Back in 2000 i purchased a timeshare from Sunterra for about $6,500. It is located in Scottsdale, Arizona and is called the Scottsdale Villa Mirage. Honestly I did not want it at all. I was married at the time and my wife thought that it would make our marriage better if we took vacations every year. She felt that paying for the thing would force us to use it. A few years later we divorced and she didn’t want it. I’ve been stuck paying the maintenance and replacement fees ever since. Most years i have used it but to date i have never stayed at or even seen the Villa Mirage – i always use the property as an exchange.
One trip was to Cancun. I made the arrangements through Sunterra for an exchange with Interval International because the website would not allow me to do so directly. The agent processed my request and all was great until we went to check into the hotel. They demanded over one thousand dollars to pay for the “all inclusive” resort. We told them we were not interested in it and they pulled out our contract and in 10pt font on the back it stated the resort was all inclusive and there would be additional fees. I figured that it would be easier to battle Sunterra when we returned to the US. They monkeyed around with my request for a refund for months before i decided that i was done waiting and called the credit card company. It was 93 days after the purchase. The credit card company said their policy was to only combat charges in the previous 90 days. Not one mention of the all inclusive charges was shown on the website, nor was it mentioned in the phone call with Sunterra. Between the maintenance fees, Club Sunterra dues, the Interval International exchange fee and the all-inclusive fee the week of lodging cost me over $1,500. That comes in well over $200 per night.
In a letter dated in early October 12th 2006, Sunterra informed me that they had discovered an accounting error during an audit and that I had not been charged for my membership fees for the previous year. I went through my bank statements and found record of a payment being charged to my checking account. On the 2nd of November I had faxed the document to Sunterra financial (after a bit of work because the fax number in the documents they sent earlier that month had a fax number listed that did not work). In mid-December i received an email from Breece Torres (firstname.lastname@example.org):
Please call our office as soon as possible in regards to your Sunterra Resort. Thanks 1-800-279-7764
I called and left a few messages. I then sent Breece an email demanding my account be cleared and my SunOptions (points used to trade time at resorts) be rolled over to next year because when i tried to use my points the Sunterra website was telling me:
You cannot make a reservation due to the following reasons:
Past due maintenance fees: $169.98
This notice was sent to you back in October and wasn’t taken care of… You may call into our call center at 1-800-205-7555 and they will be able to collect your dues. I do see that a supervisor had gotten proof of payment for 2005 dues what I suggest you to do is to call him… Dan Hill 1-877-clubsun ext 48508.
Of course there is no way to call an extension on that line. So I replied to to Breece again.
I called you and left my phone numbers on your answering machine. I took care of this immediately (back in October I faxed the proof of payment). Please contact Dan and have him clear my account and have him carry my sunoptions over to 2007. I live in Alaska – between my work schedule and your supervisor’s schedules I have been unable to talk to someone able to clear this issue. Or forward this message to him and have him contact me at [my cell number].
Someone will be contacting you?
Which i assumed was a statement and not a question. Someone did eventually call and left a message on my home number (never trying either of the other numbers given). On January 3rd i called them back and the woman i spoke to (Anita?) became belligerant and i asked for her supervisor. I finally spoke with someone that explained that the “overdue” maintenance fees were actually from the previous year. On January 3rd, 2007 I was being informed that a payment made in January of 2005 had never cleared. I was told that this happened to “thousands” of Sunterra customers. Some sort of error had happened on Sunterra’s end to give credit to all of these people yet never deduct their accounts. That night I paid the balance due.
On January 4th i called the Club Sunterra line to try and get credit for the points from 2006 that i was unable to use due to an accounting error of Sunterra’s from two years ago. I talked to someone named “Mash” with a strong Indian accent. He put me on hold for 13 minutes after i explained the situation to review my account. When he got back on he told me “That is not possible.” They are entirely unable to roll points from the previous year. I told him i was certain that he was telling me exactly what he was trained to say and that i needed to speak to his supervisor. I was put on hold for another eight minutes. For some reason their system has just one song repeating. It might be one of the cruelest customer service stunts i have endured. Someone named “Jason Jackson” (who also had a strong Indian accent) got on the line and i explained the entire situation to him. He put me on hold for five minutes. He also told me that it would not be possible. I told him that i knew the resorts rolled points over from one year to the next – but if that was not possible that they could at the very least give me a certificate for a free week stay withing the Interval system. That was one of the perks that was thrown at us when we purchased the timeshare. He explained that only the marketing and sales department had that in their toolbox. I did my best to explain the situation in plain English. I was penalized by Sunterra by being blocked access to my account because of an accounting error on Sunterra’s part from two years ago. I asked him what he would do if he were in the same situation. He put me on hold for six minutes and came back on and told me that he would email an “internal department” and that he would email me their reply by the 5th of January at the latest.
January 11th rolls around. “Jason” has had a week to follow up and get a response from the “internal department”. I call the phone number again 1(877)258-2786. This time “Josua DeSilva” answered so i asked to be transferred to “Justin Jackson”. He put me on hold for a few minutes and when he came back he told me that he could not transfer me to a specific person. I explained that i had gone through so much of this that it was most time effective to have me speak with someone knowledgeable about my concerns and my account. He said it was impossible because they had over 1,000 employees. It took ten minutes of being on hold and asking to speak to his supervisor until i was passed on to “James Malone” who, strangely enough, had a strong Indian accent. I asked him where he physically was at the moment. He said India. I said that’s what I thought and that i just found it odd that everyone there had such Americanized names. “James” put me on hold of course and when he came back online he told me that my case was under review. I had to ask a lot of questions to clarify but i was eventually assured that in the next 8-10 days that the review would be completed. I asked how i would be informed and he told me to just log into the website and instead of showing 2,500 points for 2007 that it would say 5,000 points. That’s quite a turn around from “that is not possible.”
Somehow I doubt there will be a change in my points. But i am exhausting all options before i go to the Better Business Bureau.
As I suspected, there has been no change in my Sunterra SunOptions points. I did a google search and found a number in the US for investor relations and found a very helpful employee. I apologized for treating her like a phone book and she assured me that it was alright. She even wished me “good luck” with my problems. She gave me the phone number for Jeff who is the head for the Executive Resolutions Department at (702) 804-9501. I called the number a few times but only got an answering machine. I didn’t leave a message – i want to talk to someone.
I called a few more times and just kept getting the answering machine. I left a very friendly message with what was requested – my name and phone number. Less than three hours later I received a phone call from Linda – unfortunately i was in a meeting so was only able to get her first name before having to ask if i could call back. Two hours later i called the number that was displayed on my cell phone and unfortunately it wasn’t her direct line – it went to the general Sunterra automated system. I pressed a few buttons and got in touch with a real person in the United States but with only Linda’s first name she was unable to connect me. I called Jeff’s number again and left another message with my name and number and an apology for not getting Linda’s direct line. A half hour later she returned my call and gave me her direct number (702) 804-8691. She asked how i got Jeff’s number. I explained the situation to the best of my understanding (this write up has proven to be incredibly helpful) and she seemed defensive but eventually understood what i wanted. All i wanted was to be able to use the points this year from last year that i was prevented from using due to an error on Sunterra’s part. She said she would get back in touch with me by the next day. I thanked her profusely and wished her to have a great day. Less than an hour later she called and assured me that i would have 2500 additional points posted to my account tomorrow. I thanked her again and now just have to wait a day and see if it really happens.
The Sunterra site does show that I have 5000 points available at the top of the screen…
I can only suggest making sure you talk to someone in the United States if you have a problem like I had. Document as much as you possibly can and be calm and courteous.