InsideFlyer:Do you look more at the hotel cost or the airline cost?
Jeff: More at the hotel cost, because we have enough frequent flyer miles, we book our air travel 11 months out, so we are always planning way in advance. The hotel side has been more of an out-of-pocket expense. When we went this year, we went from staying with a baby in one room to needing two rooms — you just double your hotel expenses. So we came to the decision that we needed to do something to keep our lodging expenses in line. We checked out a number of different providers: Disney, Marriott and Vistana (Starwood). We had some friends who were very impressed with the Vistana property in Orlando, Florida. And seeing that we have a 10 year old, a seven year old and a five year old, Orlando was a great location.
IF: You looked at more than Hawaii?
Jeff: Yes, because Starwood had a sign-up promotion for 75,000 starpoints at the end of last year. We ended up getting more than that for signing up. We got 150,000 Starwood points for buying the Vistana property.
IF: How did that work?
Jeff: They had a special at the end of last year. They ended up doubling it. I think our timing was very good. They were trying to close out this property so we ended up getting the extra Starwood bonus. We were able to take our trip to Hawaii with two rooms at the Orchid and still carry over our year from this year. Vistana was great about it too. That was really the driver behind it. Looking at the Hawaii trip, knowing we go to Orlando every other year; wanting a two-bedroom place to stay; knowing the number of people that had been to the Vistana property that had high regards for it and just the general terms of the ownership plan were really good.
IF: You said you looked at others?
Jeff: Yes, Disney in particular. The problem with Disney, all we could afford for the same price was a one bedroom. The Vistana property is almost 1,300 square feet. It has two double beds in one room and a king in the other room, which takes care of all our needs. The actual physical property was pretty generous as far as terms of the ownership. The plan is really fair and the annual maintenance fee is fair as well.
IF:Did you care about which week it was?
Jeff: It didn’t matter which it was because, when talking to the other families, everyone was very flexible and fair about how you actually used your week. With that property you can book your week 24 months out. So we booked next years’ vacation for March in January of this year. We knew if you plan in advance, which we have to do because of our kids, that there was a lot of flexibility. And the other thing is that they are part of Resorts Condominium International (RCI) and you can bank your points in RCI and use them at several other locations as well. That was a really big consideration.
IF: Do you use it every other year and the year that you don’t go you trade it in?
Jeff: Trading it in for Starwood points is a really good option, you can trade them in, I believe, at 75,000 starpoints. We can trade our week for points or we can add that to another Vistana Property. They have a property in Beaver Creek. And then they have a couple of golf properties down in Florida, so I can use them there also. Put it in RCI and bank it for a year or two and use it at another RCI property. So there’s a lot of flexibility. The thing about buying in Orlando is that if you look through the RCI book, Orlando is quite sought after. So you don’t have a problem within the RCI bank trading that week out for RCI proprieties in other locations.
IF: How big a factor was the starpoints?
Jeff: The starpoints were a big deal. Not just the signing bonus but the ability to use them at other places. The nice thing about Starwood is that it has 600 properties. For us if you want to go on vacation, 75,000 points gets you a week at the Orchid in Hawaii and that’s a very generous allotment of points. We wanted to have the flexibility to use them for starpoints. When I look at our decision, it was in the top two considerations.
IF: What are some of the other considerations?
Jeff: Price would be one and then location. That is on the top. You won’t want to buy a down-graded property that you really won’t go to just because of the flexibility. The actual properties are very nice and the location is very good. It’s close to downtown and Disney. It has bus service to the park and stuff.
IF: Years ago, timeshare owners were viewed much differently than today, what caught your attention?
Jeff: I think just the fact that reputable companies have gotten into it. Companies with brands you can trust have gotten into it. Marriott, Disney, they have different plans but they are all reputable companies. My comfort was that I knew these brands, and they would be around long term. And also to use your points with them. It was very professionally handled.