Ask RedWeek / February, 2017

Why is my resort charging to change the name on my reservation?

I am a Vistana timeshare owner (formerly Starwood) who occasionally uses RedWeek to rent my timeshare. I just received an email from Vistana announcing a new fee they are going to charge owners who transfer the names on their reservations to third parties. This seems arbitrary and unfair. Is this fee reasonable? Do other companies charge similar fees?

RedWeek.com has a vested interest in these questions, since many of our subscribers rent their timeshares to recover some or all of their maintenance fees. So we contacted Vistana's corporate officials as well as rank-and-file timeshare employees who handle owner reservations. To be fair, we also contacted other brand-name timeshare companies to find out what they charge owners, and why, for the simple task of changing the name on a reservation. You may be surprised, if not startled, to learn what we discovered.

Vistana Stands to Make Millions from Owner-Rental Fee

On Jan. 25th, Vistana Signature Experiences, the newly branded owner of the Westin and Sheraton timeshare chains, sent owners a "Happy New Year" email that said, "effective Jan. 26, a $59 fee will be applied any time an owner transfers their Vacation Ownership Interest reservation to a third-party guest. This is a result of the volume of requests we receive for these transactions and the resources required to provide this service."

Simple enough, on its face. Vistana tacks a new fee on owners to cover some program cost. Depending on an owner's level of ownership, the fees range from $39 (5-star) to $49 (4-star) and $59 (3-star). Small change, in the big scheme of things to owners whose maintenance fees (in Hawaii) approach $3,000 per year. But to Vistana, from a corporate standpoint, these fees figure to generate a multi-million windfall as thousands of owners swap-out their names for those of friends, relatives, or renters.

The "third-party guest" fee was announced by Suzanne Clark, Vistana's vice president of owner services. RedWeek asked Vistana for an interview with Clark, but they declined. We wanted to know straightforward things, such as: how much does it cost Vistana to process reservation name changes? What's the volume? How much money does Vistana expect to make from this program in 2017? Rebuffed at the corporate level, RedWeek contacted Vistana's owner services hotline to query the reps about the new fee. Here is what they told us.

Currently, owners must call owner services to make a name change, but Vistana is about to launch an online process so owners can make the changes, and pay the fee, without contacting anyone at Vistana. This suggests that Vistana's real cost of processing name changes is zero.

At Vistana and other timeshare companies, the volume of rental-inspired reservation name changes is skyrocketing. A couple years ago, the typical owner services rep at Vistana would handle one or two requests to change reservation names per week. Now they average 5-6 per day. The owner services office houses 30-40 reps at any given time, seven days a week. When you start adding and multiplying all these numbers by $39 to $59 per name change, you end up with some whopping figures. For example: Using the lowest possible fee as a baseline, with 30 phone-reps handling six name changes per day, the $39 fee would generate $7,020 per day. Multiply that by 365 days in a year, and Vistana receives $2.5 million from the innocuous reservation name-change fee. The real number may be much larger, as well, since many owners will pay a $49 or $59 fee.

When asked why Vistana was imposing the fees, an owner services rep responded, without prodding, "because others are doing it."

We gave Vistana's corporate representatives several opportunities to confirm or dispute these calculations, but they declined. We know the company keeps exact track of reservation name-changes, however, because Vistana's owner services folks said they re-code every reservation name change (the re-coding no doubt helps Vistana's sales operation target new non-owners for sales presentations during their vacations).

RedWeek submitted the same questions to other major timeshare companies, but they generally chose NOT to answer them as well. But they were forthcoming about their fees, or lack of fees, and conceded that their name-change business (if it can be considered a business) is booming.

Disney, Marriott Do Not Charge Fees for Name Changes

Here is a roundup of how the other companies handle name changes to non-owners and renters.

  • Disney Vacation Club places no restrictions on rentals and charges NO fees for reservation name-changes. Owners can call the club to book reservations for their guests, or make the changes online. "It's your property, so you can do what you wish with it," said one very upbeat DVC rep.
  • Marriott Vacation Club doesn't charge owners for name changes, either. Their process is similar to Disney's. Their volume, anecdotally, is 10 name-change requests per day, per owner rep.
  • Hyatt Residence Club requires owners to request-and-buy a Guest Certificate for renters. The cost is $30 online, $36 if done by phone.
  • Diamond Resorts has a tiered program that includes some "free" name changes plus a $35 fee after the free guest reservations are used up. Basic members get one free name change. Silver, Gold and Platinum members get more freebies, but then must pay the $35 fee for additional guest reservations.
  • Wyndham's program is similar to Diamond's but more expensive. The company said it provides owners with "many" complimentary guest reservations that vary depending on the level of ownership. Once the freebies are exhausted, owners must pay $99 for an online name-change or $129 if booked over the phone.

Here is one final piece of information that owners may want to check out when renting their units. Many timeshare contracts contain boiler-plate language that say, in effect, timeshares are for an owner's personal use, only. Some explicitly prohibit renting timeshares for commercial gain. Though, we think it would be difficult to argue that any timeshare owner, renting their week or not, would see a "commercial gain" on their investment.

On Feb. 10, Vistana contacted owners again to announce an alteration to the brand-new name-change fee. Here is what the company said:

"You will NOT be charged the fee to transfer your reservation to a third-party guest during the Home Resort Reservation Period (12-8 months prior to arrival). The fee ONLY applies to a third-party guest reservation booked within the VSN Network float period... starting at eight months prior to arrival." Vistana also said, "once the fee has been applied to a specific reservation, any further name changes to that reservation will NOT incur an additional fee. Third-party guests include friends and family members NOT listed on the ownership deed or contracts."

Clear? If not, owners are advised to call Vistana at 888-786-3548.

What do you think of these new fees Vistana is charging, and other apparent attempts by developers to restrict a timeshare owner's ability to rent? Leave your comment below.

About the author

This answer was provided by RedWeek's Chief Correspondent, Jeff Weir. Jeff is a California-based journalist who has covered California, Congress, and the White House. He also has roots in Silicon Valley, where he directed public relations and marketing programs for high-tech companies. He is also a timeshare owner and member of RedWeek.com.

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    18 Comments

  • Avatar for barbaram942
    barbaram942
    Feb 14, 2017 (3 months ago)

    Do you have to change the name? In the past, I have simply "added" a name, meaning that either myself or the name provided can check into the unit.

  • Avatar for alfredn1
    alfredn1
    Feb 14, 2017 (3 months ago) • Last edit by on Feb 14, 2017 10:46 AM.

    There were third party name change fees in the past, but they were not enforced.Now, of course, they ALL want to "milk this cow dry".I usually bring along family, to occupy one of our 4 available units, at Spring break.In order to avoid being assessed that penalty fee,I will keep my name on those units.That will also keep the sales wolves away from our unnamed guests.If management wants our family's names, they need to pay for that privilege,NOT the other way around!

  • Avatar for khooper
    khooper
    Feb 14, 2017 (3 months ago)

    Vistana moved up their maintenance fee due date from Jan. 1 to Sept. 1, now adding a fee for name changes. This indicates Vistana has significant cash flow problems, making owners nervous and upset.

  • Avatar for bradfordl11
    bradfordl11
    Feb 14, 2017 (3 months ago)

    Yes they all do. And it's Vistana because they have nothing to do with Westin or Starwood anymore. 2 completely different companies. Vistana is owned by ILG.

  • Avatar for bradfordl11
    bradfordl11
    Feb 14, 2017 (3 months ago)

    I agree. Most charge fees and have some free times. But only owning from the company direct to you have access to their unlimited Free reservations. Most VIP types of ownership have unlimited free rentAls.

    Resale does not apply. This is buying from the developer. Resale is only real estate. A unit and fixed week. You have to ask the club if they will allow the week to float. Their is no such thing as a floating week on the resale market. Everyone seems to think it exists. It doesn't. All they legally have to allow the owner access to is the unit and week. Most clubs allow it to float but as an owner for 20 years I am seeing more and more developed enforce me using my week and unit. The industry is changing and I looked at Wyndhams report and they bought 33 Million in resale in the 1Q. Does anyone know why the developers are buying all the good resale?

  • Avatar for david978
    david978
    Feb 14, 2017 (3 months ago)

    Amber Vacation Club, which is very small, charges a fee for this, also. I don't agree with it. Timeshare belongs to owners, and whomever we allow to use should be up to us, not a profit to them!!

  • Avatar for michaelj752
    michaelj752
    Feb 14, 2017 (3 months ago)

    I just finished talking to Vistana customer service about my week 16 & 17 ownerships at the Westin St. John and my one week 2 bedroom/two bathroom time share at Vistana Villages, and felt that I had just been raped by my one time user friendly Westin Resort. St John is one of the most beautiful islands I have ever visited, but I got the same run around on fees that you did. The new management is very greedy. M. J. Huntley mhuntly1@verizon.net

  • Avatar for jacquelines184
    jacquelines184
    Feb 14, 2017 (3 months ago) • Last edit by on Feb 14, 2017 01:12 PM.

    Ridiculous. I have often 'gifted' my timeshare to family members or a good friend. I do not 'rent' it out. They may have a different last name (like my son), so do I still have to pay the fee? I am a legacy owner but they still won't buy my unit back as I have often requested. I'm one of those aging owners who can't often use the timeshare anymore. Very sad, greedy business!

  • Avatar for ej27
    ej27
    Feb 14, 2017 (3 months ago)

    It just adds to the negative perception of timeshares and why I refuse to do business with many of them. Owner managed is the ONLY way to go!!

  • Avatar for rikiej
    rikiej
    Feb 14, 2017 (3 months ago)

    We own 6 weeks at Vistana. We frequently vacation with various sets of adult kids and grandchildren; many have different names. That's why we bought at the Westin St John. If some our family arrives sooner than we do, Vistana now REQUIRES us to pay a $79 fee or they won't be allowed to check in to our shared unit early.. We usually arrive past 10:00 pm, so this is an abusive and unfair burden on our family, especially those with small kids. Is Vistana trying to trigger revolt among its best customers? Destroy its business? If so, it's working.

  • Avatar for fredw173
    fredw173
    Feb 15, 2017 (3 months ago)

    They continually try to milk you dry, this is another example. IMHO the TS industry is dead--anyone buying one now, even a "points" program, will be losing money over the long term as opposed to just renting condos where and whenever they want. I'm a Vistana owner and always use the week there and never rent or trade it. But this year my annual fee is $815. For the particular week that I own, I can rent the same accommodation--a 2 BR 2 BA unit--for $600 through either RedWeek or other means (even Expedia lists Vistana). So I am losing $215 this year by owning the unit vs. renting the same one. Rather than Vacation Ownership, this product should be called Vacation Extortion.

  • Avatar for jamesr356
    jamesr356
    Feb 15, 2017 (3 months ago)

    I am a 5- star owner and this is corporate greed at the highest level. We were all promised the world and all these so called Elite benefits when we were shelling out the money though. And now the maintenance fees have gotten ridiculous to say the least. We do truly need a voice and an Owners representative or something to defend us from any more of this. This is so wrong and I am fed up with the Vistana corporation.

  • Avatar for shirley503
    shirley503
    Feb 16, 2017 (3 months ago)

    I think it's awful to have another expense. Also with Vistiana if you bank your point into the next year, there is a fee. I own in Marriott, and Diamond as well as 3 other time shares and there is no fee. They also don't allow you to take it back out as Diamond does. Unsure about Marriott as I've never tried it.

    Shirley from PA

  • Avatar for davidea2
    davidea2
    Feb 20, 2017 (3 months ago)

    Jeff Weir - The "commercial gain" section of the VSE CCRs is not the one that applies here. It is in the VSN disclosures. Renting non-Home Resort StarOptions is prohibited (for VSN at 8 months or less) - this is clear, and included on reservation confirmation.

    As to the fee - my argument to VSN was that this fee should reduce the VSN fees ($140+$30) as this service was previously included in the VSN fees. Of course, that fell on deaf ears.

    It was after an email campaign by the people on the TUG-Vistana forum (google), VSN reversed some of their position, HomeResort name changes now have no fee (a small victory). Take Action - Don't Adapt.

  • Avatar for row4
    row4
    Feb 21, 2017 (3 months ago)

    Personally I think it is criminal. Starwoods, now Vistana, promised the world when we purchased our timeshare at the Atlantis and almost NONE of those promises were accurate. Shame on them. To be honest when asked if I would recommend someone to buy a timeshare property I never hesitate to say "I would never do it again". Although I love my home resort, the exchange possibilities promised by Starwoods were lies and for that reason alone I would not recommend them.

  • Avatar for condov
    condov
    Mar 10, 2017 (2 months ago)

    How can we as owners change this policy?? Why are these timeshare companies allowed to make random changes and we just have to accept it/no recourse??

  • Avatar for richardw794
    richardw794
    Mar 27, 2017 (1 month ago)

    My wife & I have owned at Vistana Resort in the Courts Section since the late 1980's. We own Thanksgiving week (most years) and went often when the kids were little and sometimes traded through RCI. A few years ago, after Sheraton put their name on things, the Owner's Association decided to completely rehab all the Courts units. It worked out we couldn't use our week for 2 years so we traded it to go somewhere else. Despite all the money paid in to the maintenance fee over the years they still had to assess each owner thousands to do all the work required to bring the place up to current standards. It came out nice and we were told we could now add our units to the Starwood group (for a fee). I did not do that at the time and later asked if I could get into the network. They said "no". The only way to get in is if i bought another unit from them. A few years after that I asked the resort sales staff during my "Owner Update" meeting if they could sell my unit. They said they don't do that so now the unit I own is not in what is now called the Vistana network and can't be added. A real rip-off. We used to have to pay our maintenance fee before we showed up. They changed that and began billing us at the start of the calendar year so they get the money in their account longer. Now they want to charge a fee if i let my adult son use the place on his own? It has all changed since Sheraton showed up. And I don't want to be welcomed to Sheraton's Vistana Resort. Sheraton had nothing to do with it except the rising costs.

  • Avatar for jamess698
    jamess698
    May 06, 2017 (3 weeks ago)

    Anything to raise the bottom line. Pure greed. BTW Marriott is still charging with their accomplice Interval.