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For a long time, I had heard of people going to a popular vacation destination for a small amount of money or free with a mandatory timeshare presentation. It is finally my turn! I recently took a travel package: a presentation from Bluegreen, who is milking Choice Privileges members through their partnership. We will discuss the whole event, and hopefully, we can provide some insights on those who have not received the lucky call yet.
During a phone call to ChoicePrivileges, the agent transferred me to a company called Bluegreen Vacations. The friendly agent offered me a travel package for $199, and I would get $125 back for a three-night stay within Bluegreen properties, mainly in the US. Then, when I told him that I had a Choice Platinum account, I got an even better offer: on top of the $100, I got an additional 40 dollars and 30,000 Choice points. The only catch was I needed to attend a 2-hour sales presentation.
Out of curiosity, I took the offer and started to chat with the phone rep about the brand itself. I learned that the company has a long history; it began in North East America and moved to Florida in the 1990s.
I also learned from Wikipedia that the parent holding company of Bluegreen also runs a successful chocolate factory in Florida. The change of ownership happened due to Bluegreen’s previous misconduct in northeast American states in the 1990s, resulting in a class action lawsuit and many settlements.
Bluegreen currently has 60 resorts, mainly in the USA. Bluegreen Vacations uses a points system similar to many hotel chains where the members purchase a membership level, which grants them several points; the members can then use the points to redeem stays under the Bluegreen-owned resorts or their partner properties. I discovered that the redemption program is not as flexible as expected.
By default, the package you buy allows you to stay in every city and destination where Bluegreen has a resort or a partner property. In my case, it was a double tree. As a Hilton diamond elite status member who only wants to stay in WA, Canopy and Conrad, there was no way I would stuff myself in a shoebox, even if it were free. As I confirmed the stay, the Bluegreen website displayed an upselling page where I could book a condo on the resort. For an additional $240 fee, I opted for the 2-bedroom premium condo. By doing so, I could invite my friend’s family to come to Orlando with me and my son.
Two weeks before arrival, I got a call from Bluegreen asking me a series of questions to confirm my eligibility for this promotion package. After the phone agent confirmed everything, I explained to her that my friend’s flight would arrive earlier and asked how the guest of honour would work with the property. She assured me I needed to call the resort, and they could accommodate this request. At that time, everything seems fine.
Two days before arrival, I called the resort and explained the situation. I was then told they would not allow anyone to check in to the room before I arrived because of legal, policy and promotion terms and conditions. The response caught me by surprise. I informed the agent what I was told by the agent two weeks ago. The resort staff said they could not do anything and suggested I talk to the corporate office. Unfortunately, the corporate office agent I spoke to told me she did not know or care what the other agent told me two weeks ago, and my friend would not check in without me being present.
At that moment, I started searching Marriott/ Hilton and IHG properties in the area and was ready to cancel and book elsewhere. The corporate agent suggested that my friend use resort amenities until I arrive, and the resort will take good care of them. I caved in after the agent said I was getting an additional $65 for the gift card.
On the day of arrival
Bluegreen Fountains is a timeshare resort with a welcome centre, which looks like a regular hotel lobby, but its marketing team operates it. Then, the actual check-in facility for rooms is called the clubhouse. You can guess where the taxi driver will take the guest when they arrive at Bluegreen Fountains’ premises. The corporate agent only notified the clubhouse staff about my friend’s situation, but the fancy welcome centre staff had no idea what was happening.
My friend panicked about the situation, and the welcome centre staff roasted my friend as if we were trying to scam the property for their promotion package. My phone was getting calls from both my friend and the property. Soon, we discovered that the clubhouse never synced with the welcome centre, and both sides operated separately.
After I arrived at the property a few hours later, I went to the welcome centre to pick up a package. It was an envelope with ONE piece of paper on where and when I should go to the sales presentation. My friend could not go to the room I booked after the standard check-in time because I needed to get hold of this piece of colour-printed paper. They let a young child sit on a couch and play on his iPad for hours.
I was too tired to complain to the property and called it a night. After arriving in my assigned room, I was a bit disappointed with the quality of the rooms. It felt like a rental apartment from my university days. Everything in this condo felt dated, and you could hear multiple noise sources from all over the building. I could also smell funny things occasionally, and I was not sure if they were sewage or some rotten objects. The secondary bedroom was too small for two beds, which resulted in zero air circulation capability. I had to turn on the ceiling fan almost the entire time. I am unsure why the HAVC was not working for this room, but it could be the wrong place for me to sleep in summer. The integrated vent fan in the over-the-stove microwave did nothing in the kitchen either. I had to open all windows and balcony doors to prevent the smoke detector from triggering when I tried to cook two strips of bacon and one fried egg.
The next day, after a tiring night, I dropped off my friend and his son at the Magic Kingdom. Despite my headache, I returned to the Fountains, awaiting my sales presentation. The presentation center has a more excellent setup than the hotel’s clubhouse, with comfy chairs and all-you-can-drink coffee and soft drinks.
Once I arrived, the receptionist at the presentation centre paired me up with a sales representative who got to know me and escorted me to the presentation room. The entire presentation centre is an L-shaped building consisting of the waiting area of the presentation centre. Then, an outdoor hallway connected the presentation rooms to the office floor. It was an excellent design from a sales point of view. A personal sales rep walked me to the presentation room. The sales rep I had was extremely friendly and provided me with tips about Disney World once he learned that I was going back to the park after the presentation.
The sales rep led me to the presentation room, guided me to a seat of my preference, and excused himself from the room. The presenter of the leading sales event was highly engaging and had memorized the script perfectly. The primary strategy for convincing me to buy their product;
- She emphasized vacationing and how experiences are more important than making money.
- She compared the much-discussed topic of rent vs. own, hinting that rent is worse than owning in a vacation context.
- She conveyed how lousy inflation has been since 1950 and how our hard-earned money will be valued less as everything is more expensive.
- After using the example of a hotel room’s cost, she estimated how much you would spend on a hotel room for the next ten years.
- Then she introduced Bluegreen’s points system and properties from her experiences and why we must buy from them today.
She did give us the impression that I only needed to spend the money once to enjoy the resorts for life and pass my deed on to my children.
After the presentation, the personal sales rep wanted to know more about me, in particular, how much money I spend on hotel rooms every year. If you know me, it would be a tricky question to answer truthfully. I had several indulging hotel expenses this year due to a few special occasions, including a stay at Cheval Blanc Paris. And most of the time, I did not even need to pay cash for my stays. After a rough calculation, I gave him an arbitrary number of $1000 per night. My sales rep did not expect that number and paused for a few seconds to collect his thoughts. Later, when his manager came, the manager thought the average spending was $100 per night. I looked at my sales rep, confused.
After going through a questionnaire, the sales rep brought me to view the property I would get to stay at if I stayed in their resort. This was the first awkward moment of this presentation because most people who came to this sales presentation stayed at the Double Tree. Most people did not want to spend the extra dime to experience what they might buy the next day. After I toured around the 3-bedroom Premium condo, I asked my rep why my 2-bedroom Premium condo was so inferior compared to this. I also expressed my confusion about their thoughts when they assigned the apartment to me and decided to show me something completely different. The three-bedroom condo looked upscale, and the layout was way more practical than the one I got.
We returned to the office floor after the touring, and I learned my sales rep had a basketball scholarship from a college in Florida, and he got an academic dismissal because his dorm was robbed when he went out of town to play games. He then worked as a sales at the Nike store for quite a few years until he started working at Bluegreen as a sales rep. I expressed my anger towards his old college for dismissing him under such circumstances and discussed how he could have used Dropbox to avoid this tragedy if he had known me back then. We bonded pretty well, besides talking business through this process. Then, his manager came to introduce herself and started the final pitch to persuade me to purchase one of the packages. Although I told them repeatedly that I needed to run some scenarios before making a decision, they kept enhancing their offer. Eventually, I got out of the situation after my friend called me for an emergency as the kids were tired and wanted to leave the park. Even then, the manager tried to convince me to sign and kept enhancing the offer. A few calls later, I was finally returning to the Magic Kingdom. My sales rep was apologetic towards the end, and I agreed with the manager that we could discuss the offer further the next day. Unfortunately, the manager never called me, which was not a disappointment.
During the presentation, I also noticed that Bluegreen’s points system was somewhat dynamic, where the high season was much more expensive than the regular season. This critical aspect did not receive much attention during the presentation. The presenter used colour on a slide to indicate the price differences in peak or non-peak seasons. Then, the remedy for this shortcoming was that you could pay a minimal amount of cash to stay at this property. I found this conflicting with their own words because you are again starting to rent, and the minimal money you spend is based on the initial payment you made to become a member of Bluegreen. Furthermore, based on the purchase proposal I had a chance to snag the photo from, you also need to pay about $1000 in fees each year, which is another $10k you need to add to the cost of your ownership. Lastly, if you need to finance your purchase to become a member, you will get a loan with an interest rate of 16.99%, which you will pay double on membership after the 10-year term.
I did mention many times what happened to me throughout my experience at Bluegreen Resort; besides minimal sympathies and worthless verbal apologies, there was Zero effort in service recovery. From my experience and observations, the guest experience was the last thing they cared about at the Bluegreen. The only thing I got from this chaos was a $65 gift card the corporate staff provided me when I called two days before I came to Florida.
One more thing
After returning to my room, I researched and noticed that in November 2023, Bluegreen had already sold their subsidiary Bluegreen Vacations to Hilton Grand Vacation for 1.5 billion dollars. I also found a Q&A for the current owner, and from the wording of this two-page document, I saw many things are somewhat vague on the current points-based system. The aggressive sales force I encountered at Bluegreen is unethical because no one ever mentioned the merger. After discovering these facts, I had a few celebratory drinks, as I was pretty proud of myself for making the right decision and keeping calm in a rather stressful situation.
If you are willing to attend a presentation for a discounted rate but don’t want to sign up for the membership, it is best to tell your rep that you do not have time to travel because of your work or family situation. You should be able to get out of the presentation quickly. Everything they asked during this event is based on years of marketing experience they have accumulated through decades of successful deal closing. They have studied psychological human behaviour, which means they will get you to crack if you don’t research tactics before attending.
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Title Image Credit: Bluegreen Vacations (Fountains Wakoola Springs, Orlando)