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Vacation clubs sound super fun, don’t they? Membership implies special privileges, deals and maybe a secret handshake. And obviously, you want all the elite extras vacation clubs seem to promise. But what are these clubs and is membership worth it? Read on to find out.
A vacation club is a membership that gives you access to a pool of vacation opportunities. You pay a fee upfront—typically thousands of dollars–to “buy” points or credits that can be used toward vacations. Sales reps will tell you that membership offers unique access to a wide variety of discount opportunities. Some clubs even allow you to use points for air travel and cruises, which sounds like a great value. Plus, most clubs give you access to a wide variety of resorts and accommodations. And if you don’t have the cash on hand for the membership fee, choose from one of many financing options. What’s not to love?
The sales pitch is tempting. But is membership worth it? It is true that you will have access to try to book vacations. However, booking is not generally guaranteed by your contract. Many members have difficulty making reservations, either because of low availability or because the reservation systems are complex and customer service is poor. In fact, availability can be a serious issue. Most clubs allow unlimited members but don’t offer unlimited vacation opportunities. Plus, many of the vacations you’ll get access to are also available to the general public. Even if they didn’t pay the membership fee that you paid. And sometimes the public prices are lower than the member prices.
Usually, yes. First, many clubs charge annual membership fees. If you haven’t paid your fee, you can’t use your points. Reservation fees are also common. For example, when you book your trip, they’ll tack on a fee even though you’re a member. Or if you need to book through an agent rather than online, you pay a fee for that. Finally, points are awarded on an annual basis and often expire. If you want to carry points over to the next year, expect a carry-over fee. Vacation clubs are very creative about inventing new fees, and chances are, your contract will not protect you from whatever they think up.
Unfortunately, although vacation clubs sound exotic and elite, they don’t always deliver. If you’re thinking about a vacation club, do your research first. Check out the company with the Business Consumer Alliance. We didn’t find any with more than one star. Then try to book a club vacation without a membership. If you can do it without paying the membership fee, then save your money.
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