Buying Time

Dana Ferris

“I’D BE HAPPY TO JUST come here every year,” I told my husband. We and our two daughters had arrived on Maui 72 hours earlier. It was May 2000—and our first trip to Hawaii.

We’d signed up for a timeshare presentation in return for discounts on tours and activities. By the time we got to the meeting, I’d fallen head over heels in love with the place. The timeshare salesperson had an easy time persuading me to buy. I had a harder time persuading my husband, but we ended up signing on the dotted line.

Between 2000 and 2008, we acquired more time at our original resort—now owned by Hilton Grand Vacations Club (HGVC)—and also bought time from Marriott Vacation Club (MVC). We now own two deeded Marriott weeks per year and the equivalent of two more weeks at HGVC.

Sunset from the author’s balcony at Hawaii’s Marriott Maui Ocean Club

Back in 2000, when I told my husband that I wanted to come to Hawaii every year, I wasn’t kidding. We live in California, and it’s a less-than-five-hour flight to Maui from our home airport in Sacramento. With the exception of 2020, when Hawaii closed down tourism due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve been to Hawaii at least once a year since we purchased our first timeshare. In fact, as I write this article, my husband and I are enjoying a two-week stay at Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club on Ka’anapali Beach.

Even though we’ve enjoyed our timeshares and made good use of them, I’ve always felt sheepish about having fallen for the timeshare pitches. Everything I read about timeshare ownership reminded me that timeshares are not a good investment. Recent events, however, have made me reconsider my sense of regret. Hotel prices have skyrocketed in the post-pandemic era, especially in Hawaii. I follow several Facebook travel groups, and I’ve seen complaints about even middling hotels going for $1,000 per night or more on Maui—and thought, “Well, I’m glad I have our timeshare weeks booked.”

I remember that first timeshare salesperson in 2000 showing us a chart of how hotel prices climb exponentially over time, and she made the point that, “In 20 years, you might not be able to afford to stay here.” It may have been the first and only truthful thing a timeshare salesperson has ever said to a prospective buyer.

Out of curiosity, as we were preparing for our current trip to Maui, I priced the same two weeks we’d be staying at the MVC property, May 15-29, at the three major hotels also on Ka’anapali Beach: a Sheraton, a Westin and a Hyatt. I priced a deluxe king room with an oceanfront view, which is somewhat equivalent to the unit we’re staying in.

The price for the two weeks at the three hotels ranged from $20,000 to $24,000. By comparison, our annual maintenance fee for our two weeks of MVC timeshare was $2,800 for 2023. And the hotel options are only somewhat equivalent. Our timeshare unit is a comfortable, spacious one-bedroom condo with an oceanfront view, balcony, full kitchen and in-unit laundry. There’s a lovely pool complex, onsite shops and restaurants, a well-equipped gym and resort activities.

I also checked rental prices for condos on Vrbo and on RedWeek. The latter is a timeshare rental and resale website. While we could rent two weeks at a condo on Maui more cheaply than we could book hotel rooms, the lowest prices were still well north of $5,000 for two weeks, and the condos weren’t necessarily as well equipped as where we’re staying now, nor do they have the resort amenities or great location we get to enjoy.

Of course, the financial comparison isn’t just between annual timeshare maintenance fees and current hotel or condo rental prices. There were acquisition costs for our timeshare ownership. Over several different purchases, we spent some $110,000 to acquire the month or so of time we now have in the two different vacation clubs.

The way we view this, though, is that we could have bought a condo on Maui for our own use as a second home, something we’ve also discussed. To get a similarly appointed and located condo, we’d have to pay more than $1 million, and our monthly homeowners’ association fees would be substantially higher than what we pay in maintenance fees at our two vacation clubs.

If we’d used the $110,000 as a down payment for a condo, we’d still have a huge mortgage, in addition to the homeowners’ association fees, not to mention the other carrying expenses and hassles associated with owning a second home. Instead, the money we’ve spent allows us to spend up to a month in Hawaii every year. For our specific goal—an annual trip to Hawaii that we can count on and plan for—our timeshare purchases have worked out well.

I never thought I’d be writing an article defending our timeshare purchases, especially for a financially savvy and conservative audience like HumbleDollar’s readership, but here we are. Rather than feeling foolish about the money we’ve already spent, with retirement on the horizon, we’ve begun to think about adding to our portfolio with another week or two of MVC ownership. If we do, though, it’ll be a purchase on a secondary resale site such as RedWeek, not through the vacation club itself. That part I do regret.

Dana Ferris and her husband live in Davis, California. She’s a professor in the writing program at the University of California, Davis, and is the author or co-author of nine books on teaching writing and reading to second language learners. Dana is a huge baseball fan and writes a weekly column for a San Francisco Giants fan blog under the nom de plume DrLefty. When not working, she also loves cooking, traveling and working out. Follow Dana on Twitter @LeftyDana. Her previous article was A Better Plan.

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