A “sampler” timeshare contract is not a trial membership that can be rescinded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

Related story:   Read this before you go to a timeshare sales presentation

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.

  • Kevin Nash

    Looks like another case of change-my-mind-itis.

  • justanotherguy

    “Timeshare vacations can be good for some families. I have friends who are happy timeshare owners.”

    Pics or it didn’t happen.

    Are timeshares ever really a good idea? At least this guy is out of it after 24 months- not stuck making payments for the rest of his life…

  • jae1

    My in-laws were happy timeshare owners for several decades. It got them their several months a year in Florida without having the responsibility of owning a condo. Trading points (or something) got them family-sized accommodations elsewhere when they wanted them, provided they planned far enough in advance. Their lives and needs have changed, so they’ve now sold the timeshare, but it was perfect for them while they had it.

  • Bill___A

    Sounds like a mess. I do see an inconsistency in this story with what I see generally in this site (the part being in this story is actually the correct one).

    “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”

    How many times have I read in elliott.org about when an employee says something, the company should be held to it. This is said many times with relation to airline employees, hotel employees, car rental agency employees…

    This never made sense to me.

    In any case, this is what “jumped out” at me regarding this story as I’ve read pretty much all of the other ones.

  • Marc

    Any insights regarding how a timeshare rate compares with a similiar Airbnb?

  • jae1

    Having never used Airbnb, I’m not sure. Certainly the Florida timeshare guaranteed them the same unit every year at the same time. As far as I know, it meant the keys were always available, the unit was always clean, and everything always worked. If the posts about Airbnb problems on here are any indication, none of that can be taken for granted. The year there was a hurricane that left their usual unit unavailable, the timeshare folks worked out an acceptable alternate unit at an appropriate time. If you book on Airbnb and a disaster makes your booked space unavailable, what happens? If it’s someone renting out their private home, they likely have no other spaces available. Do you get your money back? Do you get it back without a fight? I’m not insinuating anything, I just truly don’t know.

  • Chris Johnson

    Ugh! Anyone mentions the words “timeshare” or “vacation club” I run the other direction. Those words aren’t in my regular vocabulary and never will be. Timeshares have such a terrible reputation (everyone I know that ever bought one regrets it and can’t get out of it) that “vacation club” has become the more common terminology, but it is just a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

    I’ve been on a few vacations to the Caribbean and inevitably there is somebody walking around at the hotel or resort asking if my wife and I would like to have a nice dinner at the resort’s expense. I immediately decline, knowing full well what it is all about, then resolve never to visit that resort again (I’m already paying plenty of money to stay in the resort – leave me alone with the stupid sales pitches!) although my visits to the Caribbean are few and far between anyway.

    Every time a friend or family member is going on a vacation to the Caribbean or some other big time vacation destination (like Lake Tahoe), I tell them if somebody comes along offering them a free dinner, they aren’t looking for sex but to immediately run the other direction anyway because they are trying to get you to do something far, far worse than any one night stand.

    This “sampler program” concept has to be the most innovative use of language I’ve heard as of yet in this scammy, awful business. But I still don’t want the free dinner, thank you very much!

  • Chris Johnson

    HOW did they sell their timeshare? You can’t even pay to give those away, as evidenced on the website http://www.redweek.com. Maybe if it was the Manhattan Club in New York I might believe you, there seems to be a real demand for those units still but otherwise, every timeshare resale listing I see has a $1 sales price, or even offers to pay all the closing costs and first year’s maintenance fees. Timeshares are much like those old “roach motel” insect traps – as the commercial says “they [the roaches] check in but they don’t check out”.

  • Noah Kimmel

    right, it sounds like he can’t get the booking system to work…changed his mind on the purchase…and is willing to pay a penalty to end the contract and not pay any more. But that is not an option in the contract which covers the full term with no early cancellation. (not passing judgement)

  • jae1

    I don’t know the details, just know that it was sold. They’d had it for a very long time, so perhaps were willing to take pennies for it. I’m not trying to tout them as a wonderful deal for all–I certainly wouldn’t buy one–but it did seem to have worked out for them.

  • Chris_In_NC

    At least the out is $3995. It could be so much worse. Just make sure there isn’t an automatic renewal clause.

  • Bill___A

    Unfortunate that these types of companies and contracts exist. I will not even consider going to a timewhare presentation and certainly would not buy one. Not my cup of tea.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I have never heard of a single timeshare that was actually beneficial for anyone. Ever.

    Oh, I know of folks who CLAIM to be happy with their timeshare, but when you drill down into the actual details, you learn they are just lying to themselves. They don’t want to admit they got scammed. They don’t want to see that they would have been way better off just booking hotel rooms or B&Bs (or, these days, AirBnb) whenever and wherever they wanted to go. Instead they play games with points and trading and swapping and booking off-season yadda yadda, and convince themselves they’re getting a good deal.

    But in every single case, when you add up what they actually spent, they could have just booked themselves a nice hotel room or family-size condo for any place they wanted to go, on the dates they wanted to go, for a whole lot less money. They wouldn’t have been stuck only vacationing in one place (or a small list of places they could trade for), limited to the dates they could finagle or trade. They could have gone anywhere in the world. Whenever they wanted. For LESS.

    Such a scam, these things.

  • Michael__K
  • Kevin Nash

    It’s time share company. What did you expect?

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    In the UK there are a lot of people who bought timeshares in the 1980s and now they are old and find they can’t sell them. Not only that, they are on the hook for the management fees even after they die! The timeshare company can block the late timeshare owners bequests to friends and relatives and instead drains the estate in perpetuity!

  • Michael__K

    An ethical company being slandered by fickle customers who ought to be shamed?

  • Kevin Nash

    Good luck with that.

  • Michael__K

    You mean the OP didn’t already find it for us?

  • Kevin Nash

    No. We are waiting for you to do the research.

    Thank you in advance.

  • jim6555

    Last year, a couple that we are friendly with offered my spouse and I the “opportunity” to stay in the second bedroom in their Orlando timeshare for a few days. We very much enjoyed the trip but a couple of weeks after returning, our house was infested with bedbugs. It cost us over $1,000 and lots of time and effort to get rid of the pests. When staying at a timeshare, be very careful about what you bring back.

  • cscasi

    Obviously not; although the company did just have a one page contract (instead of the multi page ones with all the fine print) and it did explain the availability of rescinding the contract: ” 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.”
    So, these timeshare companies seem to work for some and not work for many, many more.

  • Michael__K

    The one page contract doesn’t contradict the misrepresentation their customers report during their sales pitches. If you believe the many hundreds of consumer accounts, the problem is not failing to read the contract and missing some crucial detail which is explained in the contract. Rather, the problem is believing the in-person presentation as to how reservations, availability, points, and service would work (which the contract fails to address, and which intentionally doesn’t become apparent in the first seven days).

  • Kevin Nash

    You must have missed the part in the story which states “Brague, in his communication with our advocate, did not accuse the sales agent of misrepresenting the deal.”

    The fact that Diamond might have mislead others in those articles you cited does not mean that that mislead OP in this particular case.

  • Michael__K

    So I wonder why he thought it was a good deal? Just because he didn’t get into the fine details with the advocate doesn’t mean his experience was different from hundreds of others either.
    But it sounds like you aren’t truly convinced after all that this is not a company with ethical sales agents who are plagued with evil fickle customers…

  • Kevin Nash

    I despise time share companies and their tactics, but it doesn’t appear that OP was mislead (by his own admission) in this case. Hence my initial comment that OP likely changed his mind.

  • Michael__K

    I didn’t see where the OP affirmed that he wasn’t misled. He specifically complained about the tablet and service and “access to information that allows us to use their properties.”
    He may not even be at the point yet where he has enough access to verify the representations made at his presentation, but he has learned enough to have lost his trust in the company.

  • Chris Johnson

    I’ve heard a lot of stories about timeshares falling into disrepair a lot quicker than a typical hotel would, as well as the maintenance not as great either. After all, timeshare management companies only have their “prisoners” (people locked into long-term or lifetime contracts, i.e. “sentences”) to take care of, while hotels are continually trying to attract new guests and constantly worry about being competitive. Sorry about the bedbugs – that sucks! One more reason to avoid timeshares.

  • Annie M

    No time share companies are ethical.

  • DCMarketeer

    My husband and I are happy with our two timeshares, which we inherited from my father and stepmother (so, no, we didn’t have the cost of buying them), and the exchanges we’ve been able to get for them. We’ve got a three-bedroom apartment in Paris in 2018 on a timeshare exchange.

  • Hanope

    I would never buy a timeshare of any flavor if you have to pay for the property. My mother ‘gifted’ me and my sister her timeshares when she went into a retirement home. We gotten decent enough use out of them, but even with having to “just pay” for maintenance and exchange fees, its expensive enough. I’m not sure I’m really saving anything, but maybe a small amount. If you can definitely use the week or two every year and not pay extra to rollover or save the week, it can be pretty much equivilent or maybe a smallish good deal.

    I used to say they were better than hotels because you got more room, usually a living room, dining area, kitchen (with cooking utensils, plates, etc.), and multiple bedrooms. These days, with AirBnB, etc., you can get the same, so timeshare isn’t as unigue in that respect. The vast majority of timeshare places we’ve gone to have been in very good shape and have a good number of amenities, but many times its a real hassle trying to find a place that fits with your vacation plans of time and location.

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