Recently I spent a few months in Mexico, culminating in a week-long stay at the all-inclusive resort, Sandos Cancun. Part of our package deal was a mandatory time-share presentation for Royal Elite, which filled me with dread. I went in convinced I wouldn’t be sucked in, but left having spent $6000 on lots of timeshare weeks.
Initially I was optimistic. Despite some scam warnings online, there wasn’t much material about the specifics of what we wanted to do, and as long as what we were promised panned out, it was – if not a good deal – at least not a loss. I knew that I only had 5 days to cancel the contract, after which it would be very difficult to stop the payments, but there was no way to test out the system until everything got approved, several weeks later.
We were promised, after the $6000 initial fee, that we could book resorts around the world for $200 a week (depending on our number of weeks, given the amount we’d already paid, this works out to about $500 a week, which can be as much as half the standard rates).
They had a book full of resorts for us to flip through; sure enough there were options throughout Europe and Asia (we made it clear we wouldn’t actually be returning to Mexico, but planned to travel mostly through Europe and Asia over the next several years.)
But later, after finally getting all of our passwords and attempting to book resorts in Italy, Crete and Turkey for an upcoming trip, the rates we got were in the $800/week range (more than what I would pay by just booking online, myself).
Frustrated and disappointed, I shot off the following letter to Royal Elite’s customer service
It looks like our weeks won’t be useful, unless we can use them for the value we were offered. If that’s the case, then the documents we received in writing detailing rates of $200/week are dishonest and misleading, and I am forced to attempt a refund. I am aware this may be a long and slow process, and that I may not receive all of my money back, but am willing to do whatever it takes.
I would prefer to go about this amicably and am more than willing to meet you halfway, so please respond about my options.
That may not have been the best way to start off, but Sandos’ customer service has been polite and accommodating. They are trying to be helpful, but also made it clear that refunds are not an option.
I also found out that RCI, the much bigger and more useful timeshare exchange company, isn’t available to us (I understood that Sandos would pay our Priority Exchange fee, but not the RCI fee – I figured I could pay for that myself, but no, I won’t be able to use it at all.)
All this means I’ve paid $6000 and received nothing of value back: the “deals” on Priority Exchange Network aren’t available anywhere we want to go, and aren’t really a good value anyway.
Worryingly, I’m already passive and accepting. Like when I buy a pair of jeans but can’t be bothered to keep the receipt and am too lazy to return them to the store. I’m thinking, “Oops, I got screwed, but it’s MY fault for making a bad decision.” It’s just $6000. I’ll make the money back and I’ll survive (as if that much money isn’t a small fortune to me, and could easily pay about a year’s rent).
I’m probably too easy-going. I don’t like conflict. But still, in the 21st century, in an information age of unparalleled access, how can scams like this exist? How can someone sit across the table from me and lie, and charge my credit card? The worst of it is, I will continue making the payments even if I get nothing in return because I know that otherwise they’ll damage my credit or harass me and my family.
How can a business like this seriously thrive? Why aren’t there more “SCAM WARNINGS!” all over the internet? Why can’t I call “Fraud!” and cancel my credit cards with impunity?
The main aim of this post is to warn others away from signing with Sandos Royal Elite or Priority Exchange Timeshare. They use proven sales tactics, and somehow everything sounds pretty good, but their claims were never realized. An alternative aim is to use the power of social media and the internet as leverage to either get a refund or force Sandos to honor their end of the agreement.
(Update: I’ve been told by customer service that they are “happy to honor their agreement”; truthfully, what we have in writing isn’t false, only misleading. We are promised the ability to book heavily discounted rates all over the world starting from $200 a week. This is true, but only a small handful of resorts, in Mexico and the US, are actually at this price, and all the rest, if available at all, cost upwards of $700.) Sandos may say “it isn’t their fault how we understood the information that was represented to us.”
Still, in any other business dealing, a blatant discrepancy like this would be given a clean refund; the inability to refund is a giveaway that something is very fishy.
Should you trust strangers when you travel?
On a larger (philosophical) scale, the issues are more complex. This website is in favor of living life as a grand adventure, being innocent and full of confidence, joy and optimism.
In the Tarot deck, the Fool card represents the innocent traveler starting a journey – they trust everyone, they don’t fear traps or warnings, they are positive and happy. They will have lots of exciting adventures, perhaps by putting themselves in challenging situations that could have been avoided with better planning. In order to truly experience foreign culture and travel, sometimes you need to open up to friendly strangers who invite you down dark alleyways… doing so can lead to adventure… but also danger and treachery.
When I was in Tunisia, a decade ago, a teen chatted up my travel partner and invited us both to visit his family’s house. We did – an extremely real cultural experience, by far the most memorable in my life. There were a few awkward moments (the older brother expecting me to gift him my camera) but mostly the family gave us room and board, and some parting gifts, for nothing.
(Thinking back, they also kept us several days more than we wanted, telling us there were no trains leaving that day, etc. Maybe we were lucky to leave at all?)
It is interesting to compare the situation with Melville’s the Confidence Man (1857). Perhaps no work of literature is as precisely in tune with the topic: is it good to trust other people when they tell you something?
“Ah,” he cried, pushing his glass from him, “Ah, wine is good, and confidence is good; but can wine or confidence percolate down through all the stony strata of hard considerations, and drop warmly and ruddily into the cold cave of truth? Truth will not be comforted. Led by dear charity, lured by sweet hope, fond fancy essays this feat; but in vain; mere dreams and ideals, they explode in your hand, leaving naught but the scorching behind!”
The book ends with one of the confidence-men leading an old man through the dark and the line, “Something further may follow from this Masquerade.” It would appear that Melville is arguing against trust and confidence: those speakers who most eloquently defend faith and confidence are doing so with the aim of cheating people out of their money, with all sorts of schemes (herbal remedies, orphan charities, investment proposals).