Posted on September 10, 2020
The difference between a timeshare and a vacation club was set in motion in the 1990s when the industry introduced the change in terminology to vacation club to describe the product. This was done primarily to distance the newer, branded resort options from the traditional, single site timeshare resorts that are now considered older, legacy resorts.
There are similarities between the two, as they are both shared ownership vacation accommodation products, but there are differences as well. Let’s take a look.
As mentioned above, both products are a form of shared ownership. In the U.S., both models sell vacation time to buyers looking to own a part of a resort in order to secure vacation time each year at that resort or within the club program. Overseas, these models are primarily a right-to-use model where the buyers purchase the “right” to vacation in a resort each year instead of having a deeded ownership.
Both timeshare and vacation club owners are “sharing time” with other owners at a given resort and have benefits and responsibilities associated with ownership. These models both incur annual fees to fund the upkeep, maintenance and regulatory obligations of the resort. In most instances, especially in the U.S., both are sold in perpetuity, meaning the buyer owns until they either sell it or otherwise relinquish it as there is no expiration date on the ownership.
Timeshare and vacation club ownership can also be used in exchange programs such as RCI or Interval International. This allows the owner to travel beyond their resort or club program to other destinations around the world.
In the case of traditional timeshare, a resort is divided into a specific number of rooms or units and each unit has a number of weeks’ worth of ownership attached to it. Most resorts make 51 weeks of timeshare available each year for each unit, with one week held back for maintenance. So you could conceivably have 51 owners for each room, multiplied by the number of rooms in a resort. Each owner would buy a timeshare with a deeded interest in the resort and all would share in the cost of maintenance of the resort, hence the need for annual fees.
This would be the fixed week model of timeshare ownership. This model also evolved into floating or flex week ownership where an owner could buy a week of timeshare and use it within a specific season or other timeframe determined by the resort. This gives the owner more flexibility for their use rather than using the time during the same week every year.
The vacation club model grew out of the demand for more flexibility that consumers required from the product. In this case, owners are treated more like members with a number of points assigned to their ownership. The buyer would still purchase a deeded interest in a resort, but depending on the resort and variables such as the size of the unit and the season of use, a points package would be assigned to the owner. The points are a type of vacation currency, with the points used to book a unit in their “home” resort – where their points are attached – or in a different resort within the club program.
In many overseas vacation club programs such as in Mexico, buyers purchase right-to-use ownership that allows them to vacation in a resort within their club network. Many times these programs have an expiration date on their ownership and can be extended, if desired, through an additional purchase.
A primary difference between a timeshare and a vacation club is in the flexibility of the product. Whereas traditional timeshare is allotted by the week and mainly limited to a specific week or season of the year, club points can be used in a number of ways. Points can be used to book a week-long vacation, but points can also be split up and used for shorter stays, thereby allowing the owner to take multiple, shorter breaks during the year.
Depending on the program and the brand it is affiliated with, points can also be used for other travel products such as hotel stays, flights, rental car reservations and even toward cruises (obviously when cruises come back). This kind of flexibility is a major benefit for clubs, but keep in mind that the exchange companies also provide many of these benefits as well for timeshare owners who join their exchange programs, albeit at an additional cost.
Because the calendar changes each year, timeshare week ownership is not pegged to specific dates each year. For instance, December 31, 2020 is on a Thursday this year (which can’t come soon enough for most people). So if someone owns a week of timeshare at the end of the year, known as New Year’s week, how would that be calculated and assigned?
As timeshare owners know, their resort would have a specific check-in day of the week, typically on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. This is why timeshare weeks are assigned a number rather than a date. The week mentioned above would be known as week 52 even though it technically extends into 2021. For more specifics, you can click our timeshare calendar page here.
Vacation club programs tend to use the same calendar system, even with the flexibility of the product. Points can usually be used at any time during the year, so the owner would check to see what weeks are available and use their points in a similar way to booking with an online travel agent such as Expedia. These programs do have their season designations, such as platinum or gold weeks, with the more popular seasons requiring a larger allotment of points to book a unit.
In the case below for Wyndham Bonnet Creek, you’ll see how they explain the points needed to book a unit at the resort, based on season and week number: