Resort Residence Clubs: Where exclusivity comes at a high price

Is it a timeshare? Is it fractional ownership? Who knows? The only thing Christopher Middleton is really sure of is that membership to this super-rich holiday club costs an absolute bomb
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The Independent Online

Sadness at the recent demise of my distant Uncle Bertie has been tempered by news that his multimillion-pound legacy (he invented the self-deodorising sock) is coming my way.

What to do with all that money, though? New house? Expensive holiday? Or combine the two, I thought - a decision reached after reading several up-market financial magazines, aimed at high-fliers such as myself and extolling the virtues of "resort residence clubs".

How these things work is that you pay a whacking great joining fee (£190,000) plus annual "dues" of £8,000-£16,000 per year - and in return, you get up to 60 days' free accommodation per year in 300 super-luxurious holiday homes.

They're not flats in Margate, either. These properties are £1.25m-plus, and are located in places such as Hawaii, St Tropez and the Bahamas. "Nothing says vacation like 'beach'," coos the gooey Californian narrator on the promotional DVD. "The very word has sand between its toes."

As well as a sales pitch that's almost as long as The Lord Of The Rings, prospective club members get a brochure that is a gigantic quasi-photo album. Every picture looks like it's some Hollywood film star's beach home or mountain retreat.

"So, this is just a jumped-up timeshare, isn't it?" I ask the man from Exclusive Resorts, in my best Sir Alan Sugar voice (it's so much easier being rude when you've got money).

"Most definitely not, Chris," replies Brian W Egan, the club's Denver-based European MD, a man with skin so young it doesn't even show jet lag. "Timeshare is where you buy one or two fixed weeks per year in a particular property."

"OK, then," I shrug knowingly. "So it's just fractional ownership, is it?" In the course of my background reading, I have discovered the increasingly fashionable buzz-phrase "fractional ownership" - which refers to a number of individuals or businesses buying into something they couldn't afford on their own.

"Yes but fractional ownership usually revolves around a single property," comes the well-practised reply. "Here you've got 300 properties - and growing. Plus, should you leave our club, you get an 80 per cent refund of your original membership fee."

While not exactly too good to be true, this means that if I stay in the club for five years, my family and I will be paying just £120,000 (five annual dues plus 20 per cent of the joining fee) for 300 days' holiday.

What about flights and travel arrangements?

"We find that clients prefer to handle that for themselves," says Brian. "Quite often they do so much air travel in their jobs that they've got Privilege Points or Frequent Flyer facilities that enable them to get an even keener deal than we can manage."

And even though I only take the odd EasyJet trip to East Midlands Airport, that doesn't mean I'll be the poor relative. A glance at the Exclusive Resorts literature shows that most club members are aged 40-55 with a net worth of £2 million - and I have it on good authority that Uncle Bertie was a hosiery billionaire. So there. Time for another hard-nosed question.

"Can you guarantee I'll get the property I want when I want?"

"We have a more flexible style," replies Brian, managing not to make this sound like the "No" it really is. At which point, he plunges me into a whirlpool tub of possibilities, revolving around how many days' holiday I want per year (15, 30, 45 or 60), how far ahead I want to book (from 45 days to two years) and whether I want Platinum, Gold, Silver, Family or Affiliate membership.

Given that I have trouble booking five return rail tickets when we visit my mother-in-law in Eastbourne, I can see my new self disappearing under a sea of flights, dates and worldwide availabilities, in a desperate, stressed-out attempt to organise the perfect, stress-free holiday.

You can imagine my relief when I receive a solicitor's letter a few days later, informing me that my windfall is cancelled, because someone in mid-Iowa has shown that the self-deodorising sock was actually his invention, not Uncle Bertie's.

At a stroke, the door to the Exclusive Resorts club slams in my face, and the chance of having 45 perfect holidays in five years vanishes. My bid for fractional ownership has failed - but I'm hardly in pieces.