The Better Business Bureau shared a heat map of consumer complaints to BBB about timeshare sales, vacation club and timeshare exit companies from 2020-2022 (Illustration by the Better Business Bureau)

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As travel season heats up the Ozarks, consumer activists warn about the potential pitfalls of buying a vacation timeshare, so you don’t get burned financially.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) released a study April 26 detailing the potentially deceptive nature behind timeshares and the vacation club industry. A timeshare is where someone has ownership of a property where a vacation club is located, and then tourists pay to a group of properties. 

Studies like the one released Wednesday are conducted with five different BBBs across the country, accumulating data from all over the United States. The BBB remains a neutral third party when reaching out to a company to seek a resolution over a consumer complaint. Any complaints that are filed are sent to the business to respond to. If they are an accredited business, then the company has to respond to the complaint. 

Pamela Hernandez, regional director for BBB, knows how deceptive timeshare companies can be by claiming the people buying into the timeshare are investors and owners of the property where they have a timeshare agreement. Missouri is ranked third out of 10 business location states for timeshare industry complaints to BBB.

“Between 2020 through 2022, almost 30,000 complaints about timeshare sales and vacation clubs were filed,” Hernandez said. 

Vacation clubs, while similar to timeshares, differ slightly where a company provides a person ownership of a property during a range of dates in a contract the consumer signs with a company, and a vacation club gives access to a group of properties. 

“These companies will call you an investor, but you don’t own anything other than the rights to use certain properties at specific times throughout the year,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez knows in situations like this that it comes down to the fine print being very different from what a person is told at the time someone sells them a timeshare.

“It’s a matter of that fine print,” Hernandez said. “There’s a lot of high pressure sales tactics. Everything is spelled out in the fine print but that’s not always explained well. There’s sometimes a disconnect between what folks might hear.”

Timeshare presentations can last for several hours, and sales people desperate to close the deal are present at timeshare meetings. 

“People tell us that the best way to end the meeting is to simply cave in,” Hernandez said. “It’s a very high pressure environment.”

‘When they did not sell it, it caused somewhat of a hardship for us.’

Willard resident Ronnie Climer found himself caught in the middle of a situation he says was built on false promises. He first booked a visit to Stormy Point Village through Trading Places International, a timeshare exchange network which he discovered through Coast to Coast Grand Getaways. Climer and his family wanted to be able to enjoy the amenities at Stormy Point Village when they were in the Branson area.

According to Climer’s complaint on BBB, he purchased a membership from Summerwinds Resort Services in 2016 under the promise that the company would offer Climer assistance in selling a vacation club membership plan with Coast to Coast Grand Getaways for $12,000 through Vacation Services International. 

All that was required was to list the timeshare, pay $199 to Summerwinds, and it would sell within six months. However, it never sold. 

“When they did not sell it, it caused somewhat of a hardship for us,” Climer said. 

In 2017, Climer’s problems with Summerwinds continued. The company informed Climer that he did not have the correct membership level to keep receiving the benefits of ownership originally purchased. Climer was informed that if he did not upgrade to a higher level of ownership, Summerwinds would no longer assist him in selling the Coast to Coast Grand getaways plan Climer originally had.

In 2019, Capital Vacations acquired the Summerwinds company. Capital Vacations contacted Climer about a free offer of a two-night stay at Stormy Point Village and a $100 entertainment credit voucher. Climer was enticed by the offer and agreed to go to the update meeting. 

Capital Vacations stated the reason behind the meeting was to acquaint Summerwinds Resort owners of the new Capital Vacations ownership and the offerings the new company provides. 

Climer shared their experiences dealing with Summerwinds at the meeting and Capital Vacations representatives reportedly assured Climer that their operations were nothing like Summerwinds’ operations. 

“We purchased the membership with Capital after being told that things would be professional with them and that they would do exactly as they promised,” Climer said. “Capital Vacations have not complied with the promises they made.”

Climer is requesting his May 31, 2022 purchase be refunded from Capital Vacations and to be released through the Capital Graceful Surrender Program, where an owner can exit or resell their timeshare free of charge, and Capital Vacations specialists can assist the owner in doing so.

What to do before you buy or try to exit a timeshare

In a press release, the BBB provided some tips for people considering a timeshare or timeshare exit company:

  • Extensively research timeshare properties, vacation clubs or exit companies and thoroughly read contracts for language about lifetime commitment, heirs’ obligations, maintenance fee increases or guarantees.
  • Beware of misleading or high-pressure sales tactics. If you feel like someone is trying to push you into a deal, walk away.
  • To sell a timeshare, contact the resort directly and see if the company has a resale or buyback program.
  • Be realistic about what you can get for your timeshare. Most of these contracts are not investments and may return considerably less than you paid.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it is. There are deals to be found on travel, but scammers know consumers want to save money and take advantage of them.
  • Be wary of paying timeshare exit companies all fees upfront until services are rendered.

Dylan Durrington

Dylan True Durrington is a general assignment intern at the Springfield Daily Citizen. He’s currently a senior at Missouri State University studying Journalism and Mass Media. Durrington is interested in voice over, music, computers and broadcasting. More by Dylan Durrington