Saturday, 17 October 2009

Hilton Grand Vacations Club Vilamoura, or how I didn't buy a timeshare

I've spent a lot of time in Hilton hotels with work this year and I seem to have attained enough status to be graced with a gamut of their targeted marketing offers. It could well be they just spammed all their loyalty club members but I've chosen to think I'm special. Either way, back in June I was invited to enjoy 3 nights/4 days at the 5* Hilton Vilamoura with breakfast, unlimited spa usage and a €50 dinner voucher as part of a special package for the bargaintacular price of €235. Given my Hilton status, a room upgrade was a cert and with a glut of cheap flights to the Algarve readily available, I booked up immediately.

To qualify for the special price, all I had to do was "meet certain age and financial qualifications and attend a two–hour vacation ownership presentation" (ts&cs). "Easy", thought I and started planning elaborate ways of getting through the presentation with either the minimum of fuss or the maximum of lols. As the departure date loomed and I talked to friends about the impending hard sell, I started to get a tiny bit anxious and the lack of available information about the process on the web didn't help to calm my nerves.

As it turned out, there wasn't really anything to worry about. We arrived at 10am as instructed and were met by "Hannah" (name changed) who was our host for the presentation. She made some slightly awkward small talk and then started asking us about our holiday habits. We answered honestly but threw in a few intentional spanners ("we like skiing, but cross country not downhill, so usually at specialised resorts", "on a long holiday we often like to stay in 4-5 different locations") to see how she'd spin the pitch for us.

After sussing us out, she moved us on to the informational wall of posters giving the headlines about Hilton Grand Vacations Club before sitting us back down to run through the detail of how the scheme works and then painting us a picture of how we could be members of HGVC. I should point out as well that she didn't use the word "timeshare" until about 25 minutes in, apparently "vacation ownership" is the new phrase.

The idea of the club is that you buy a certain number of vacation points a year for a fixed price and also pay a maintenance/membership charge every year. Memberships are available in either 15 or 28 year durations (gulp) and rather than buying a particular week which is fixed for the duration of your contract like people did in the 80s, you buy a number of points related to a number of weeks, in a particular season and type of accommodation. Each Hilton Grand Vacation Club uses the same points structure, so you can (in theory) enjoy the same standard of holiday around the world. Hannah's suggestion for us was to buy 3400 points, which is the equivalent of a 1 bedroom apartment (sleeps 4) in Gold season (aka mid-season).

You can either deposit points or borrow points one year either side of your current year, meaning you can have 3 years of points to use in a single year and spend them on a whole bunch of holidays in a variety of locations. Additionally, if you travel in different seasons then the same type of accommodation costs fewer/more points. Continuing our 1 bed example a Platinum week costs 4800, Gold 3400, Silver 2400 and Bronze 1700. Furthermore you can spend your Hilton Vacation Club points on stays at RCI timeshare properties and even swap them for Hilton HHonors points at a rate of 1 HGVC to 25 HHonors.

Hannah used her language carefully throughout the presentation, with a great deal of allusion to exclusivity and grandeur and when she finally got around to the price it really did feel like a big reveal. The price we were offered was for 3400 points a year for 15 years and had 2 components: an upfront price of €7800 and yearly maintenance subscription of €500 + $130 (annoying currency mix!). So, at today's exchange rate that's ~£1050 a year for one week in a one bedroom apartment. Also, while talking about the pricing, the focus was placed on the upfront price, which almost made you forget about the maintenance charge which is pretty clever because the maintenance charge actually doubles the price. When talking about the prices Hannah carefully used phrases like "could you afford.." for quite some time until I pointed out that there's a big difference between "could" and "would".

The sales pitch was delivered very well, and I can see that it might work out for a certain type of person, but it certainly wasn't for us. That said, the pitch was delivered so well that May got a little bit hypnotised and I had to remind her that we'd come for a cheap holiday, not to buy vacation ownership. We probably had to say "no" firmly 4 or 5 times and withstand some dubious reasoning (favourite line: "but you'd spend £1000 on a camping holiday!") before we escaped, but actually when it came down to it the sell wasn't hard at all and none of it was uncomfortable.

While writing this up and reflecting on it, I've had a good chance to think about it and I think for us there were 3 flaws in the sale.
  • 1) Although the scheme claims flexibility, the fact that ultimately someone has to be offering a week in the place that you want to go to for you to be able to book it makes it ultimately inflexible.
  • 2) It's expensive. A quick Google for 1 bed apartments in Vilamoura suggests that the market rate is £250-600. Although the property is lovely, I'm not sure it's an extra £500 of lovely.
  • 3) During the presentation, Hannah said that one of the classic problems with timeshare is that people buy the wrong week. On investigation, I think she was trying to sell us the wrong week. Our points allocation would have enabled us to visit the Vilamoura resort in weeks 1-13, 16-19 and 44-45 (for 2010, that's 1st Jan-4th Apr, 16th Apr-16th May and 29th Oct-14th Nov). If you're considering Vilamoura, I think you need to buy Platinum as 33 weeks of the year are classed as Platinum.
If you want to read more, the Timeshare Users Group is pretty useful and the Hilton Grand Vacations Club Members Guide containing all the small print is publically available here:

1 comment:

James Hamilton said...

You don't want to stay in Vilamoura anyway. You want to stay in Praia Da Luz (although slightly infamous) further down the coast. Gorgeous town and less pretencious. Nice and near to Lagos and some more fun quirky towns with lively nightlife for couples etc..