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Rose Harris-Birtill

Pushy timeshare reps often use bribes to lure unsuspecting holidaymakers into parting with their life savings. But unfortunately for them, they’d picked up a MoneySaver…

On a recent trip to California, I was asked to see a quick presentation in return for a totally free, no-strings-attached $100 gift card. My MoneySaving antenna popped up – the notorious timeshare freebie. I’d heard reports from those who’ve attended property sales pitches just for these bribes, so decided to give it a go.

Little did I know I was in for a three-and-a-half-hour sales ordeal that would use my own cash to hold me to ransom. They even claimed timeshares prevent cancer.

As I told them quite frankly at the outset, I had absolutely no intention of buying anything and was purely in it for the freebie. They were magnanimous – “That’s fine! There’s absolutely no pressure.” Considering the Rambo-esque sales tactics that followed, I’ve since decided they don’t consider anything short of a punch in the face as ‘pressure’.

Before I was allowed to attend, they checked I had all the ingredients for a mammoth impulse buy: earning above a threshold, partner in tow, and carrying an approved payment method. We were cheerfully packed into a minibus with a dozen other couples and told to enjoy our ‘free treat’ (final check: “Did you all say you have Mastercard? Good.”)

The minibus pulled up at a new hotel building, where we were herded upstairs to a windowless, low-ceiling conference room crammed with sales staff. Here are the tricks used in the sales pitches that followed, and more importantly, the survival strategies we used to grab the freebie and run.

The tactics they used:

  • The show ain’t over till they say so. On arrival, we had to put down a refundable cash deposit of about $50 and sign a form saying we would forfeit this, and the promised gift card, if we left before the timeshare pitch was finished (which had no specified end time – eek). There was no mention of this when we signed up, so we had no choice but to pay up or leave.

    Incidentally, I say ‘about $50′, as bizarrely, neither myself or my partner can remember exactly how much it was. I can only assume it’s because a) it was sprung on us with absolutely no warning or b) the ensuing sales onslaught triggered a mild form of retrograde amnesia.

  • Wear ‘em down. The sales pitch started late in the morning and lasted several hours into the afternoon. We were greeted with tea and coffee at the start, but there were no further refreshments, nowhere to get lunch – and if you didn’t want to forfeit your freebie and deposit, no way to leave without their approval.

  • Divide and conquer. There were two parts to the pitch, starting with a presentation. Each couple was instantly assigned their own sales rep, who followed them throughout (more on this delightful practice later), and insisted on sitting with them during the presentation. Maximum sales patter, minimum privacy.

  • Share the love. Having stated only couples could attend the day, we were all made to publicly declare our love – one couple at a time, moving around the room – followed by a kiss. I’m not joking. Each was accompanied by loud, satisfied ‘aaaaahs’ from the sales staff, and immediately used for the “if you love them, you’ll buy them a timeshare” tactic.

  • Free chocolate. All at MSE Towers know this is my Achilles heel, and I must admit being pressured into spending tens of thousands on a holiday apartment is far more appealing when you add free chocs (incidentally, it was a Hershey’s kiss, woven into the presentation as reinforcement of the “love = timeshare” message).

  • Buy a holiday home and you won’t get cancer. Stay with me a moment here. Yes, that’s what they said in the presentation. The equation was: your own holiday home = more holidays = less stress = stress causes cancer (?) Therefore timeshare = no cancer. I’m not being figurative, they literally spent several minutes arguing this bizarre equation.

I have since decided that, compared to what followed, the presentation was the ‘carrot’. What came next can only be described as a large number of sticks used to metaphorically beat us into parting with all our savings.

  • Tell a sad story. The second part of the pitch was a face-to-face ‘chat’ with our allocated sales rep. I braced myself for the hard sell, but our saleslady started by casually flipping through a photo album. And pointing out all the people in it who were now dead. There were a lot.

    The entire episode was incredibly odd – I presume they were her friends, but I can’t say for certain. They could have been people who had refused to buy timeshares. Either way, I can only assume this was meant as a reminder to seize the day, but it made us feel pretty uncomfortable.

  • Call in the ‘bad cop’. The face-to-face hard sell started. When I disagreed with the (frankly ludicrous) ‘savings’ they’d argued we’d make – which amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars – our sales rep called over what can only be described as the head sales-bully.

    With all the charm and tact of a Rottweiler with a machete, he snapped at me for not “understanding the value”. I was then barked the ‘savings’ again at twice the volume. He shouted at me for so long, I literally had to stare passively at my lap until he went away. Our persistent, human saleslady seemed a godsend by comparison.

  • No solo bathroom breaks. After two hours of constant sales pressure, I excused myself to pop to the loo. My other half said he needed to go too. The timeshare saleslady insisted on ‘coming along’, and immediately wedged herself between us until my partner departed for the gents.

    When we got into the ladies’ bathroom, she stuck her head round a cubicle, flushed immediately, and walked straight back outside to wait for my other half, ensuring there was no conferring.

  • The non-sequitur is king. If you aren’t going to buy property for a number of sensible reasons, why not ignore logic altogether? We had some real gems thrown at us by the sales staff. Me: “No thank you, I’m really not interested.” Saleslady: “Why don’t you think you deserve nice things?”

The defence we used:

  • Stick it out. As we’d had to put our own cash down as a refundable deposit, we decided in true MoneySaving style, we weren’t leaving without it, and braced ourselves for the worst.

  • Signal for backup. This simple tag-team strategy worked surprisingly well. If the pressure directed at you gets too much, just stop talking and look down. Partner will step in to take rest of verbal beating.

  • Don’t just say ‘no’. Open ended answers are more difficult to respond to, so don’t meet with pre-prepared sales pitches. We quickly found that every time we said ‘no’, it added fuel to the fire. They simply said: “Why not?” Any response was then turned into a problem they had just the solution for (timeshare anyone?)

  • Be vague. This was an almost nirvana-like, semi-vegetative state that we arrived at after several hours of repeating: “We’re really not interested.” It’s incredibly difficult to become drawn into an argument if you just lapse into non-specific noises of vague non-committal to any question.

    Saleslady: “So you can see this is a wonderful opportunity, shall we sign you up?” Me: “Aah. Hmmm.” Saleslady: “Yes, but this is incredible value, you know you really should sign up, right now.” Me: “Oh? Hmmm.” Saleslady: “Sign up!!” Me: “Oh.”

  • Be chirpy. The saleslady found this incredibly annoying. The length of the sales pitch is designed to wear you down, so staying unnaturally upbeat was a surprisingly effective way to combat this.

  • Ask about them. An integral part of the above tactic. Saleslady: “You know, you really need to travel more, which our properties can make possible for you. Seeing pictures of Paris is nothing compared to seeing it for yourself.” Me: “It’s beautiful isn’t it? What was your favourite part?” Saleslady: “Oh. Um, I liked the… I’ve never been.”

  • Be polite. I was careful not to be rude, or to match their aggressiveness at any time. It was evident by their guerrilla tactics that staff were under massive pressure themselves to make a sale. Eventually, we were allowed to collect our deposit and gift card, thanked our (now surly) sales rep and literally ran out of the building. As I left the room, I heard a fellow detainee, near tears, shouting: “You said no pressure! This is ridiculous.”

It took three-and-a-half hours, but we emerged victorious with the promised incentive. Would I do it again? Yes, but only for an outstanding freebie. Would I recommend it to others? Only if you’re very thick-skinned, aren’t afraid of Rottweilers, bring emergency food, drink, and glucose tablets, and have absolutely no intention of buying anything while you’re there (not even a packet of crisps).

Of course, all timeshare sales pitches are different, so hopefully some will be easier to get through than this. Scarily, that also means some may be harder. If you’ve been through the timeshare hard-sell, what were your strategies to get through it, and what techniques did they use? Share your tips to help others in the MSE forum.

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