“RCI – the largest timeshare vacation exchange network in the world”
The following is a brief synopsis of our experience with the RCI timeshare company. It is my own view, and has only been influenced with my own experience with them.
Resort Condominiums International, or RCI as they are popularly known, are a holiday exchange service which we became involved with as part of the time share scheme we signed up for with the Bahia Principe Privilege Club.
I do not believe there is any organisational link between the two companies but I may be wrong; rather I think that BPPC just offer membership to RCI as another way of promoting their own offer.
How does it work? Well, there are various ways no doubt of getting into the scheme but for us, we purchased 10 x one week vacations with the BPPC, in their Gran Bahia Principe hotel group. They had, at the time, eight hotels, and should you wish to spread your wings further you are able to transfer your week out of BPPC and deposit it with RCI.
Then, you are able to select one week holidays from their 7,997 resorts (or is it 4,500? It changes on their website), and either purchase it with your exchanged week, or you can pay cash at their allegedly value rates. Most of the resorts are self catering, so you have the flights, transfers and food to pay on top of what you have already deposited.
With thousands of vacation spots to choose from, the RCI proposition seemed a good idea.
We were finally lured into the BBPC offering by the additional promise of free cruises with RCI – the salesman even used his ipad to show us a free cruise going from Florida. Unfortunately after we had signed the dotted line and arrived home, a quick review of the RCI cruise site didn’t show any free cruises, and the discounts that a week’s exchange gave you from the cabin prices were minimal – we could get the same cruises cheaper from the local travel agent.
A quick call to RCI’s call centre was called for : In fairness to the RCI agent I spoke to, he did say that there would never be a free cruise with them. We had been properly duped. But that’s another story.
Another unsavoury moment with BPPC was the moment we realised that all of the flight costings that had been shown to us (from UK to Jamaica) used to convince us the offering was a great deal had been – well, utter fabrication – the flights were two to three times more than suggested. We didn’t have the ability to check independently, you are just pressured to sign. Unfortunately they take all such scribblings off the table before you sign up, and the contract even says that only what’s in the contract is binding, what ever you have been told before was not valid. I don’t know why I committed without taking a day to think about it and go over the fine detail, and I vow I will never be so foolish again.
The old moral rings true – if it’s too good to be true…
So we found that actually, having signed up to the BPPC, there was no point in taking the holidays we had purchased as, by the time we had paid for flights and the all inclusive supplement we were paying a lot more than brochure price for the same room. Yes, you get some great perks from the club, but boy was I paying for them.
So as we could not afford to use our first week with BPPC, we deposited it into the RCI scheme. And found that rather than staying as a week, it is converted to a “trading power”. In our case, 14. Now I’ve never quite understood how it works but apparently the trading power changes the closer you get to its expiry date, or the cost of the accommodation (which are priced in trading power points) increase over time. As I say, I’m probably wrong as I don’t understand it. To me, a week is a week. It shouldn’t degrade over time. But I was advised to book as early as possible to get the best deal. We didn’t use the week that year as you get quite a long expiry time, and when the expiry on our second BPPC week approached, we transferred this to the RCI scheme too. With two weeks points, we could either go upmarket (the better hotels had higher points prices) or book two x one week holidays back to back. And yet, when my second week was deposited, it only made 9 points. Apparently that’s how it works, it depends what time of the season is exchanged between the two companies. Which seems a bit of a con to me. I have no say at what the “exchange rate” must be, and from my perspective my weeks all have the same value – A tenth of the total amount I paid for the ten weeks. So how can I week be 30% less value than the previous week that I deposited? I never got a satisfactory answer from either company.
So we now had 23 points to play with. And we forgot about them. Until they were a couple of months away from expiry. We decided we had better book something before we lost them. And that’s when 7,997 resorts turned into about 3.
We were looking for somewhere warm in Jan / Feb with not too much of a flight time, e.g. Canary Islands. In fact, when we plugged in our available dates and points, we were given two resorts in the mountains in Finland, and one in a remote part of Hungary if I recall.
Not exactly what we had expected. So, thinking we could book something in the UK later in the year, we checked here and found zero availability.
Cut your losses while you are ahead
It became very apparent that while there may be thousands of resorts available, the majority of them are easily placed for US residents, and the resorts in Europe are much less in number and have very little availability. No one warned us of this when we joined. So we decided to cut our loses and let the two weeks expire. It was a considerable amount lost, but we had little option.
We were then contacted by a RCI agent to remind us our weeks were expiring and I explained all of the above and our dissatisfaction with the whole service. After a long conversation I was convinced to pay yet another amount (small by comparison with the amount we were losing) to extend the weeks for two more years.
I am wishing now we had stuck by our guns and let them slide.
When I extended the weeks I was told that the RCI agents were there to help, and all I needed to do was email them and they guaranteed they would find us something that met our needs.
However when I tried this, I was told it was better to call.
So, tonight I have had another look for something for 2017 or 2018 in the UK. We fancied a place in the UK where the family could come too without the cost of flights.
Nothing available for our holiday dates, and only three places (two in Scotland and one in Wales) between now and February. Brrrrrrr.
So we looked at 2018 – and again UK availability was zero. Nothing was coming up except for Jan / Feb. We also found that RCI did not have a presence in many of the other places around the world that we fancied trying – but who goes to Aussi for the week anyway?
I’ve got to say the RCI website is APPALLINGLY slow, and it is easy to get very frustrated with it. And I did. After screwing the laptop screen back on to the body, I decided to do as requested and call them directly.
Alexandra at RCI’s call centre was very helpful when I told her my plight. “Yes, we do have problems with the UK, very little availability.” No offer of help to find something. I explained that we didn’t have any set dates set yet – how can you set your dates without knowing availability? We had decided that we must find the right accommodation and then hope we can get the dates sanctioned at work. It was suggested that I register for an ongoing search where I put in the desired destination and month I’m looking for, and if something unexpectedly becomes free I get an email. Very comforting knowing you have your holiday plans written in stone.
She suggested that I set up the search online myself as, if she set it up, I have to pay an exchange fee in advance. Not quite the service I’m paying my money for. I have a similar service where I put in the same lottery numbers every week and if by chance something comes up, they let me know. I hadn’t realised I had paid for a holiday lottery.
These memberships aren’t cheap. You have to remember that not only do you pay for the weeks up front, you have to pay an RCI annual membership fee (for which you get nothing) and you also have to pay a fee to exchange the week with RCI (an admin fee of sorts), and if you want to combine two weeks into one (to inflate your trading power) you pay an additional charge for them to add 14 to 9 (its 23 – £79 please) and then you pay extra to extend points close to expiry, and so it goes on, and I dread to think what this one week holiday now is valued at – Vastly beyond what it would cost to book with Thomas Cook.
This review is totally from my own experience with RCI and no doubt there are countless people out there for whom it works. But it doesn’t work for me and I loath the day we were conned into it. In fairness to BPPC, we have found a way of making it cost effective to use their remaining weeks, but not through any action on their part – mostly because we managed to get cheap flights through our BA Amex / Avios reward scheme. And with the US dollar plummeting the future of holidays with BPPC is again suspect.
But IN NO WAY can I, or would I ever recommend anyone parts with any money into the RCI scheme. The advertised availability has proven incredibly suspect unless you are in a position to book a couple of years into the future, their assistance in finding something that meets our needs (which are hardly extensive) has been non-existent and does not live up to their promised service level, and you have to have amazing flexibility in dates to be able to take up many of the resorts. It’s rather all a bit ‘pot luck’ and I didn’t subscribe to that.
Add to this some seriously appalling resort reviews and experiences on their web site, and I’m really glad my experience with them is nearly over.
I’ve updated this (7/4/17) as originally I had posted that the only redeeming feature of this episode is that I had given the weeks away to my daughters to use. But unfortunately they have not been able to get holiday dates which coincide when apartments were free, so again we found the whole process a total nonsense.
No doubt RCI will be calling shortly to remind me that I can extend my dates even further. At this point I will be seconds away from wasting about £800 worth of holiday, so they can rest assured I will be getting value for money giving them a (£800) piece of my mind!
Final Update : July 2017
Rather terse conversation with RCI by email regarding their annual automatic membership renewal. I’ve cancelled as promised and foregone the holiday we had deposited with them. When working out the costings for my daughter’s holiday (see above) by the time we had added the exchange fee and the 2017 membership renewal to the flights, the holiday was still going to cost more than if booking the same palce through a travel agency. RCI tried yet again to talk me round, even offering me TWO years membership for the price of one – I counter offered that they give me a one year refund for not fulfilling their promise of assistance, and cancel anyway. Apparently that was beyond their powers.
An expensive mistake that I will feel bitter about for many years to come.
My final words on the subject – You have been warned. Caveat Emptor!