements offered to Brague was a free tablet to use in booking a vacation. The couple gave in and agreed to buy what DRI calls their “Sampler Program.” They signed a contract in which they agreed to pay $3,995 over 24 months for 20,000 “Sampler” points. Those points have to be used within 24 months of the signing date.

“They gave us a tablet that we were supposed to use to access their properties,” says Brague. “We can’t get it to work. We haven’t been able to access the information that allows us to use their properties. We have emailed technical help, called and left a message for the man who sold us the plan, and wrote a letter to the CEO of the company. They have not responded to any of our communications. They are unresponsive and unhelpful.”

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In his letter to the company CEO, Brague said, “Because of the negative feeling that has built up about your customer service, we need to cancel our contract with your company. We put down a deposit which you of course can keep. But we will not be paying the monthly payments.”

After getting no response from DRI, he asked us to help them break their agreement.

Our advocate looked at the document they signed. It’s a straightforward, single-page contract. It only takes moments to read. There’s nothing there about a trial membership. The only “out” is explained in the last paragraph in bold, capital letters. It provides for a right to cancel within seven days of the signing. However, they waited more than a month before changing their minds.

Brague, in his communication with our advocate, did not accuse the sales agent of misrepresenting the deal. So it could be that he just misunderstood. But what he thinks he heard or understood doesn’t matter. What counts is what is written in the contract. And in this case the contract is pretty clear.

Brague asked our advocate if he could just refuse to continue making the payments. However, in that event, DRI could turn the contract over to a collection agency and ruin his credit.

Our advocate also told him that he does not need the tablet to access the DRI member website and pointed him to the member log-in link. We hope he has learned how to use the site as his 20,000 points expire in May of 2019.

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While his letter to the company CEO was short and to the point, he might have gotten some kind of a response if he had first written to someone at a lower level. We list the DRI contacts on our website. Also, the letter might have been more effective if he had followed some of the tips we provide on how to write an effective complaint letter.

Timeshare vacations can be good for some families. I have friends who are happy timeshare owners. But ownerships and vacation clubs can cause headaches and serious problems for those who don’t understand what they’re getting into or who run into financial difficulties later. You can get some insights on timeshare problems, including with DRI, by reading through the timeshare section of our forum.

There is one more condition in the contract that Brague may have overlooked. The second paragraph says clearly that the couple must attend another sales presentation each time they stay somewhere using those Sampler points. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.

We can’t help Brague get out of a contract he signed, so this gets filed as a “Case Dismissed.” For our readers, his situation is another reminder to read the terms and conditions, and to be sure you understand them, before you sign any contract.

Abe Wischnia

Abe started his working career as a television news reporter and newscaster before moving to corporate communications and investor relations. Now retired and having learned useful tips from Elliott.org, one of his volunteer activities is writing for us. Read more of Abe's stories here.

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