Welcome to this week’s edition of Letter from America, continuing our series on what “sales agents” tell you, and can you actually believe it, we today welcome another new contributor Ali El-Kerdi. His experience will be of great interest to our Diamond readers especially in the light of the Hilton purchase. So welcome to our pages Ali.
Can a Timeshare Buyer Believe Timeshare Sales Agents?
By Ali El-Kerdi
May 14, 2021
I have been reading about the “oral representation” clause that allows timeshare sales agents to say anything to make a sale. This protective blanket places the burden on the consumer to prove what the agent said or did not say. People buying new cars from a dealer or a house from a real estate agent rely on the ethics of the sales agent. You might be more wary if buying a used car.
We thought we could trust the ethics of Hilton Grand Vacation sales agents. With Hilton, trust is often ingrained if the prospective Hilton timeshares buyer is already a loyal Hilton Honors member. I have joined efforts to warn potential first time buyers that you might as well not talk to a sales agent if you are interested in a timeshare. Check first with a licensed timeshare broker who charges nothing upfront. Their commission is paid at closing after a buyer is found, like any traditional real estate transaction. If buying a “used” timeshare, the purchaser must ask what restrictions accompany a timeshare bought on the secondary market.
On October 17, 2018 we attended a Hilton Grand Vacations (HGV) sales presentation in Florida at Park Soleil Hilton Grand Resort in Orlando with Daniela O, another agent and a manager. A 60 minute presentation ended up being over three hours. We had told them that we wouldn’t be able to stay long because we had young kids with us. We purchased a week at Ocean 22 in South Carolina which is equivalent to 4,800 bi-annual points should the owner wish to stay at another property other than their home resort.
My wife and I are working professionals. We clearly understood the answers to questions we asked to address our concerns. We made it VERY clear to Daniela that we would not be able to use the timeshare for a long time due to the age of our children and our current work and school schedules. I am a professor working on my post-doc and my wife is an Internist. We can only able to take off from work for one or two nights stays at a time. It will be several years before we can take a week’s vacation. An ethical salesperson would have told us then and there that a timeshare is not an appropriate product for our family. However, Daniela assured us we could use Hilton’s timeshare points for one or two nights stays and bank points “in perpetuity” to function as a kind of a “vacation retirement plan” as we accumulated points over the years for future vacations. The manager and the other sales agent also confirmed points could be saved indefinitely. We learned points cannot be saved in perpetuity. Points can be “extended” for only two years (for a fee). The only way we can book one or two night stays is if we convert to RCI or Hilton Honors points, but that reduces the value of the points even more and requires a fee to do so.
It seems obvious to us now that the manager who rushed in with another supervisor waving a print out with “properties that just came on the market” was to stage urgency, making this an opportunity good only for today! Daniela and the supervisor said the property would automatically have higher value because we were buying at a discount, and the value would increase over time like any real estate. They further mentioned we would be able to deduct interest expense.
Additionally, we were also told that as Hilton Grand owners we would be able to use any Hilton Grand location’s amenities by simply proving that we are owners, without having reservations at said location. We were told that as Hilton Grand owners we would get significant discounts off regular Hilton hotel reservations/stays. I’ve stayed at Hilton properties before subsequent to our timeshare purchase from Hilton Grand Vacations. I spoke to several hotel managers about said discounts. One manager actually laughed and said he hears this all the time. When I texted Daniela to ask her, she asked who told me that. I told her she did in text messages!
I wrote to Hilton on September 27, 2020 asking that the contract be cancelled. Their November 30, 2020 letter of denial addressed everything except the main deception that was the deciding factor for us to purchase points. In no way can we use these points. We are forced to consider default or pay for something we can’t use. We have always been fiscally responsible. To think that we have to go through a default because timeshare sales agents are rewarded for deception is alarming. Our purchase price was $14,300. The amount financed $12,870. During the process, we were told that the maintenance fee would be $750 every other year, but the maintenance fee is $1,500 every other year. I spoke with a licensed timeshare resale broker who explained that if I wanted to sell they would recommend a price of $2,500 to $3,000, minus a 25% commission, and that there could be no loan outstanding. We have not used any of the points purchased.
I wrote again to HGV on February 28, 2021 in response to their dismissal. They responded parroting the actual program without even addressing the deceptive statements.
I am learning that the entire industry is tarnished. Timeshare sales are #7 on the Federal Trade Commission’s list of Top Ten Scams. Wyndham Vacation Ownership has almost 2,000 Better Business Bureau complaints and there is an alert posted warning consumers about them.
This BBB Hilton complaint dated 2/27/20 is so similar to my complaint; it sounded like I wrote it, except that we fortunately did not buy a second time. Having read the complaint, I anticipated Hilton’s dismissal. There have been 876 HGV complaints over the last three years.
BBB Complaint: Advertising/Sales Issues (edited for brevity)
Timeshare sold, represented was not as explained. When I tried to take advantage of the services as promised I was told this was not how it is done. I have been paying between $600 and $700 a month for this. When I purchased I was told many things that were not true. I explained my problems with vacationing and that I don’t have much free time. The sales team explained that I could save the points and use them at a different time. Which turned into not being true. The points you are buying expire…. They convinced me through their sales pitch and untruths that I should purchase this plan, I did. Shortly thereafter I purchased a second time because I still believed the stories and didn’t learn the pitfalls yet and I hadn’t used it yet. That is how hard it is for me to get away. Why was I there, I was on business. Then the next year I talked to another salesperson who was supposed to help me. He said that my points should be converted to Hilton Honors Points for hotels. Good idea but not a sound investment. Resort versus a stay at a Hampton Inn. So I’m stuck paying for something I can’t use and losing any investment…. Already paid about $30,000….. I sent an email to the president of HGV. I had a call back from a salesperson. They were trying to explain how to use the program. I told them all I said above, she said there was nothing she could do…. She said she was there to help, but that the salesperson doesn’t know everything about the plans…. This needs to be looked into. When you buy anything in the form of a loan you own it. House, vehicle, Boat, clothes, food and more. Here you are buying points, they should be yours to use not expire. Promises should be kept. I apologize for not bringing an accountant and attorney to review all documents they quickly put in front of you. You hope you can believe the salesperson.
Hilton Grand Vacations, Inc. Response
Dear Mr. *****, We are sorry your experience with Hilton Grand Vacations has been less than satisfactory. As you have entered a legal and binding contract in perpetuity for the purpose of vacation enjoyment, we are unable to cancel your contract. The rescission period extended after the purchase allows the purchaser time to review the documents and cancel should you find the program unsuitable to your travel needs. In your case, the rescission period for your upgraded contract lasted five days from your purchase date. We see that you spoke with our Club Resolution team and they were able to clarify some of the questions you had. Should you need further assistance, as a part of your ownership, we offer to assist you with the help of seasoned Club Counselors who will guide you with optimization of your membership. The club member website, club.hiltongrandvacations.com, has a wealth of learning tools available as well. Regarding your Club Points, you are able to save them and use them other than the year in which they are allotted. Club Points can also be deposited into RCI for an additional 2 years of usage or converted into Hilton Honors points in which they never expire and may be used at any time. Mr. *****, while we are not able to accommodate your request for cancellation, we remain readily available to assist you with optimizing your ownership. Thank you for taking the time to share your feedback. Sincerely, Membership Support Hilton Grand Vacations
I filed a BBB review and I intend to file with the Florida Attorney. Our request for cancellation has already been determined, but I will file for the record. If enough people file official complaints, maybe someday a regulator may take notice.
How can encouraging sales agents to make deceptive statements by blaming the buyer be a healthy business model? It is our word against Daniela’s word. I would like to know, if I had recorded our sales presentation, to be able to provide proof of deceit, would that have mattered? Of course sales agents know they can say anything by Hilton’s dismissal. The offending agent moves onto the next sale, making the same deceptive claims like a hamster wheel. We’re the hamsters.
I’ve been told Hilton is not as bad as other timeshare companies. I read they are buying Diamond Resorts. Based on my research, Diamond seems to have even more complaints!
Why do timeshare companies not act in a way morally responsible? Our mistake was to trust the Hilton brand. We never imagined Hilton agents would deliberately deceive. We did not think we were interacting with the equivalent of a Nigerian Prince asking us to wire money.
Thank you Ali and a big thank you to our team of volunteers who helped with the editing.
Have a great weekend.