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ON THE SPOT / CATHARINE HAMM

Explaining time shares' star system

Unlike strict ratings found in the hotel world, time share properties largely rate themselves, leading to a skewed system. For a more accurate view, check out consumer resources online.

November 22, 2009|By ON THE SPOT | Catharine Hamm

Question: My husband and I own four time shares that we use frequently but have never had this problem until recently. We stayed at an RCI property that was billed as a five-star resort. We had to change the bed linens and bath towels ourselves by taking them to the laundry room to exchange, and we had to empty our trash by lugging it to the dumpster on the other side of the property. Our bed was a Murphy bed. There was no restaurant on site; the closest was five miles. No spa. No shampoo, no lotion, no shower cap. Oh, and they left a tip envelope, yet they offered no services. We are not spoiled brats. We like to tent camp and know how to rough it. It's just that when I think I'm going to a five-star location, I expect amenities. So how do U.S. time shares earn their star ratings?

Catherine Martin

Newhall

Answer: Think of a time share like your résumé. You put all your good qualities on it, all of your shining moments, but you don't mention that you sometimes yell at the dog when you're in a bad mood or you think "The Three Stooges" are the epitome of hilarity. In other words, you don't tell everything upfront, but you still present yourself as a five-star human being. It's only when your potential employer meets you that he or she realizes the truth: You may have rated yourself five stars, but that "Stooges" thing should take you down a couple of ratings points.

Time shares are like that self-promotional human being: There is no consistent rating system for time shares -- no AAA or Forbes (formerly Mobil) travel guide offering diamonds or stars -- so the star rating is self-awarded.

Or, said another way: "Each resort receiving the RCI Gold Crown Resort designation has met quality and service requirements based on RCI member feedback and evaluation by RCI of the resort's facilities, amenities and services," an RCI rep said in an e-mail response to our inquiry.

We're not picking on time shares here. Hotels abroad often are self-rated, and you're starting to see a proliferation of six-, seven- and eight-star hotels. I have no idea what those ratings mean.

That's partly because in the U.S., AAA and Forbes have stringent standards for evaluating properties. They practically spell them out, down to the kind of grout in the bathroom. AAA's website, for example, has a rating category just for evening housekeeping. (In five-star hotel, "Attendant re-points tissues.")

The inspectors at AAA and Forbes travel anonymously. "We spend two nights and three days [at a property] on our dime," said Shane O'Flaherty, president and chief executive of Forbes Travel Guide, based in Chicago. "We have a specific set of service standards that focus on the guest experience, broken down by departments." An inspector will seek answers to several hundred questions about the property during a stay.

Absent a more objective system, your best bet is to rely on other consumers in such forums as TripAdvisor (yes, it has a time-share section). Remember that sites are not always objective -- the ratings aren't always by consumers but by friends or enemies who have a hidden agenda -- but if you toss out the extreme opinions, you may get a close-to-accurate view of your choice.

And if it's not, you can always yell at the dog. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.

Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com. We regret that we cannot respond to all letters.

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