Sunterra and Club Sunterra

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 (btorres@sunterra.com):

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

She replied:

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].

She replied

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.

[Edit: 1/22/2007]

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.

[Edit: 1/23/2007]

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.

[Edit: 1/24/2007]

The Sunterra site does show that I have 5000 points available at the top of the screen…
Sunterra SunOptions
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.

17 thoughts on “Sunterra and Club Sunterra”

  1. I am a brand new Sunterra owner- I signed up in St Maarten over Christmas 2006.
    So far I have not encountered any problems, (I just got it) but this blog was VERY helpful and I did copy down the numbers for future reference as I used to own a different timeshare and had identical problems like this. (Royal Holiday) Anyways, thank you and any other advice you have, I would love to hear it. By the way, the Sunterra Royal Palm Resort in St Maarten was GREAT, I didn’t expect it to be so nice, their pictures on their website don’t even do it justice. It’s all remodeled, and we felt like kings staying there.

  2. Hi Zieak-
    Well not long after reading your info on Sunterra- I did run into a problem with them. They promised us a $100 refund for the $100 free towards a car rental that we never recieved, and also they never followed thru with the one week free in their penthouse at St Maarten we were supposed to get for 2008. I told them I refused to pay the maint fee until they honored what they said they were going to honor and (i had even called the numbers you gave me) They were all very rude, and they turned around and sent me to collections, I told them I would pay for it!! I just wanted them to make their corrections and honor what they promised first! I already had a bad experience once with another timeshare company and told them I would not go thru that again, the lady said that “Jim” would be getting in touch with me to resolve it, but he has never called (She said if it is not resolved by the end of April they would report me to collections again this time saying 60 days late, Now that guy has not even got back to me and here it is April 30th- I am pissed! She kept asking me, did you get it in writing, did you, did you??!! She was rude-called Linda’s line but another lady called me back-that was her.

  3. My wife and I recently attended a bizarre “presentation” in Tahoe that was scam-like insofar as the presentation format. We are slightly beyond middle aged, and were vectored to the “grandmother” who conveniently had pictures of her grandchildren on the cover of her sales binder. She presumed that we have grandchildren and spent several minutes insincerely bonding with us. She didn’t miss a beat when I told her we don’t have grandchildren and went on for another few minutes as to how wonderful and life-changing working for Sunterra is: my first clue that this is either a cult or a scam or both. The pitch is not unlike the one you get from Jehovah’s Witnesses, Amway, or car dealers with every sentence prefaced by “Wouldn’t you agree that….?” I suspect the pictures on the front of the binder change depending on the demographics of the potential victim. I’m convinced that if she knew our son is in the military, a uniformed son or daughter picture would have been on the binder.

    We then got the lecture on how astute we would be, or conversely foolish not to, purchase a time-share from this wonderfully benevolent company that purchased the Tahoe property for a mere 1 million two years ago and now sits on an investment worth “more than 80 million” (not including the building!). After all, this illustrates that the best time to buy real estate is “yesterday” so Sunterra is selling to us “today” if only we promised to be open minded. A sleep inducing primer on Sunterra’s many options followed.

    We had to be assertive to actually view one of the rooms. The room is identical to what you would find in an extended stay hotel, institutionalized furnishings and faux paintings, and turned out to be remarkably unimpressive. Particularly so when you do the math: 1/51 of a share @ $35,000 equates to the room being worth a hypothetical $1,785,000.00. But of course “Tahoe is the most expensive real estate in the world” (this would probably surprise the good folks in places like Monaco, Tokyo, Manhattan, and the Hamptons). You can buy a lot of time in 5 star hotels for almost 2 million dollars or even 1/51 of 2 million.

    The fun starts when you tell them you aren’t interested or worse would like to see a contract in writing (the only kind of legal contract in real estate), for an attorney to review. You learn that “they don’t do contracts”, “they can’t afford sales brochures”, “you don’t need a lawyer because we have lawyers”, and “if you don’t buy today, we won’t talk to you tomorrow”. As we got up to leave, we were told that we couldn’t (leave). The crocodile tears started. “If you don’t buy from me they will fire me”, our sales person told us. Classic used car salesman-like manipulation with sobbing thrown in. I asked her how the wonderful company she described at the beginning of the meeting could do this to her. She told us that it is policy.

    Against my better judgment, having heard this hundreds of times from auto/boat/motorcycle salesholes, I agreed to get pitched by the closer. An apparently drug- crazed looking greaseball spent the next 15 minutes insulting us and dropped the price from $35,000 to $17,000 (I later learned from others that I got the lowest price of the day). He agreed not to fire the “grandmother”. Finally, we had to talk to his supervisor who pitched us again and asked us to sign a statement attesting that we were not “beaten up” by the staff. This being a relative and subjective term I signed it and we left, walking past several dazed looking near-victims who appeared about ready to succumb. My wife suggested that in signing the statement we probably condemned these predators for not doing their jobs, as the expectation is that they will abuse, cajole, threaten, insult, and manipulate: this is the entire justification for their employment, and therefore all would be terminated.

    Legality aside, if you buy one of these hotel rooms, if you actually get to use it, if you get to use another room somewhere else, all you are really getting is an expensive overpriced hotel room that for 50 weeks of the year other people are using. People doing all of the things you don’t like to think about when you sit on furniture or go to sleep in a hotel room. This is not an investment but the biggest scam this side of Amway. It would be interesting to research what elected officials the company pay soft and hard money to in order to keep their executives out of court. I know that Amway’s CEO is a generous contributor to the Republican party coffers.

  4. Thank you for the many hours of info collection you did on Sunterra. My wife and I bought Sunterra time several years ago in Hilton Head, SC. The first year was great, subsequent years were coma inducing headaches.

    We’re finally paying it off this month, but, it’s not what we expected it to be. We were a lot younger and of course had loads of cash (yeah right!) to blow. We bought into the hype and crap and here we sit having not used our points in quite sometime. It’s an EXTREMELY long story, but, I’m glad I won’t have to call them any more after this check is mailed out. We’ll still have to deal with the maintenance fees (pain in the buttocks), but, not the Sunterra bill. Now, what sucker can I sell this too???

    Thanks again and please never delete this blog, I’m sure it will help many.

  5. Thanks for the postings on this blog. My wife and I purchased 4 separate weeks at a Sunterra property called the Ridge at Sedona, AZ. We purchased through the extensive used market with a broker. Each week in a two bedroom unit (which they allow you to split into one week in a one bedroom and one week in a studio) cost about $5,000 plus closing fees. You can probably find the same for a bit less now. The resort is very nice, kept up well and is in a great spot.

    Because we are an “owner” with an actual deed we are required to talk to a human being at the resort where our deed is to make a reservation. Since we really just want to spend time at this resort there is no need for us to look elsewhere. The reservation people are very good, helpful and know their stuff. I have never had a problem.

    I have also been able to rent weeks we don’t use by listing them on ebay then calling reservations to make sure the week the customer wants is available. This has helped by our maintenance fees.

    I am thinking of converting one or more of our deeds to the point system so we can have an easy time going to different places from time to time. Seems like this may not be a great idea based on what I am reading.

  6. My daughter was offered a timeshare at The Ridge in Sedona (Studio unit) by a relative. Though this is free, will she be eaten up by maintenance fees? How easy is it to transfer and is using points for another resort fairly easy? These blogs are scaring me!

  7. Account no. 12655
    Because of death and sickness in the family I let my 2008 Assessment slip by. Please let me know the ammount and what the assessment was on.
    Thank you, W.B. Wood

  8. I believe they’ve misspelled it, more correct would be Sunterror! My husband and I agreed to by a trial package last summer after sitting through a cohearsing 3 1/2 hour presentation. We were incouraged to wait until 60 days within the time we wanted to use this to set up reservations. This really didn’t make much sense to us at the time, but they assured us this is what Sunterra preferred to get us better accomodations. RIGHT!!!
    Well, yesterday(waiting to within the 60 days as they suggested)I called Sunterra to try to set up reservations. I explained to the representative we would need to go some place within a 1 day driving distance of home because we can not afford to fly. I gave her 2 resorts I had in mind. Surprise! They are both booked for the entire summer. She gave us an option of a resort 13 hours away! We wanted to use our points while our grand children are out of school. At this time I am waiting to hear back from the representative(Diane, who seems very helpful)about a possible new resort closer to our home. We have already been through several hassles with Sunterra(which became Diamond resorts within a month after our purchase).I will not bore you with all those details. I pray that this can be resolved easily, but after all we have been through, we don’t hold out much hope. CAUTION! To all of you thinking about going to a time share presentation, unless you can say NO and mean it—DON’T GO! It will save you much heartache and cash! This is a SCAM. Instead put your money in savings and book your own vacation. By the way, I happen to know I can go to either of the destinations that we wanted any time this summer without the help(ha!ha!) of Sunterra.

  9. We used to belong to the VIP owners of Embassy Suites Resort in Hawaii, then they became RCI and then Sunterra and now Diamond Resort. We really liked our time share in Hawaii for the first 5 years, but now it has become a big hassle, not to mention highway robbery with their fees. The service has really gone to the dumps. We are getting out. Just sold our time share for the same price we bought it 10 years ago. Now I discourage anyone from time share.

  10. Sorry to hear so many people are having trouble with their timeshares. My wife and I have been in timesharing for about 20 years and love it. We used to have a fixed week at Powhatan Plantation. We resisted the point system for a number of years, but finally changed to points when it was Sunterra club. It is now Diamond Resorts. We play around on the internet to see what our points will get and often get nights for about half price (half the points). We can usually get about 20 nights a year for what would have been a one week vacation, so it works out to about $40.00 dollars a night for very comfortable 2 and 3 bedroom units. We have given our children and 2 other families vacations this year, as it doesn’t cost anything to change the guest info, compared to RCI, which has an expensive $59.00 guest certificate fee. This is not to say everything has been perfect. There has been problems with our account that someone in the USA had to take care of. The people in India seem incapable of handling errors on an account. Overall, though, our experience has been very positive. I hope these comments may help someone considering switching to points. We are much happier with the point system than the fixed week. We find it much more flexible, esp. when you can’t get away for a whole week.

  11. I was able to “surrender” my property back to Diamond. Call them up and say you want to surrender it and you’ll juzst need to pay and $85 processing fee.

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