You can check out a Mexican timeshare circus theme park anytime you like, but you can never leave

In hotel conference rooms, baby boomers and others are sold on vacations that last an eternity

The world’s first Cirque du Soleil theme park is about to open in Mexico. That was the pitch, anyway, that a salesman gave on the beach boardwalk in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

The theme park is opening in six months, at the end of 2018, the salesman Pedro explained last May. We were invited to an early sneak preview. The way my husband understood it, Cirque du Soleil was inviting random American tourists like us to free promotional tours, in order to build word-of-mouth buzz among other Americans about the new theme park.

Wandering through a new theme park before it opened to the general public sounded pretty fun, especially when Pedro said not to worry about transportation. We would also get treated to breakfast, coupons for a free four wheeler tour, and two bottles of tequila in exchange for our time. What could possibly go wrong? We gave him our address.

Pedro showed up to our rental apartment at 10 a.m. the next day, as promised, with a cab driver ready to take us to the theme park. We hadn’t had a chance to explore much of the city yet, so he pointed out his favorite restaurants and a popular local running track along the way. We were ten or so miles out of town when Pedro pointed to a field that farm workers were tilling. There’s the theme park, he said.

It looks like people are pushing dirt around, my husband said. Yes, Pedro said. We asked him again when the theme park was scheduled to open. Six months, he repeated.

The cab turned left into a narrow, winding road. For several miles, we passed through beautiful, lush jungle landscape that reminded me of Jurassic Park. Maybe there was still a theme park after all. I was optimistic.

Instead, at the end of the road, we arrived at a sleek hotel lobby. It was surrounded by more jungle landscape. I had no idea where we were, but that wasn’t a concern. A cab would be waiting for us after the tour, Pedro assured us.

Then Pedro had a favor to ask us. Please pretend that we are genuinely interested in buying something, and not just there for the free stuff, or else his bosses aren’t going to pay him. Of course, my husband and I quickly agreed, without being entirely sure what we were supposed to be buying.

Timeshare 101

In the age of Expedia and Airbnb, the timeshare might seem like a relic of the past, destined to the same graveyard as golf, mayonnaise, and home ownership, along with the many other industries that millennials are accused of killing. But the timeshare refuses to die. In fact, the industry says it is doing better than ever.

The American Resort Development Association (ARDA) is the special interest group that advocates on behalf of timeshares before Congress and other regulatory bodies. ARDA reported last July that timeshares made a record $9.6 billion in sales in 2017. Timeshares also collected a whopping $2.3 billion worth of rent, a twenty percent increase from the year prior. Maintenance fees, another source of revenue, climbed 1 percent.

"The vast majority of people are happy with their timeshare,” Howard Nusbaum, the president of ARDA, tells ConsumerAffairs.

Traditionally, owning a timeshare used to mean owning 1/52 of the deed to a single property. It was a commitment to vacation at the same spot every year, with the potential to turn those stays into an investment if owners sold their piece of the property when they were done.

“The older generation wanted to go to the same location, the same week, each time, year after year,” says Brian Rogers, a retired software developer. Rogers now runs a website for timeshare owners to seek independent advice from one another.

“The newer generation wants more flexibility,” he says.

In response to that demand, the industry tossed the old timeshare business model out the window. In its place, timeshares began selling something else: the concept of “points.”

“Now more companies sell points because it's what consumers want,” says Nusbaum.

Points, in theory, buy access to hotels all over the world. More points equals more vacations. Unlike people, points never die. Points are limitless. And they can be easily financed with a loan or credit card.

The timeshare industry says that timeshare points are just as good as any other real estate transaction.

"Nobody is in this business for debt collection and no one is in this business for the arbitrage on the loan,” Nusbaum says. “We are resort developers."

Traumatic sales pitches at exotic destinations

“It can happen to you,” warns one disgruntled online reviewer, who wrote an essay about their unpleasant experience at a timeshare sales presentation in Cancun. The essay rambles a little bit, but the title is bleak and to-the-point; . “Explaining Emotional Trauma in Grand Mayan TimeShare Presentation.”

The Grand Mayan is part of a network of luxury resorts owned by Vidanta, one of Mexico’s biggest hotel chains. Vidanta properties hold a special appeal for tourists who prefer foreign countries from a safe distance, or more specifically, from a giant resort walled off from the rest of civilization. Vidanta’s founder, real estate magnate Daniel Chávez Morán, is often described as a visionary. He is responsible for Mexico’s largest collection of golf courses and the country's first private airport. He serves as a business advisor to the President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Vidanta sells timeshare memberships through a subsidiary called Vida Vacations. According to angry reviewers on vacation and consumer review sites (like our own), Vidanta unleashes the Vida salespeople at airports, boardwalks, and tequila stores -- all prime tourist traps. Some people even say that they were tricked into getting in the wrong cab by Vida Vacations salesmen who pretended to be airport employees.

The American timeshare industry insists that such tactics are unique to Mexico. Stuff that like that doesn’t happen here, supposedly.

“It is far more colorful in Mexico and less regulated than here in the States,” assures Nusbaum, the ARDA president.

But while American airports and liquor stores appear to be safe from any timeshare people selling circus theme park tours, consumers have, in fact, described getting bamboozled at hotels and old-age homes. Is the timeshare industry back in the United States really any better?

“What did you buy?”

Late last year, Diane Burkhart got a concerning call. It was her father’s bookkeeper, and he wanted her to know about an odd $23,000 credit card charge. Burkhart’s 87-year-old father had officially joined The Club Las Vegas. That’s the trade name of Diamond Resorts, a Las Vegas-based timeshare chain with 200 resorts around the world.

People who watch Undercover Boss might recognize Diamond Resorts as the company with the CEO who “stole the show” with his generosity. Stephen Cloobeck founded Diamond Resorts in 2007, reportedly by convincing a group of investors to purchase another company, which in turn owned a portfolio of timeshare chains. The new conglomerate generated more and more revenue each year under Cloobeck. He appeared twice on Undercover Boss and was a social media hit because he agreed to donate $2 million to the workers featured on the show.

Several years after his stint on reality TV, Cloobeck sold Diamond to a private equity firm for a grand total of $2.2 billion. Cloobeck’s net worth is a reported $100 million.

Diamond’s domestic competitors include names like Disney, Wyndham, the Marriott and the Hilton. Much of the industry is made of popular American hotels with separate timeshare divisions under the same brand names. But Diamond focuses exclusively on the business of timeshares. According to financial documents filed with the SEC, baby boomers with money are a key Diamond demographic.

“We believe we are well-positioned to target an affluent subsection of the baby boomer population,” Diamond wrote to financial regulators in 2015 filings.

Burkhart's father, a Korean War veteran, is well outside that generation. A retired professor and engineer, he and his wife moved to central California several years ago to be closer to Burkhart, she tells ConsumerAffairs.

Her dad and step-mom already owned several timeshares. But they had just given one away because traveling long distances became difficult for the aging pair. That they would buy more timeshares at this stage in life didn't make sense.

Burkhart confronted her father about the $23,000 charge on his card for The Club. Embarrassed, he told her he had been taking a day trip with his wife, to a beach just half an hour from their home. They walked by the San Luis Bay Inn, a charming hotel on the ocean, and asked about room rates. A sales representative said that rooms were only available to members, and then invited the couple to a sales presentation.

“I bought the ability to use my points to pay all maintenance fees. It's the right to get out at anytime, “ Burkhart remembers her father telling her.

Throughout the year, Diamond repeatedly invited the couple to members-only meetings, to help educate the new owners on how to use their points. But in fact, they weren't really educational meetings. They were sales presentations, designed to convince the couple to buy more points, Burkhart says.

Then, one night last year, Diamond invited the couple to a members-only dinner at the Embassy Suites in Pismo Beach. It went late. By the end, her father had agreed to purchase yet another set of points from Diamond. It was his fifth contract in 18 months. To pay for it, he was issued a special Barclays credit card, exclusively for Diamond members, that very night.

“If you were you thinking you might want to get out at anytime, why would you give them more money?” Burkhart says she asked her father. The question made him agitated. She promised to take care of it.

Burkhart went through the paperwork, reviewing the timeshare contracts, the loans her father took out directly from Diamond, and the new Barclays Credit card. She realized that her father had purchased over $250,000 worth of timeshare points. His most recent contract, the one financed with a special credit card, was worth $116,000.

“What did you buy? What were you buying?” she asked him. He didn’t know.

Burkhart filed a report with the FBI last month, relaying the same story that she gave in an interview with ConsumerAffairs.

“The confusion and embarrassment as a result of this elder abuse is hastening his cognitive decline,” she said in her report to the FBI.

Burkhart's father is now 89, in a nursing home and living off of his pension. A doctor diagnosed him with dementia shortly after he purchased his last timeshare contract, she says. His wife passed away in May. Burkhart says she doesn't know if his estate will be on the hook for the loans, credit card fees, and other bills from the unpaid timeshare contracts.

“He served his country. I just hope that his country will get their act together to serve him,” she adds.

In a statement through a public relations firm, Diamond tells ConsumerAffairs that they are working on the case.

“We appreciate ConsumerAffairs’ inquiry into this matter and, we had, in fact, already been working with Diane Burkhart directly. While we do not disclose member details publicly, we expect the issue to be resolved imminently,” the statement says.

Mounting elder abuse allegations

The timeshare industry disputes that they target the elderly. Nusbaum, of ARDA, the timeshare lobbying group, says it would be very unusual to sell $250,000 worth of timeshare points to an 88-year-old.

“I am confident that if this case were brought to the powers that be at Diamond, that it would be addressed,” he says.

But allegations of elderly abuse have haunted the Diamond name repeatedly in the company’s relatively short lifetime. A class action suit filed in California in 2017 accuses both Diamond and Barclays of conspiring to get elderly people to take out loans using “high-pressure situations” designed to create “a great amount of stress, confusion and anxiety.”

A 2016 suit, also filed in California, alleges that Diamond even sends buses to senior citizen communities and then subjects the seniors to abusive sales pitches that last five hours.

“Diamond is much more ambitious, aggressive and downright nasty in their sales presentations compared to Marriott and Westin,” one experienced timeshare owner told the New York Times several years ago.

“A lot couldn’t hear and had walkers”

Not that Diamond is alone or the largest firm accused of preying on the elderly. Wyndham Vacation Ownership, the timeshare spin-off of the hotel chain, claims to be ”the world’s largest publicly traded timeshare company.”

A former employee at a Wyndham timeshare resort was awarded $20 million by a San Francisco jury several years ago after she blew the whistle on Wyndham’s alleged practice of tricking senior citizens into taking out credit card loans. "They pounced on them [the elderly]. A lot of them couldn't hear a lot of them had walkers," the former employee said.

Albert Kissling, a retired minister and Wyndham owner, said that his stay at the Wyndham Cenaturby in San Francisco left him “deceived, upset, and increasingly concerned about his finances” after sales people convinced him to buy $33,000 worth of points that he didn’t need or want.

He decided to visit another property and gripe about the matter to Wyndham’s Member Services Team. A sales representative listened, then called her supervisor. The supervisor invited Kissling to her office. When he arrived, two sales reps were there, and they had unfortunate news; the first sales rep, the one he had just spoken with, accused him of making an unwanted sexual advance.

The sales reps then told Kissling that “they were willing to put the matter aside if he would buy more timeshare points,” according to a federal lawsuit he filed against Wyndham. When he refused, they called the cops; he later pleaded no contest to the criminal charges but did not admit guilt. In civil court, Wyndham settled with Kissling for an undisclosed amount in 2015, court records show. .

Wyndham’s press team did not respond to a list of questions submitted by ConsumerAffairs. But in marketing materials, Wyndham insists that timeshare users are getting younger. One news release that Wyndam recently wrote for investors claims that millennials are “raving” about timeshares.

Timeshares cost less than a peppermint mocha, Wyndham says, assuming that the typical millennial plans to buy a peppermint mocha that costs $3.40 every single day for the next forty years. Among other questionable claims, Wyndham also says that Americans they surveyed actually told them that sex was better in timeshares than traditional hotel rooms.

“Nearly a third (32%) of Americans said that lack of privacy for 'sexy time' makes their leisure travel less enjoyable,” Wyndham Destinations wrote in a breathless release to investors. “So the answer for more sex and a more enjoyable vacation? Timeshares.”

The theme park free breakfast

After Pedro dropped me and my husband off at the first hotel lobby, we checked in and then were taken by a worker on a golf cart to a second hotel lobby. The property looked nice, but there was still no sign of a Cirque du Soleil themepak.

This second hotel lobby was equipped with a trolley, which we were instructed to sit in. We admired the view as we waited for the trolley to move. It never did. After five minutes of sitting there, a thin blonde woman in a business suit walked over and called our names.

She introduced herself as Kelly from North Carolina and led us to the free breakfast, an all-you-can-eat buffet by a pool and an unfinished building. Over lukewarm plates of too much food, Kelly began to ask about our lives. The sound of jackhammers rang in the background. At tables nearby, perhaps a dozen other American families were eating breakfast amongst themselves. They looked like they were having an okay time, about the best you can expect from people who are at a hotel breakfast buffet instead of a Cirque du Soleil theme park.

When breakfast was over, Kelly said she had rooms to show us. First, we went to a spa room, decorated with fake Mayan god statues. This is where we sacrifice the people who don’t buy anything, Kelly joked.

From there, we toured several hotel suites. They were on different parts of the property and had views of a private beach. Kelly kept us busy with numerous questions. Then she took us to a small theatre, in a lobby of one of the buildings on the property. There was a video that she wanted us to see. It seemed important.

We stared at the projector, waiting. Images of Mexico’s jungles and coasts flashed across the screen. The dramatic sound of piano keys and an orchestra swelled in the background. Illustrations of the Cirque du Soleil theme park appeared. A man with a comforting voice began to narrate. I turned on my phone's voice recorder.

"Vidanta has created so many wonderful places,” said the man in the video. “And now, with top local creative enterprises, including Circus du Soleil as our partners, we're creating the most spectacular destination in the world.”

The theme park will be 70 acres, divided into different immersive wonderlands and be one of the most exciting projects that the country has ever seen, he said.

“The parks are a magical place. We are building an empire of the impossible,” the man promised. “Welcome to a world as limitless as your imagination."

“Worse than a mining company”

As it turns out, the theme park has actually been under construction for years. Local villagers say that it has been an environmental catastrophe from the beginning.

“The scene is devastating,” the Mexican newspaper Sin Embargo reported in 2016.

A small fishing village adjacent to the Grand Mayan property lost their access to the beach and an important river after Vidanta put up walls and fences to keep locals out the way of tourists, activists said. Stress on the river from construction has also put the village at risk of flooding, according to a report by the Business & Human Resource Center, a human rights think-tank.

Vidanta responded in January with a promise to donate 32 million pesos to towns affected by its ongoing theme park construction. But local environmentalists said it wasn’t enough to offset the damage. They staged a protest to reject the donation.

Vidanta behaves “worse than a Canadian mining company,” according to Costa Verde, a coalition of local environmental groups.

It’s unclear when the construction will end, or if they are actually still building a circus theme park. Cirque du Soleil’s press team did not respond to an inquiry from ConsumerAffairs.

Vidanta declined to participate in this story, other than to send a statement indicating that some sort of project will be opening in the future. “The opening is still a couple years away, so it is too early for us to share visuals or more detailed information at this stage,” Vidanta says through a spokesman.

Zero Down and Zero APR

The sales floor was packed. Kelly sat across from my husband and me at a table, scribbling a formula down on a piece of paper. This was the part, I assumed, where I needed to pretend to be interested in a purchase, so that Pedro gets paid.

Kelly asked us for our annual vacation budget. We both struggled to give her an answer. Between the breakfast, the lengthy tour of the property and the video, at least two hours had passed since we first arrived. When was Kelly going to show us out?

“My number is $700, per week,” she said. "What we have here is the best price guaranteed.”

My husband and I tried our best to sound like people who were definitely interested in buying but who were also ready to go home. “Well, want to go home and think about it?” he asked me, loudly.

Kelly responded that our presentation wasn’t over yet. “Should we do it [the presentation] while we're walking out?” I asked her. “I think I'm ready to go.”

“We just need a little more time to think about it,” my husband added.

Why did we need more time? Kelly wanted to know. She called a colleague over to the table to help us. He was another charming salesman in his mid-twenties or thirties. My recorder didn’t catch his name, but he described his job as the Closer.

“This is like real estate,” he said. “She’ll make an offer to you, and you can make an offer back.”

The Closer left the table, and Kelly continued making notes on the piece of paper. She flipped the sheet and passed it to us. At the bottom, in her handwriting, it said $89,090. A line asking for our signatures was underneath.

“That looks like Scientology money,“ my husband joked, trying to make light of our situation, our situation being that a woman we barely knew was asking us for $89,000.

Seeing that we were not about to give her the money, Kelly called The Closer back to our table.

“It’s not the cheapest deal that you can find, but it's the best value you can find,” he said. He told us about a couple who purchased two studios from Vidanta in 2011 for $22,000. Now the studios are worth $40,000, he said. The couple rents the studios out to earn back their cash.

The Closer then sat down and began to scribble on the paper. “I can offer you a couple of our incentives that we don't normally offer,” he said.

We told him that we would definitely love to consider his offer, back at our own home. But The Closer also said that leaving wasn’t an option.

“If you leave and decide, ’We want to buy,’ you won't get as good of a deal,” he explained. “The ball is in your court now. You come back waving money, saying ‘We want to buy this?’ Here's the thing. We have the power. The power shifts."

“If you're going to take your vacations, it's better to own your vacations than to rent,” he continued. “Every dollar you put in the Ambassador Program is going back to you. It’s the only self-sustaining product on the market. It pays for itself, and then when you're done using that money to pay off your balance, just cash in your property. Do whatever you want with it. Buy a motorcycle. It doesn't really matter. It's your cash."

He sensed that we looked confused. “If you have questions write them down. I’ll leave it with you, Kelly.”

A loan that sells on Wall Street, but not on eBay

What does it really mean to be an Ambassador or to join the Club? Given that we all die eventually, how many vacation points is too many for a reasonable person to own? These are the questions that timeshare owners have struggled to answer.

Brian Rogers inherited the Timeshare Users Group from his father, a timeshare devotee. The website allows consumers to seek independent timeshare advice from each other. People pay a small fee to use the service, and Rogers also accepts occasional banner ads from some hotel companies. In other words, Rogers has reason to be optimistic about timeshares, given that they are his current line of work.

Generally, he says that points are better than the older system because they can buy access to more hotels.

Still, even Rogers says that the industry suffers from some severe flaws. For one, he says that he hears from people daily who have to choose between paying off their timeshare loans or putting food on the table. Backing out of the loan, of course, isn’t just a matter of losing a vacation. It can cost a person their good credit.

“Those major lenders love to give that money out because the interest is so high," he says of timeshare loans.

Another problem the industry doesn’t like to talk about: points have no resale value. Many people are desperate to sell their timeshare points, Rogers says, but find they can’t even give them away. On eBay, most timeshare points are valued at zero dollars. The industry is “trying to get people to pay $18,000 or $20,000 for something that essentially has no value,” he says.

ARDA responds that it’s untrue that timeshare loans come with high interest. They say that the average timeshare owner buys $21,000 worth of points and pays them off in eight years.

“There's nothing special about our loans. They are traditional loans. They are not subprime. They go to highly credit-worthy people,” Nusbaum responds. 

A significant source of industry revenues from securitization -- or selling loans to other investors. “They bundle them into tranches and they sell them to Wall Street,” Nusbaum says.

The process is no different than what a car dealership does, and the points are still backed by deeds, Nusbaum says. Still, he also admits that consumers' timeshare points have no resale value. He says that people don’t mind that they can’t resell their ponts when they are done.

“Their value comes from using it,” Nusbaum says. “When they [consumers] are done using it, all they want to do is quit paying the maintenance fees.”

An incredible discount

Back at the timeshare sales table at the Grand Mayan, Kelly told us that we could apply for a credit card through Bank of America or Chase. She told us about a woman she once helped who wanted $400,000 worth of timeshare points.

“And she actually ended up getting approved,” Kelly said. “So? It’s worth a shot. Worst-case scenario, they say no. And then, we get you out of here.”

To apply for the credit card, Kelly needed our signature, on the bottom of the paper that said $89,090.

I told Kelly that we just wanted to do some research before we apply for a new credit card. Kelly asked what kind of research we typically do. Every answer that we gave led her to another question.The conversation went in circles, and then completely off-topic. The three of us were talking about mattresses when another colleague came over to check on us.

He offered ten percent down. “So, ten percent of $89,000 is $8,900,” he said. “However, we can finance that for you. So you don't have to pay $8,900 today. All we need is a small deposit of zero down."

We still didn’t want to sign it, we told him. Our refusal elicited more questions. The conversation again went off-topic, this time to the subject of boats. He owned one. Just as it seemed like we were all building a strong rapport with the new sales rep, he went back to business. During our long talk about boats, he had written up a new formula. The paper now said $66,000. We could pay off the ten percent down payment in ten percent increments over the next ten months.

“I’ll give you guys a couple minutes. If yes, great. If not, we will take you downstairs.”

My ears perked up. He was going to take us downstairs. The presentation was almost over. I checked my phone and realized we had sat at this sales table for the past three hours. When the group returned, I told Kelly we definitely were not signing today, even with the discount.

We all made small talk as Kelly walked us one final time through the property. She dropped us off by a pool, with a woman and two men who were dressed in polo shirts. They told us to have a seat. Because we did not buy from the American timeshare sales team, the Mexican timeshare sales team was now going to give us a try.

"How much do you typically spend on vacation?” one of the men asked.

"You like cruises?” his colleague said. "Any cruise line, you name it."

They scribbled on a piece of paper.

"I can do two airline tickets, round trip,” the first one said. More scribbling. He said he could sell us a room for $39 a week and fees for $99 a year. It started to seem like a comparatively good deal.

We asked for the total price breakdown. The salesman scribbled some more. Then he handed a paper across the table. In his handwriting at the bottom, it said $2,500.

We could put the entire amount on a credit card. He said he would give us a few minutes to talk it over. The pros were obvious. This was a huge discount from $66,000 and $89,090.

The cons were that we were brought to this resort under false pretenses and different strangers had been asking me to give them thousands of dollars over the past five hours. None of this boded well.

The salesmen returned to our table to hear our final decision. We apologized. We just wanted to go home. After our goodbyes, they led us to the back of the building where a woman behind a counter was responsible for dispensing the free gifts. Unlike the front of the building, this back room had the clinical feel of a tax office. There was no view or window and all of the walls were white The woman handed over two tequila bottles and tickets to a city tour.

A four wheeler tour, my husband corrected her. We were supposed to get tickets to the four wheeler tour.

The four wheeler tickets were no longer available. “They should have explained that to you this morning,” she said. She sent us out the door, to a giant parking lot, where dozens of cabs were already waiting to take people away.

The rise and death of the exit industry

Search the internet for advice on cancelling a timeshare contract, and dozens of ads promise that they can help. These law firms are part of an emerging industry known as the timeshare exit industry. The timeshare industry is trying to shut all of them down.

Judson Wheeler Phillips is the founder of Tea Party Nation, a for-profit company named after the movement, and he is an outspoken conservative writer who at one point suggested, on a radio show, that only property owners should be allowed to vote. It’s unclear if timeshare owners would qualify under his definition.

Tea Party Nation imploded in 2010 after agreeing to host the nation’s first Tea Party convention, charging guests upwards of $500 a ticket (attendees said the event felt “scammy”). Phillips has since reinvented his career to become one of the nation’s leaders in the timeshare exit industry.

Diamond, Wyndham and ARDA  say that Phillips and others like him demand “exorbitant fees from timeshare owners” with the false promise that he can cancel their timeshare contracts. He can do no such thing, they say. Diamond has led an aggressive campaign against Phillips and others in the exit industry by filing lawsuits to put the exit attorneys out-of-business. 

Citing eighteen consumer issues and the lawsuits filed by the timeshare companies, the Supreme Court of Tennessee disbarred Phillips last September. He could not be reached for comment; a phone number to his office did not work and messages to his Facebook page were not returned. Shutting Phillips down was a major victory for the timeshares.

"The constant pressure that our member companies, owners and federal and state agencies are putting on disreputable timeshare exit companies has again produced a positive result for the consumer," Robert Clements, ARDA Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, said in an statement shortly after the news broke late last year.

But the rise of the exit companies also raises a troubling question for timeshares. If timeshare owners are happy, why are so many so desperate to leave? Why are people paying thousands of dollars to a stranger from the internet, just to get rid of something that they have already invested money in?

“Why would I spend $5,000 on someone who has no relationship with the developer, no relationship to my resort, when my company would take it back for free?” Nusbaum counters.

In fact, ARDA says that most timeshare firms are happy to take purchases back, assuming the person paid in full. If not, then it’s back to square one.

“If you have a loan, you have a legal obligation,” Nusbaum says. “This is no different than people trying to tell you that you don't have to pay your mortgage anymore."

Except, of course, that people typically get to sell their houses when they no longer want them. The same is not true of timeshares.

Rogers, of the consumer timeshare site Timeshare Users Group, says the industry’s tight control on the resale market is what leaves owners desperate and virtually powerless to get rid of their timeshare points.

“The moment you buy them,” Rogers says of the points, “you could not sell them for a dollar.”


Editor's note: the first names of certain individuals in this story have been changed to protect their anonymity.

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