Thursday, February 4, 2010

Conversations with Idiots


The following has taken place over the course of the last month or so, culminating in two extremely frustrating (and somewhat laughable) conversations this afternoon.

Background: Mr. B and I oh so foolishly purchased a timeshare in 2006. Originally, it seemed like a fantastic deal at a beautiful resort in Cabo San Lucas. It IS beautiful; we love going there. The problem is, we’ve discovered it is very difficult to book our week (which can take place anytime between 1 May and 31 October) for a time when we want to go UNLESS we do so at least a year in advance. Also, since Cabo San Lucas is fairly far away from Durham, we end up paying close to $800 per person for an airline ticket. And, the joys of airline travel these days. $1600 for cattle car coach? Yuck.

In hindsight, I’d not purchase it, or, at least, not the one in Mexico. But, what is done is done. We’ve discovered that it is relatively (at least up to now) easy to deposit our week with a company that facilitates timeshare week exchanges. The concept is neat; you deposit your week and then search through the vast database of available resorts WORLDWIDE. You are not required to exchange for the same period of time, either; so, if we’d prefer to go on vacation in November or February, we could. There is an exchange fee (which, along with the annual maintenance fees for the timeshare seem to be accelerating at a rapid rate).

After the Puerto Vallarta disaster, we decided to remain state-side for our next two major vacations; going to Escondido, California (near San Diego) in October/November of 2008 and Orlando, Florida last year. In both instances, we exchanged our one bedroom unit for a two bedroom unit in extremely nice resorts.

This year, Mr. B started to get nostalgic about Cabo San Lucas so I called the timeshare to make an RSVP, hopefully around our 5th anniversary in May. No such luck. Nothing was available at Villa del Arco until the middle of July. I went ahead and made the RSVP knowing we could always change our mind, deposit the week, and go elsewhere anytime for up to two years.

I got curious about whether there really was no availability at the resort so I did an online search (via Expedia or some such) and discovered, not surprisingly, that there were units available the week we’d wanted to go. I called up the timeshare and asked them what was going on; why couldn’t WE get an RSVP when there appeared to be space available? I received the song and dance about the developers holding back a certain number of units (don’t sell them) and those are the units that are on travel sites. Uh-huh. Did I really believe this? But, what could I do.

Not too long after, we decided we’d rather try Cancun as many of our friends and family go there and really love it. Plus, it’s closer (airfare is about ½ of what is costs to get to Cabo). Or, we thought, perhaps we’d exchange for a cruise. The bottom line; we wanted to go in May so that Mr. B would have a nice week or so to decompress from busy season and we could celebrate our 5th anniversary (the Italy trip, as an aside, is on hold until Mr. B retires).

I went to Interval International’s web site (the timeshare exchange company) to poke around to see what might be available around May 15th. Guess what? I couldn’t search because my week wasn’t deposited. The thing is, I didn’t WANT to deposit my week until I knew whether or not there would be something out there we’d really want to do. To deposit the week means automatically losing the RSVP at Villa del Arco in Cabo. I called Interval to ask them if there was any way at all to find out what might be out there without having to deposit the week.

No. That’s the way the system is set up. End of statement. Not very helpful. The representative went on to tell me that maybe if I contacted my timeshare, they’d give me a “fake” confirmation/date so that I could at least “shop”.

I contacted my timeshare to ask if they’d do this.

No.

We discussed it, and decided to go ahead and deposit the week, reasoning that if we found something in Cancun, we’d at least save some money. Cabo will always be there (hopefully).

I called the timeshare back the next day and told them we wanted to deposit the week with Interval International.

Before I go any further, let me explain some things about calling the timeshare.

First, even though we are Gold Members, it takes forever to talk to someone; endless navigation through menus, submenus, and listening to a recording tell you that you could probably be doing this on-line (BTW, their web site is even worse than their phone center). Second, English does not appear to be the primary language of anyone I’ve spoken to over the years. Next, half the time, they provide erroneous information. And, when you first talk to a person, they ask you the same questions: Your account. Your name. Your address. Your phone number. Your email address. Then, they inform you of your on-line user name (thank you very much, I didn’t realize what it was…dolts!) and, lastly, tell you that you could be completing your transaction on-line and avoid the wait. Except, you morons, there are certain transaction that you cannot do on-line, like, apparently, depositing your week with Interval International.

Anyway, I finally got a rep, told him what I wanted to do. He says, “Well, all you have to do is call Interval International and give them the confirmation number/check in-date for your RSVP in Cabo”. Uh, no, that’s never worked before. He goes off the phone, then comes back and says, “Oh, I guess there are usually problems with Villa del Arco, I’ll have to manually do it”. Ok…

He puts me on hold and then comes back and says, “My supervisor says we cannot deposit Villa del Arco so we’ll have to cancel that RSVP and give you one for another of our resorts”. Me: “What do you mean?” Him: We don’t allow exchanges for Villa del Arco because it’s an elite resort and we want owners to always be able to use their week if they wish. How would you feel if you wanted to use your week and you couldn’t because someone from another timeshare was using the week?” Hello? How do I feel when I try to make an RSVP for my home resort and I can never get the date I want? And, oh by the way, no special promos EVER apply to our resort (buy one week, get one free).

Whatever. He makes an RSVP for the sister resort in Cabo. I ask him if he’s going to deposit the week in Interval. He tells me (again) that I can do it now that he’s switched it from Villa del Arco. WHAT?

FINE!

A day or so later, I start playing around on Interval’s site. I enter the confirmation number and check-in date and start “shopping”. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that we were not going to be able to get anything in Cancun. So, I started playing around with the cruises and came across one in May leaving from Norfolk, VA (yey, no airfare!)

After I checked out the cost (cruises are not a direct exchange; in addition to swapping your week, you have to pay more per person depending on the cruise), I looked on-line at sites such as Cruise.com and realized it wouldn’t cost us THAT much more to keep the week in Interval and just book the cruise somewhere else.

But, to be sure, I called Interval to ask if there were any other “hidden” fees for cruise exchanges and to ask about depositing my week.

Rep: You need to call your timeshare so that they’ll contact us to deposit the week. Me: That’s not what they said. Rep: That’s what has to happen. Me: Well, I have the confirmation number and check-in date so at least I've been able to see what is available. Rep: You're not supposed to do that. Me: That is what someone else there told me to do. Rep: Well, that is wrong. You need to get your timeshare to deposit your week before you do that. Me: Ok, fine, I’ll do that. Are there any more fees for cruise exchanges other than the cost per person and the regular exchange fee? Rep: The cost per person does not include taxes or port charges. Me: Ok, so, is there any other fee?” Rep: No. Me: What, in general, can I expect to pay for taxes. Rep: I have no idea. Me: You have NO idea? Rep: It varies by cruise line.

I call the timeshare AGAIN. I tell guy who answers this time that I need him to deposit my week with Interval.

Him: You need to call Interval…

Me: I just called them and they said you needed to do it.

Him: That’s not right.

Me: I don’t care! Someone get my week deposited.

Him: How about I get Interval on a conference call and we’ll get it taken care of? Me: THANK YOU!

After waiting five minutes or so, he comes back on the line and informs me he’s talked to his supervisor (the mysterious “supervisor” who seems to know all) and was told he’d have to electronically deposit my week and it would be done within hours. But, to do so, he had to cancel my RSVP. Me: That’s not what’s been done in the past. Him: Well, that’s what has to be done now. Check with Interval in a few hours and your week will be there.

Uh, hmmm…do we REALLY think so?

I haven’t checked yet since I’ve convinced myself booking the cruise elsewhere is a better deal in the long run. The week, once it shows up, will be available for two years so we can always use it later.

What a goat rope!

Mrs. B

1 comment:

Bob said...

A Goat Rope indeed. I've heard a lot of stories like this, but perhaps none that were so extreme and showed the flaws of the current exchange systems so vividly. I work with a company that just launched a new site that enables timeshare owners like you to make trades directly with other owners without the need to go through Interval (or RCI). Are you aware of what StubHub is doing for the ticket marketplace? We intend to do the same thing for timeshares. Check it out at VacationTrade.com.

Bob K