Since you’re reading this, you’re probably trying to decide if your money would be better spent on a vacation club vs a timeshare. What we’ll do here is break down the details of vacation clubs and how they work.
Then we’ll get into some of the specifics of the most popular vacation clubs so you can decide if a timeshare or a vacation club is right for you.
Vacation clubs and timeshares are very similar. Both promise decades of future vacations locked into today’s price. Vacation clubs (or travel clubs as they are also known) have low initial startup costs but wind-up costing just as much or even more than timeshares when you factor in membership fees and fees to use your points. Bottom line, vacation clubs will probably cost you more in the long run than a timeshare.
So what are the differences between vacation clubs and timeshares? And are those differences really that significant?
Differences Between a Timeshare and Vacation Club
To make this easier to process, here’s a chart that breaks down the differences between a timeshare and vacation club.
After the chart, we’ll talk about each in greater detail.
Chart Listing Differences Between Vacation Clubs and Timeshares
|Pay initial membership fee||No initial membership fee|
|Length of stay depends on the amount of points purchased||Length of stay can depend on the amount of points purchased|
|Fees are associated to use your points||No additional fees to use points|
|Stays are limited to club-owned properties||Stays can be anywhere in the network (including vacation clubs) if part of a vacation exchange network like Interval International or RCI|
|Pay monthly or annual membership fees||No membership fees|
|Have to still pay to stay at the property after paying membership fees||No additional costs to stay at property after paying monthly loan costs|
|Travel club (a type of vacation club) members might pay less than regular vacation club members for membership fees because of group rates||No additional fees|
Vacation Club Details
That’s a quick breakdown of what the differences are between vacation or travel clubs and timeshares.
Now let’s get into the weeds and see just what to expect when getting into a vacation club.
Vacation Club Costs
The selling point that will be pitched to you when you check into vacation clubs is that it’s cheaper to get into a vacation club than a timeshare.
Technically this is true.
With a timeshare you’ll be expected to put down a few thousand dollars just to begin the process of buying the timeshare.
To get into a vacation club, you will not usually have to pay as much for the basic membership. Financing for Disney Vacation Club at the time of writing, for example, starts at $427 per month for a 10 year loan with a 10% downpayment.
But your costs start to increase VERY quickly after that.
For example, membership dues can range from between $1,000 and $15,000 per year.
And just like a timeshare, you’ll have maintenance fees. Those can go from $3,000 to $15,000 per year.
As you can see, vacation clubs start to get expensive really quickly.
But we’re not done yet.
It’s very common for vacation clubs to require you to purchase points to use their properties.
Each point can cost $150. And the average vacation might be 200 points.
(Using Disney Vacation Club data, you’d pay $201 per point multiplied by the number of vacation points desired)
Doing the math, this average vacation costing 200 points will take $30,000 out of your pocket!
This is the reason vacation clubs like to present things as “points”. Because, just like credit card companies, they can make the value of those points anything they want, any time they want.
And they can make it sound really affordable. “It’s only 200 points! Isn’t that great?”
But if you aren’t paying close attention, 200 points a year to vacation sounds like a lot less than one year’s payment on a timeshare.
The difference with a timeshare is that after you’ve paid off the principle of your timeshare, the only thing you have left to pay is maintenance fees.
With a vacation club, your membership fees (also known as association fees) AND maintenance fees never end.
But let’s not forget, you’re still financing your club purchase. And you’ll have to factor that into your expenses.
Remember, the Disney Vacation Club financing “starts” at $427 per month on the low end.
Here’s another thing to keep in mind regarding your membership fees.
Unlike a timeshare, you’ll still have to pay to stay at a vacation club property with your points even though you’ve already paid thousands for your membership fees.
With a timeshare, your regular monthly payments would be the equivalent of paying a membership fee.
The difference is that you don’t pay anything more beyond that to stay at the property, unlike a vacation club.
If all that took your breath away, take another one because we’re not done yet.
We’ve already established that you’ll need to purchase points in order to use the vacation club.
The real kicker is that after you’ve paid for the points, the club may charge annual dues for the points purchased!
This can be anywhere in the neighborhood of $5 to $10 per point.
Using our example of a 200-point vacation, this means – in addition to buying the points – you’ll pay an extra
$1,000 for those points!
And that calculation was using the lower figure.
What’s more, some vacation clubs charge transaction fees to redeem the points you paid for and that you’ve already paid annual dues for.
But we’re still not done.
If you would like to stay at one of the club’s more popular, luxurious properties, you can. For an additional fee.
You’ll also run into blackout dates. But that’s no problem; you can pay more money to get around that.
Are you starting to notice a theme?
Vacation clubs make their money by hitting you with fees for just about everything.
That’s why they present vacation clubs as a cheaper alternative to timeshares. Because they can hide the real costs behind points. Then charge fees around said points.
At this stage, it might sound like a timeshare is a better idea. Read this article about whether a timeshare is ever a good idea to help you make your decision.
That’s a lot of information to process about vacation club pricing.
Let’s shift gears and get into where you can stay as a member of a vacation club.
Where Vacation Clubs Let You Stay
Another thing that will be presented as a pro for vacation clubs is that you can stay at various destinations around the world as part of your membership.
This is true – to an extent.
When you have a membership in a vacation club, you can choose to stay at any property in the network.
The only real catch is what we stated above – if the property is very popular or a luxury property, you will have to pay extra to stay there.
When you compare this to a timeshare, the timeshare is actually the better value, surprisingly enough.
Don’t get it twisted, though. We’re not saying timeshares are a good financial investment.
What we are saying is that relative to a vacation club, a timeshare is actually more flexible when it comes to the variety of places you can stay.
Vacation Clubs vs. Interval International and RCI
I thought this would be a good time to briefly explain how Interval International and RCI work when it comes to staying at different timeshare properties that you might not own.
If you want a more detailed explanation of how this process works, check out this post on What Are Timeshares and How Do They Work.
The large majority of timeshares that will be offered to you will be points based. Some will be week based. But to keep things uncomplicated, we’ll just talk about points-based timeshares.
When you buy into a points-based timeshare, you’ll be given a certain number of “points” that will equate to roughly a 5 night stay at the timeshare.
You’ll also be signed up to either Interval International or RCI.
When you want to take your vacation, you’ll call up whichever company you’re affiliated with.
If you have enough points to stay at the desired resort, all is well.
Assuming you don’t have enough points, you can purchase those points to cover the difference.
(Side note: If you do decide to buy a timeshare, make sure you get one in a popular destination. That way the value of your points will almost guarantee your standard allotment of points will let you stay anywhere)
You can even use those points to take a cruise if you choose not to stay on land that year.
What’s more, some of the very properties that have vacation clubs are members of Interval International and RCI.
As you hopefully can see, the structure of a timeshare and a vacation club are basically the same (points-based).
What’s different is how much money you’ll spend to get and use those points.
To sum it up:
- Points have to be purchased
- Additional fees associated just to use points
- Can only stay at properties within the vacation club network
- Points come as part of your timeshare purchase
- No additional fees to use points
- Can stay at any property in the world that’s a member of Interval International or RCI. Might even include vacation clubs
Popular Vacation Clubs
- Club Wyndham
- Disney Vacation Club
- Four Seasons Residence Club
- Hilton Grand Vacations
- Hyatt Residence Club
- Marriott Vacation Club
- Ritz-Carlton Destination Club
Points to Keep in Mind About Vacation Clubs
- You can only stay at properties belonging to the vacation club network unless they are part of a vacation exchange network
- Your accommodations will be almost identical to a timeshare
- Details of how most vacation clubs work is not documented. Disney is the only one that is transparent
- Only the “good stuff” will be featured on their websites. You’ll have to call for details. Expect a hard sell like you would for a timeshare
What Have You Concluded?
After reviewing the data, what conclusion have you drawn?
Are vacation clubs worth the money? Or would you choose other options?
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