I recently had the opportunity to participate in a presentation for Westin Vacation Ownership. I have been through other timeshare presentations before, and aside from my curiosity about Westin’s version, I thought it would be interesting to give my take in a post. Tawnya also had the opportunity to sit through a WorldMark by Wyndham presentation if you’re interested in her thoughts on that timeshare company.
For those of you who may not be familiar, a timeshare is a property with divided ownership and usage. This means that multiple people own the rights to use the property and are allotted a period of time for use every year.
Timeshares come in many different forms, and I was interested to see how the Westin program worked.
The following describes not only the program, but my experience in the presentation and what you can expect if you ever decide to participate in one.
Westin Vacation Ownership is definitely different than any other timeshare I’ve experienced, but is it worth the cost?
Read on for my thoughts on whether this program is worth it, and who might benefit from it.
What is Westin Vacation Ownership?
Although Westin doesn’t use this word, Vacation Ownership is essentially a timeshare. Furthermore, it is important to know that Westin Vacation Ownership is actually owned and run by Vistana Signature Experiences, who also own and operate the Sheraton Vacation Club.
Vacation Ownership involves a onetime purchase (plus a yearly HOA that could increase each year), after which the Owner receives the benefits for life. The program is also transferable (I believe they said up to 3 generations).
Vacation Owners purchase a package of “options,” then can redeem those options yearly (the year begins January 1st) at the 22 resorts currently in the portfolio. Each Owner has a “home” resort based on where the package is purchased (this also affects the cost, more on that later).
The use of the term options was a bit confusing at first, but I like to think of options as points being as they work essentially the same way.
Thus, depending on the package you buy, you have an allotment of points that you can use throughout the year, similar to redeeming points from your favorite loyalty program for hotel stays.
However, there are several big differences between Westin Vacation Ownership options and redeeming points from a hotel loyalty program.
1) Westin packages are presented in terms of weeks as opposed to nights. Although you can split the week up into two vacations (4 nights + 3 nights, for example), your options package is set up to be redeemed in weeks.
2) Unlike hotel rewards programs that allow you to choose between a variety of room options, Westin Vacation Owners choose between a selection of villas. The basic redemption is for a studio villa, but Owners can also choose to redeem their options for 1-bedroom, 2-bedroom, and even 3-bedroom villas. Each villa has a kitchenette and small living area, plus a balcony or patio depending on the location.
3) As mentioned above, Westin Vacation Owners may only redeem their options at the 22 resorts currently in the portfolio (there is an exchange option to access other destinations but I remember a fee being involved). Although the presenters stated that more hotels would be added to the program in the future, this factor does limit your options. The current portfolio hotels are located in Hawaii, Mexico, California, Colorado, South Carolina, Arizona, and Florida. There are also a few in the Caribbean if I remember correctly.
The lowest package offered is 37,000 options, which will get you a week in a studio villa per year.
However, you may purchase larger option packages that can get you multiple weeks a year or larger accommodations. For instance, the presenter used the example of 148,100 options during the presentation, which would get you up to 4 weeks in studio villas or fewer weeks in larger accommodations (I believe the 3-bedroom villa was 148,100 for the week).
One thing I liked about Westin Vacation Ownership was the flexibility it offered.
Let’s say you had the package with 148,100 options. You could redeem those options in whatever way you liked (villa size) at whatever resorts you wanted to visit. For instance, if you redeemed them for 4 weeks in studio villas, you could visit 4 different resorts in the same year.
Westin Vacation Ownership is also flexible in who redeems the options. If you choose, you could send family or friends on a vacation without you (the owner) being present. Another option is to sell your week(s) for the market-value and pocket the difference.
In both circumstances, you wouldn’t be responsible for any damages to the villa because the responsible party is whoever checks into the villa, not the Owner.
Furthermore, you can share Ownership if you choose and split the cost as well as the option redemption however you decide.
Lastly, another nice aspect is the ability to roll over unused options or to borrow options from the next year. There is a $99 fee to roll over unused points to the next year, while it is free to borrow points from the next year.
Setting the Stage
Now that the basics of the program are out of the way, let’s talk about the presentation.
As with any other presentation in which someone is trying to sell you something, the Westin representatives employ a variety of tactics to show their program in the best light.
The first thing they did was ask me if I had ever participated in a Westin presentation. Once they knew I hadn’t, they began asking some questions to get a sense of how often I travel and how much I spend on travel a year.
The point of these questions was to try and demonstrate the value of the program compared to what I’m currently spending.
My numbers went something like this:
- Nights traveled per year: roughly 15
- Cost per night of typical hotel: roughly $120
- 15 nights x $120 = $1,800 a year spent on hotels
Now, I don’t spend anywhere near that amount on hotels a year (I’ll talk more about this later), but this is an example of the process they use to try and convince you of the value of this program.
Next, the presenter went through all the basic information I described above and answered any questions I had.
All the examples used were based on a 148,100 option package, which I later found out was the middle of the pack in expense. Using a higher-priced package for examples is another tactic to try and demonstrate value and trick the potential buyer, as you are shown a more flexible redemption package long before you know the price.
Following the description of benefits and yearly spending demonstration, I was taken on a tour of some example villas.
I was shown both a studio and 2-bedroom villa, and I must say they were impressive. However, I did note that the studio villa was roughly the same size (perhaps slightly bigger) as a typical large hotel room. The difference was that a kitchenette and balcony were included, as well as nicer furniture and decor. In this case, they were mostly selling luxury furnishings and balconies.
The 2-bedroom was much larger and included two bathrooms as well as a much larger kitchenette and island. Again, luxury furnishings were emphasized, but in this case, the space and extra bathroom made it seem more like an upgrade from a traditional nice hotel.
While touring these villas, the presenter did something very interesting. He asked for the 3 places I would most like to visit in the world. I answered him without thinking too much of it, but this would come into play later.
After touring the rooms, we returned to the presentation area and I was asked if I had any other questions and my thoughts about purchasing Ownership.
I didn’t, and stated that I would have to know the price of the packages and think about it before making a decision.
This is where Westin employed yet another sales tactic: they bring in a closer.
At this point, my presenter stated that he would grab his manager to answer all my questions. Thus entered a man who turned out to be more like a used car salesman.
This was their closer, who finally revealed the price of the packages, but was able to offer “extra” incentives to try and push you over the edge. Furthermore, these incentives were only available if you bought the package right then.
Although I was able to buy some extra time (an hour) to think about the deal and to decide if it was right for me, I didn’t appreciate the pushy nature of the closer. I essentially had to tell him that if I was given some time to think I would consider it, but if not I was done.
This “these extra incentives are only good if you buy right now” tactic serves to push people into making impulse purchases, while you’re still enamored with the presentation and before you’ve really considered whether it makes sense for you.
Word of advice: if someone pulls this with you, tell them you’re walking for sure if you don’t have more time and I guarantee they’ll give you the time you ask for.
Remember, they want to make the deal, and they’re usually willing to give more if they know your purchase is contingent on something (time, more incentives, etc.).
So, what were the incentives?
The first was lifetime SPG Gold Member status. While I’m not well-versed in loyalty program benefits, I do know that having SPG Gold is a nice perk. Gold status comes with room upgrades, late checkout, welcome gifts, and more.
Although a nice perk, SPG Gold Membership wasn’t nearly enough to push me to buy a package, especially with the future of the program still a bit up in the air with the Marriott merger happening on August 18th.
Another incentive for purchasing during the presentation was a “gift” of 50,000 SPG points. I’m no expert but I do know that SPG points are valuable, and with the upcoming merger each SPG point will be multiplied by 3 for the new membership system. Therefore, that gift of 50,000 will soon turn into 150,000 points that could be redeemed at Starwood, Marriott, or Ritz-Carlton hotels around the world.
Not bad, but the most valuable perk actually came next.
The third major incentive offered was membership in something called the VIP Club. Again, this program was through Vistana Signature Experiences, and was comprised of week-long stays at resorts around the world for a fraction of the cost.
Of course, the cost depended on what part of the world you were looking at, but multiple examples showed week-long stays in villas for between $400 and $800.
This was where my list of desired destinations came in. The closer repeatedly pointed out that I could access stays at resorts in my dream destinations for pennies compared to what they normally cost out of pocket.
I have to admit, I was wooed by this incentive. The idea of staying a week in a resort almost anywhere in the world for less than $1,000 was extremely enticing.
But at what cost?
Of course, the cost of Westin Vacation Ownership was only given AFTER the presentation, tour, and incentives were shown.
And it’s pretty steep.
The presenter told the closer that the package that probably best fits my needs/desires would be for 44,000 options a year. This package would probably get me a week and a half in a studio villa, or a week in a 1-bedroom.
I can’t recall the precise amount for each option we discussed because they won’t let you take the materials with you, but the cost of the 44,000 option package was a little over $15,000, plus a yearly HOA fee of around $800.
That was way too pricey for my blood, so I asked what the lowest-priced package was.
Turns out, it isn’t much better.
The lowest package they offer is for 37,000 options a year, which would put you back a little over $13,000 plus a one-time $800 fee PLUS a yearly HOA of a little over $600.
Essentially, this package costs over $14,000 plus over $600 a year. Furthermore, the HOA can go up (and will likely go up) over time based on the cost of living increases.
They’ll finance the package for you…at 12% interest!
At this point I did some quick math to see what my yearly costs would be. Who knows, it may be worth it over the long haul.
$14,000 package / 20 years = $700 a year + HOA of $600 = $1,300 a year
Spreading the cost out over 20 years results in at least $1,300 (it was actually over $1,400 but I can’t remember the exact figures) in hotel costs a year for one week in a studio villa.
That number doesn’t include flights, food, or activities.
Armed with this math, I knew that the value of the package wasn’t there for me. However, I did briefly contemplate purchasing the package, selling my week every year at market value, and utilizing the VIP Club benefit to travel where I wanted.
However, with an hour to think about it I ultimately decided that the costs outweighed the benefits and politely declined.
One Last Hook
Of course, Westin had one more trick of their sleeve when I declined their invitation for Ownership.
This time, another closer was introduced in the guise of asking questions about the presentation and my treatment. Although she did ask me questions about the presentation and whether or not I felt pressured (of course I did), her ultimate purpose was to try and rope me in with a less expensive offer.
I was presented with a 5 day/4-night stay in a studio villa in Cancun, plus 6,000 SPG points, and a price freeze on the Vacation Ownership package I had been presented with for 18 months, all for around $1,700 and a $200 processing fee.
So, a 4-night stay in a villa for $1,900.
This time I was given more time to think, but I immediately declined this offer. I had already decided that Westin Vacation Ownership wasn’t for me, and I knew that I could stay in Cancun for far less than $1,900 if I choose to vacation there.
Just because someone offers you an expensive item on sale doesn’t mean you’re saving money.
Is It Worth It?
The short answer? It depends.
It depends on your typical cost of accommodations, as well as the type of accommodations you like to stay in.
For me, the majority of my vacations are visiting family, for which my accommodations don’t cost a dime. For those where I do stay in a hotel, I either utilize loyalty program points, or find more frugal options.
Despite what Westin wanted me to believe, I never spend $1,800 a year on hotels.
Now, the VIP Club benefit would have been nice, but I would have had to invest a lot of time and effort into selling my week every year to help offset the costs of the program. Not to mention the $14,000 hit up front.
Plus, buying into Vacation Ownership would have made me feel obligated to use my benefits, meaning I would be vacationing outside of family trips more often than I typically do, and spending more out of pocket for accommodations (even if they are only a fraction of the cost).
Yes, staying for weeks in a villa would be nice, but am I really saving anything? For me, Westin Vacation Ownership just didn’t make sense.
But, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good deal for some people.
Let’s say you have a family of four, and you typically vacation a couple times a year and pay out of pocket for hotels. If you’re spending thousands a year on hotel stays anyway, then Westin Vacation Ownership may be a great option for you.
Similarly, if you typically like to stay at nicer hotels and resorts (Westin, Sheraton, Ritz-Carlton, Hilton, etc.), and usually pay out of pocket, then Vacation Ownership will likely put you ahead.
However, be careful of the trap of comparing hotel expenses to total expenses. Westin would like to compare apples to oranges, saying that you’re “saving money” because the yearly price of Ownership is less than you may typically spend on vacations. But remember that Ownership only covers the cost of hotels, not flights or other expenses.
Make sure you’re only comparing hotel costs, or factoring in the total cost of your trips, when considering Westin Vacation Ownership.
Another trap to watch out for is the “sale” mindset. Westin Vacation Ownership allows you to stay in villas for less than their normal cost, but if you don’t normally spend $1,300+ a year on hotels then you are being upsold.
If you really want to get a taste of the luxury brands every so often, I would recommend earning hotel points and staying for free over Vacation Ownership.
One last point of emphasis is that the prices I’m detailing in this post are for purchasing Vacation Ownership with the home resort being in Mexico. The price of the packages changes drastically depending on the location in which you sign up, as well as the HOA fees.
Tawnya has a friend who is a Westin Vacation Owner that purchased their package in Palm Desert and paid $10k more for the same number of options.
Long story short, if you are going to buy into Westin Vacation Ownership, consider doing it in Mexico.
Moral of the Story
Westin Vacation Ownership is a timeshare option through Vistana Signature Experiences that allows you to stay in villas at various Westin properties around the U.S., Caribbean, and Mexico.
Despite their best efforts to disguise it, the Westin presentation is ultimately a sales pitch that tries to trick you with clever math and point-based systems, and is looking to prey on impulse decision-making.
This isn’t to say that Westin Vacation Ownership isn’t a good idea for some people, it’s just you need to spend some time doing your own math and really evaluate whether it’s right for you before taking the leap.
If you’re someone who regularly spends several thousand dollars out of pocket on hotels every year, Vacation Ownership may be right for you.
If you are someone who vacations at Westin locations around the world, it may be right for you.
Furthermore, if you’re someone who regularly stays at more expensive hotels and pays out of pocket, Vacation Ownership may be right for you.
However, if you spend nowhere near the yearly cost of Ownership on hotels then this program isn’t for you.
No matter which category you fall into, remember that Vacation Ownership only covers the cost of your room. Make sure to consider the costs of airfare and other expenses, as these could easily double your vacation budget.
Finally, if you do decide you want to look into Westin Vacation Ownership, you may want to consider doing it in Mexico, which seems to have the best price on packages and the lowest HOA.
Whatever you ultimately decide, if you’re ever approached about a Westin presentation at least you now know what to expect.
Talk about Money Saved!
Sebastian is co-blogger at Money Saved is Money Earned. He emigrated from India in his 20's with $15 in his pocket. Despite facing adversity in his early life, Sebastian is an early retired Senior Financial Analyst for the City of Portland. He has owned his home free and clear for 15 years, has had income properties, put three kids through college, and travels to India regularly, all without a six figure income.