I like taking photos and this requires going to scenic places. Back in 2003 I had a good job and wanted to treat myself to something nice. I went to a Worldmark (Trendwest at that time) presentation and they told me about all the advantages of timeshare ownership. The sales presentation was very upbeat, the sales associates were dressed in festive attire, and there was music, colorful maps and photos, etc.
I was told that you could book vacations at a wide variety of upscale resorts in the US and around the world. They even partnered with RCI to offer hundreds of more places all around the world. I signed up and was eager to use my new membership. Trying to use my membership for the first clued me in to the realities of timeshare ownership. After looking through their book of resorts I decided that I wanted to go to Hawaii since I had never been there. I called Trendwest and was forced to wait on hold for a LONG time (I think 30+ minutes). When I finally got through they told me that Hawaii was already booked over a year out. I was also told my introductory membership level did not give me enough points to book Hawaii. I would have to save my points for another year and then call 13 months in advance in order to book Hawaii. I asked if there were any openings on the Washington or Oregon coast and I was informed that these were also full. I asked if any resorts in Washington or Oregon were available and was told that all were booked.
At this point I wanted to cancel my membership and get a refund but I was already past the point of no return. There were no refund or repurchase options available and if I sold my points on the open market I might get back 30% of what I paid (probably much less). I have made some bad financial mistakes in my life but Worldmark was one of the worst. They consistently over-promise and under-deliver. Over the years I have added points to my account hoping that I would receive better service. I am at the Silver Elite level now.
The biggest problem with Worldmark is that they simply do not care about owners. Once you signup you are locked in and if you exit you lose most of your investment. Therefore, Workmark has very little incentive to treat owners well. You are locked in whether you get good service or not, you must pay your maintenance dues whether they perform or not, and if you leave then you will suffer a severe loss. Since there is little incentive for Worldmark to treat owners well, they don’t. They always say that they are focused on owners but they are only focused on trying to squeeze more money out of the owners.
A Typical Experience
My son and I spent two very long days driving to the Banff resort in Alberta, Canada. We got to the resort after a very long drive and I just wanted to relax, eat, and check my email. I got on the computer and the wireless connection did not work. I inquired at the front desk and was told that I must call technical support. I called them, we went through some diagnostics, and it still did not work. The signal strength in the room was not adequate. I designed industrial wireless networks so I knew exactly what was going on. I told the technician that the signal strength was too low and they either needed to add another access point or upgrade the nearest antenna to a high gain antenna to solve the problem. He said that he could not do anything and told me to call Owner Care.
I called Owner Care, waited on hold, told them the issue and they told me that there was nothing that they could do and I would have to call technical support. I told them that Technical Support told me to call Owner Care. Owner Care again told me that I needed to call Technical Support. I called Technical Support again and they told me that there was nothing that they could do and that I had to pursue the issue with Owner Care. I went to the resort management and told them what was going on and they said that there was nothing that they could do and that I needed to call Technical Support.
This is typical Worldmark problem solving. Make the owner waste vast amounts of time while Worldmark passes the buck. After making more phone calls and wasting more time I finally went to the resort management and told them that if this problem was not fixed I would file complaints with the Better Business Bureau, and send sharply worded complaints to the company president and the board of directors. Finally, they decided to take ownership of the problem. It took about four days before technicians got onsite and installed another access point (my original solution to the problem). I probably made half a dozen phone calls and had several heated discussions before Worldmark decided that this problem was worthy of their attention. I would be surprised if I was the first to complain of this problem but it took complaints, heated arguments, and threats to make Worldmark fix the problem. This is typical Worldmark service.
I could give MANY other examples of poor customer service. There was the time that our room was in the middle of a construction zone in Seaside, when Worldmark called to give me high pressure sales pitch after I told them to never call me, the time we waited on hold for 45-minutes in downtown San Diego to get information about the resort address, etc. I have a file with over 14 pages of notes of things that have gone wrong with my membership. When you talk with Worldmark employees they say that management instills in them the need for the highest level of customer service. However, from my experience, customer service improves only after the customer screams and threatens.
Dealing with Wyndham
In another experience I had to deal with Wyndham Club Pass. I had a Hawaii reservation that I updated to a Wyndham property (additional $99 fee). A friend was going to check-in and I needed to add his name to the reservation. I expected this simple process to take about 10 minutes on the phone. I called Worldmark because there are no direct lines to Club Pass. I called, went through the phone tree, waited on hold, got an agent, give my information (name, owner number, address, etc.), and said that I need to talk with Club Pass. I went back on hold for an extended period of time, got an operator, gave all of my information again, and said that I need to add a name to reservation. They told me that that their computers were down because of a major upgrade. I was informed that adding a name cost an additional $49. I reluctantly agreed to pay it (what else could I do) but she could not accept payment because the computer system was down. This process took 20-30 minutes. I was told to call back in a week.
I called back a week or so later with the same result and I wasted about the same amount of time. The system was still not working and they could not complete the transaction I called the resort directly and had them add the name as a backup. The guy at the resort was very accommodating but I could not pay the additional $49 fee through him. I waited another week or two and went through the same drill to talk with Club Pass only to find that they system was still not working. They told me to call back again in another week. At this point I am getting frustrated and I already wasted hours of time trying to deal with Wyndham over a simple request. I asked if they could research this for me and give me a call back. Of course they were unable (or unwilling) to do this. After all, this would require Wyndham to put forth some effort to help an owner and they just don’t do that.
I don’t remember how many times I had to call them but it was at least five or six times and it took over a month to get this simple issue resolved. This should have been one 10 minute call but I spent probably three hours of time. Again, this is typical for Worldmark and Wyndham. My time as an owner has no value and company representatives do as little as possible to help owners. This entire situation was a problem because the new Wyndham system was not tested sufficiently and did not work. However, I had to pay for their problem with my time. Of course, I was still charged the $49 fee even though I had to make five or six phone calls and wait on hold for hours. If the company valued me as a owner they could have taken my name and number on the first call and just worked the issue rather than putting the burden on me to repeatedly call back and waste hours of my time.
Fees, Fees, and More Fees
When you go through a typical sales presentation you are told about all of the benefits of membership but they ignore or gloss over the realities of membership. One harsh reality are the ridiculous fees that Worldmark charges for EVERYTHING. You have to pay to join, pay monthly dues (which are excessive), pay local taxes and fees in several resort, if you book more than two vacations per year you have pay ridiculous cleaning fees, etc. If you are not an Elite member then you even have to pay a daily fee to access the WiFi in your room. If you go to Starbucks you get free WiFi even if you don’t make a purchase. If you pay $20,000 to join Worldmark then you have to pay another $5 per day for WiFi. Here are some of the fees:
- The initial membership fee is a large investment and you will not get this back if you decide you want out.
- The monthly dues are required and they go up every year. If you default on the dues then you forfeit your membership.
- You can book two resorts per year and if you book more then you must pay a cleaning fee. These range in price from about $90 to about $120 for each additional reservation.
- You can use your points with RCI resorts but there is a $249 exchange fee for each week booked.
- You can use Wyndham resorts but this requires a $99 exchange fee.
- If someone other than you checks-in at a Wyndham resort that you booked there is a $49 guest fee (it may be $99 now) in addition to the $99 exchange fee.
- Non-Elite owners have to pay about $5 per day for WiFi in the room.
- Certain resorts charge local taxes in addition to all the other fees.
- There are also fees for using the pool tables, renting DVDs, etc.
- Resorts such as San Diego, Seattle, and San Francisco do NOT include parking (up to $47/day to park).
- In San Diego the rooms do not have washers and dryers and you have to use community machines in the basement. There is a fee to use these washers and dryers. Seriously, how cheap can the resort get?
- On the Worldmark Facebook page one owner wanted to allow her husband to check-in and that either required $99 per reservation or a $249 fee to add his name on her account.
Worldmark is not shy about charging for everything possible. By the time you pay all of the maintenance dues and fees it is often cheaper to book a vacation online or through Groupon. Of course, Worldmark sends newsletters assuring owners that their fees are some of the lowest in the industry. The bottom line here is that Worldmark will charge a fee for anything that they can get away with. Since they care little about owner satisfaction complaining does NO good whatsoever.
Overbooking and Lack of Availability
When you go through the sales presentation you are told that Worldmark makes for a fun vacationing experience and you can stay in world class resorts all over the world. The reality is that the most popular resorts are so severely overbooked that you must be online at 6am exactly 13 month to the day in order to book resorts in Hawaii or in Depot Bay, Oregon. Even if you are online at 6am I was NOT able to get reservations the last two times I tried to book Hawaii. You can get on waitlists but with the waitlist you may not get a reservation until weeks before your travel date. At that point airfares will be sky high. You can book with RCI or Club Wyndham but then you have to pay exchange fees of either $249 or $99 in addition to the maintenance fees.
The most frustrating thing about the lack of availability is that I routinely see a Worldmark booth at local street fairs or home shows. The resorts are already severely overbooked and you cannot make reservations even when you are online at 6am and 13-months in advance. Even though severely overbooked, Worldmark actively recruits new members which makes it even more difficult to book these resorts. Most resorts have better availability but the popular resorts (Hawaii, Depoe Bay, etc.) have been overbooked for years and it got worse over time. When I first joined it was difficult to get a reservation in Hawaii and now it is even more difficult. Of the last four Hawaii reservations that I tried to book I only got two and had to be put on a waitlist for the others.
Stupid Phone System
One particularly irritating task when dealing with Worldmark is their phone system. If you are not an Elite member then be prepared to be on hold for a LONG time. When you call Worldmark you must first go through a phone menu (I HATE those). When you get through to a real person you have to give then your owner number, address, and other identification information. If you need to talk to someone in Owner Services or Club Wyndham then you must be transferred. When you are transferred then you have to wait on hold again and sometimes for an extended period of time. When they finally answer you must repeat all of the identification details that you already provided. There are NO direct lines (at least none published) to Owner Services or Club Wyndham. Sometimes you get to a human in a timely manner and sometimes you have to sit on hold. I REALLY hate the on-hold message telling you that your call is important. If the company considered me or my call to be important then they would hire enough operators to handle the calls. This problem of waiting on hold has been an issue for 15+ years. Worldmark tells owners that they are working to improve the phone support but from what I have experienced these are only hollow words that are not supported by their actions. Again, Wordmark will over-promise and under-deliver.
I was told by an Owner Care representative that if I call Wyndham Club Pass then I should expect to be on-hold for up to 50 minutes. Yes, on-hold for nearly an hour! That is beyond ridiculous. With Club Pass you CANNOT make reservations online so you are forced to call and wait. I was also told that the direct line to Owner Care was removed because the reservation hold times were so long that owners would call Owner Care out of frustration to try to make their reservations. Hence, the direct line was severed. The proper solution would be for Worldmark to answer their phones in a timely manner and then they could have a direct line to Owner Care. But again, Worldmark has little regard for owners and even less regard for owner’s time.
When making reservations online you have to be very careful. I went the reservation process, got my room booked, got a confirmation screen, and thought that I was finished. Well, it turns out that on the confirmation screen there was one more button that I had to click but it was shown below the main page content and not visible. My reservation was not booked. Over the years I have done this twice and in one case I lost several hundred dollars in points. This is very poor web design but I blamed myself. However, when checking into the Long Beach (WA) resort a couple came to the desk to check-in. There was no reservation for them. The receptionist determined that this couple fell victim to that same error and did not click the last, off-the-screen button. The receptionist told the couple that they had no reservation and no rooms available. They had planned for this vacation and had no place to stay.
When it was my turn I told the receptionist that I made the same mistake on a previous reservation and ended up losing hundreds of dollars in points because of it. She told me that this is a common problem. I do web programming and I know that fixing this page would take developer very little time (probably a couple of hours). Worldmark knows of this problem and knows that it caused issues with many owners. However, Worldmark refuses to fix the webpage. Once again, this demonstrates how Worldmark has little or no regard for owners. This is a simple fix that would benefit many owners but Worldmark will not fix it. When I bring up this story I am told that they are working on a new and improved website that will fix these issues. I have been hearing about this new website for many years and we must still use the old, outdated, bug-ridden website. Once again, this is the typical Worldmark over-promise and under-deliver script.
The Ovation Ripoff
Worldmark announced in their newsletter a new program to help owners who could not longer afford their timeshare. The Ovation program allows owners to sell their membership back to Worldmark. When I inquired about the program Worldmark offered me less than 19% of the original purchase price of my initial membership fee. That is, I would lose over 80% of the money that I paid for my initial membership. Keep in mind that memberships prices have increased substantially and Worldmark would resell my membership for much more than I paid. The amount that Worldmark offers for the buyback is just an insult. So, Worldmark will buy back my points at pennies on the dollar and then resell them for more than my original purchase price. Once again Worldmark is consistent in their quest to ignore the needs of owners to drive more profit.
Worldmark now has a major problem with mega-owners that own tens or hundreds of thousands of points. Mega-owners use those points to reserve prime rooms and then sell them on the open market making it extremely difficult for the normal owners to book rooms. Worldmark instituted new fees to try to curb the reservations of these mega-owners and, once again, the normal owners are likewise subject to these fees.
As I look at this situation it appears to be a problem created by the greed and management incompetence of Worldmark. Many join Worldmark when they have good cashflow and can easily afford it. Life circumstances change and many owners find that they have lessor jobs or retire and have fixed or limited income. The maintenance fees and other costs continue to escalate and ownership becomes more expensive with each passing year. If you can no longer afford your membership there are very limited options. There is very little secondary market to sell your points. Prior to the Ovation Ripoff Program Worldmark offered NOTHING for your points. Many owners had to reluctantly sell their points for almost nothing or just give them away to get out from under the monthly maintenance dues. I have timeshare companies call me and offer to take over my membership and most pay nothing for the points.
Worldmark created this losing situation for owners so it appears that mega-owners grab these cheap or free points, pay the maintenance dues on them, and reserve rooms and sell them on the open market. The rise of the mega-owners is a demonstration of the greed, short-term thinking, and incompetence of Worldmark and Wyndham management. They could have sought a win-win solution and given owners an exit that pays a reasonable amount for their points. The owner would walk way more happy, the company gets resellable points at a discount, and Worldmark could still make a healthy profit by selling those points at the current market rate. But no, Worldmark must go for the short-term mega win, screw owners out of more money, create this massive problem with the mega-owners, and make reservations much more difficult for the remaining owners. Yes, once again the emphasis is to generate short-term profit for the company and give NO consideration to existing owners.
Owner Education (or Owner Abuse) Sessions
When you check-in to a resort they always pressure you to attend an Owner Education session. In this session they tell you that they want to explain the new features and benefits of membership so that you can more effectively use your membership. In actuality these are sales presentations where they try everything to sell you more points. I have been to some where the representatives gave me new insights into using my membership and I have been to some where the representative was only interested in making a sale and acted very rudely once they determined that there was no sale to be made. I did have some excellent owner education sessions in Seaside (OR), San Francisco (CA), and Birch Bay (WA).
In the Worldmark Anaheim I was asked to go to a presentation and I politely declined. They pressed and I said that I did not want to deal with their high-pressure sales people. They assured me that it was mostly for education. When I went there the sales woman was very polite and cordial and I told her about the trouble that I had with my membership. When she determined that I was not going to buy anything she advised me to just sell my membership since I was not happy. I told her that I would lose over 80% of my initial purchase and she was unimpressed and then just moved on to her next mark. I then had to wait over 20 minutes to receive the gift promised when I signed up for the session. They charged my debit card $20 prior to the session so I had to wait to receive a credit and get the promised gift card. Again, they are only interested in owners when the owners give them more money.
To the credit of Worldmark they did give me a free night in Birch Bay because my Anaheim experience was exceptionally bad even by their low standards. Now when I talk with Worldmark sales representatives I do not hold back and I do not tolerate any of their lies and embellishments. When confronted at outside venues I hit the representatives full-force with the issues that I have experienced. Most are shocked because they are probably only told about the good and they have probably not experienced the bad with ownership.
When my wife and I were on our honeymoon in San Diego we agreed to go to a sales presentation. They said that we would be served a catered lunch and get tickets for the Zoo. The catered lunch looked like a tray of Costco sandwiches. This was my wife’s first experience with a Worldmark owner education session and she was very unimpressed. Once again Worldmark over-promised and under-delivered.
I received a call from Worldmark in November 2019 asking if I would like to be on a call to hear about the new features added to my ownership. I scheduled the call for the next day and asked if this was a sales call. I was told by the manager that they would ask about a membership upgrade at the end but advised me to simply say NO to the sales part. When I was on the call it was nothing but high-pressure sales for about 50 minutes. The sales person refused to take multiple NOs as a answer and kept telling me that it was in my best interest to upgrade my Silver membership to Diamond. The cost would be somewhere around $400-500 per month for at least 10 years in addition to higher monthly maintenance fees. Worldmark states repeatedly that they no longer engage in deceptive and high-pressure sales tactics. However, those tactics are still very much alive and well. I filed complaints against the office in Redmond but I doubt if anything will be done. What bothered me the most was the manager stated that this was primarily an educational call. I articulated many of the problems that I had with Worldmark and his only solution was to give Worldmark more money and trust them to do better in the future. Sorry Worldmark, you lied to get me on that call and I would be a fool to trust you with more money.
When I attend owner education sessions I am usually told how I can use my points for cruises, airfare, and field representatives even said that I could use points to pay my maintenance dues. At one session I took lots of notes and when I returned home I called the reservation line and asked how I could book a cruise. They said that booking a cruise was really not an option. If they had a special then you could use your points but otherwise you are out-of-luck. They also said that you can use point for items such as Disney park tickets, etc. Well, this is sort-of true with numerous caveats. You can use your points if (and only if) they have a special that includes those tickets. If you do find a special the number of points required FAR exceeds the cost of just purchasing the item. For example, if you divide the maintenance dues by the number of annual points you get a cost per point per year. If you multiple the price (in points) for the promotional item by the point price then the cost that you pay for the item can be two, three, or four times the dollar price for buying that item. If you have excessive points that you need to use then this might be OK but otherwise it is a pure rip-off. But, then again, Worldmark is not concerned about giving owners good value for their money.
I once asked the customer service representative why the sales people tell owners that they can use their points for all those other items when that is simply false. The customer service person said that some of the sales representatives often say things just to make the sale. Once again, the only goal is to make the owner part with more money.
I have repeatedly asked to be placed on the Worldmark “do not call” telemarketing list. One day I received a call from a Worldmark telemarketer and he was trying to sell me a Las Vegas vacation package. I am not into Vegas and was not interested. I told him that I was not interested and that I have had many problems with Worldmark in the past. The operator simply hung up on me in mid sentence. I paid many thousands to join Worldmark and paid thousands more in annual dues and the Worldmark representative had so little regard for an owner that he simply hung up the phone. This episode was so rude that I actually called Owner Care and they were very surprised to hear that one of their representatives would be so rude. This is a typical Worldmark attitude. If there is no sale to be made then ignore the owner and move on to the next target.
Years before I had an extremely pushy telemarketer call when I was staying at the San Diego resort. That was the night where I could not get through to Worldmark, was lost in downtown San Diego, and could not find the resort. I did not have the phone number of the resort because it was new and it was not included on my reservation. The telemarketer would not take NO for an answer and I ended up yelling at him through the phone. I told him that I wanted to be removed from ALL Worldmark telemarketing lists. The next day I received another telemarketer call and this representative was even more pushy than the previous one. I told him about my bad experiences and his only solution was for me to purchase more points. I was driving when talking with him and I had to pull over to the side of the road and I yelled at him for probably a full five minutes. During this exchange he repeated his sales pitch that all I needed to do was purchase more points. Once again, no respect for owner’s time, pushy, and rude. I was on vacation and I should not have to spend valuable vacation time yelling at pushy sales representatives when they make unwanted calls to me.
Worldmark requires owners to approve measures such as bylaw changes and members to the Board of Directors. A few years ago (2016ish) Worldmark offered a sweepstakes whereby you are entered into a drawing for a free vacation if you sign your proxy vote to Worldmark. This sounds like a way to buy proxy votes. In other types of elections this would be illegal. Imagine a presidential election or Congressional election where a candidate would offer the chance to win a price if you sign over your vote to them. Worldmark sees nothing wrong with this practice.
Not everything with Worldmark is bad. I have stayed in some very nice rooms and most have fully equipped kitchens. Most resort staff has been very good and very customer focused. I have stayed in places are much nicer than places that I would have purchased if I was paying for my rooms a la carte. My favorite places include Wyndham Kona (Big Island, HI), Kapa’a Shore (Kauai, HI), West Yellowstone, Depoe Bay (OR), and others. I really like the 2-room places on Kauai because they face the ocean and they have a nice loft. It is an older property but it is one of my absolute favorites.
Most of my reservations and stays have been simple and uneventful. With many of the more local resorts there are few, if any, additional fees to pay. I select the location, make the reservation, and all is good. Nearly all resort personnel are caring, professional, and attentive. The problem are the exceptions. When Worldmark works they work very well. However, when Worldmark fails to deliver they often fail in spectacular ways (long hold times, overbooked resorts, inconsiderate staff and sales reps, non-working Internet, etc.).
It is a shame that many properties and staff disappoint. I really liked the staff in San Francisco but the single pane windows and in-window air conditioner allowed street noise to permeate the room to the point where it was difficult to sleep. I was on the fourth floor and could (literally) hear casual conversions from the street level. In Seaside the facility was fine but some from the staff (several years ago) were unhelpful and inconsiderate. Worldmark needs to remember that one really bad experience makes most people forget about the five good experiences that they have had.
If you are thinking of joining Worldmark do yourself a favor and don’t. Just don’t. Take the money that you would spend for your membership and put it in a good, conservative investment account and let the money grow. Take what you would spend in maintenance fees and put that money in a vacation account. Then, use the interest from your investment account and the maintenance money and just buy vacations. You will not have to deal with the maze of the Worldmark bureaucracy and all of their crazy and expensive booking rules. You will not have to deal with the cleaning fees, exchange fees, booking windows, overbooking, waitlists, poor customer service, bonus time, super bonus time, local taxes, parking fees, laundry fees, internet fees, etc. I have had many wonderful vacations with Worldmark but the bad (especially the costs) experiences outweigh the good. Worldmark is concerned only with sales and they have little regard for owners. The Owner Care group is very good at apologizing but they normally do nothing to solve problems. Worldmark is in the hospitality business but they treat owners with contempt and their main concern is with adding ever increasing fees and making new sales. Again, if you are thinking about joining Worldmark then do yourself a favor and don’t.
By the way, I have shown this blog post, or derivations of it, to several Worldmark staff members and managers. All were surprised to hear of my bad experiences. Not once has Worldmark done anything about these issues. I will leave this post online for the entire world to see so that someone might be spared from dealing with Worldmark. Worldmark could be a beautiful thing if they would get some competent management that respects owners. Frustrated owners will remain as long as greed and short-term profits drive their incompetent management staff.