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The Pros and Cons of Vacation Clubs

Over the years, we get questions about vacation clubs&#8212some from people who just wonder what they are, others from people looking for the “best” club. The most recent was simple:

“Are there any civilian vacation clubs like Armed Forces Vacation Club (AFVC)?”

The short answer is, “Yes; there are lots of vacation clubs, although none quite like AFVC.” We last covered vacation clubs three years ago, so a review and update are in order.

The Basic Vacation Club Idea

Vacation clubs are essentially a variation on the timeshare theme: programs that offer vacation stays in participating accommodations. As with timeshares, you buy into the program for an initial price anywhere from around $5000 to as much as $1 million; once enrolled, you select the resorts where you want to stay and pay for each occupancy. You may also pay extra annual “maintenance” or “membership” fees.

I can see two general distinctions between a vacation club and a conventional timeshare program:

  • With conventional timeshare programs, you generally “own” a base week interval (or multiple one-week intervals) for specific dates at specific resorts. Most timeshares, however, participate in exchange programs, and in those you can usually exchange your base intervals for intervals at other equivalent locations and times within the exchange program.
  • With a vacation club, you may have no base interval location or time. Also, what, where, and how long you vacation depends on how much occupancy you buy. Stay options are not limited to one-week intervals&#8212you can sometimes visit just a night or two.

Some vacation clubs allow you to sell or transfer your membership; as with timeshares, you can sometimes buy one of these club memberships as a resale. With others, however, your interest is not transferrable. Check here here for more information about resale.

Only a few of the very high-end vacation clubs promise to buy back your initial membership “investment,” at full value or at a set partial value. With most midprice and inexpensive programs, you’re either locked in or on your own to recover what you can in a resale market.

Three General Groups

Vacation clubs fall into three general categories, based on sponsorship and management:

Pros and Cons

The advantages and disadvantages of vacation clubs pretty much follow those for timeshares, generally:

Pros: Accommodations are usually larger than individual hotel/resort accommodations, with kitchen facilities; many are in excellent locations; annual occupancy costs can be less than for comparable hotel/resort accommodations.

Cons: Except at the very high end, you generally can’t recover the initial buy-in price; you may be locked into certain types of location; accommodations when and where you want them may be hard to find; operators can increase fees without recourse; vacation clubs have been prone to some of the same high-pressure sales tactics as timeshares. Check Complaints Board, My 3 Cents, The Owners’ Advocate, Ripoff Report, and Squeaky Wheel for representative complaints about vacation clubs.

As with timeshares, generally, lots of vacation club participants&#8212probably a majority&#8212are happy with their programs and pleased with the results. Unfortunately, even some of the biggest names seem to be guilty of high-pressure sales techniques and questionable promises. Don’t let this deter you if you like the idea, but even more than in other parts of the travel marketplace, buyer beware!

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