I’m sure much has been written about Puerto Vallarta as a destination, as it’s an easily accessible area for many Americans in particular. It’s got an airport, and the cruise ships all stop there, as well, which makes this place a hot spot for Mexican tourism.

Naturally, time-share resorts abound, and they all desperately want visitors, in hopes of converting as many of them as possible into buyers. The competition is fierce, and the stakes high, which has created a marketing machine of fairly epic proportions.

I’m not sure how it’s done at the marina, but I can tell you that, at the airport, there’s almost no avoiding being solicited. As you exit the airport, there’s only one way out into the public space, and that’s through a hallway packed with sales / marketing representatives from the major resorts.

Our first time through this gauntlet, we gave in fairly easily, having been offered a free ride to our hotel (saving us a good $10–15 USD), and a few other perks that we thought sounded pretty good, given that all they were asking in return was for us to take a “90-minute tour.”

Had we known, though, what a qualified lead was really worth (just to get us into the door at a resort), we’d surely have held out for more. So, this article will discuss what you may be “worth” (in terms of how they value many tourists), and also describes one diabolical way that one could, in theory, totally game the system for profit.

The way they normally recruit leads is by offering things of value in exchange for agreeing to take the tour. For us, that was a $10 taxi ride, a bottle of some flavored tequila that I guess we tasted, a walking tour (which we later learned we could have gotten for free, anyway), and a discount on a mini cruise out on the bay, which we probably would not have done otherwise, but which sounded like fun and seemed cheap after the discount. They also offered a ride to and from the resort for the tour, and breakfast at the resort, all on them.

The actual cash value of all that? Well, it’s tough to quantify. They took a hard $10–15 hit on the taxi ride, and maybe another $10 on the tequila. The walking tour definitely had no value and, although the cruise was discounted for us, I suspect it cost them next to nothing, as we still wound up buying two tickets at the discounted price. (That cruise was fun, by the way, but the actual value of food and beverages consumed was still far less than our ticket cost. So, I’m sure the cruise company was happy to have two more people on their boat, even at half price. The boat was pretty crowded, and I did the math.)

So, bottom line: Maybe $30 in hard costs is all it took to get us in the door. We felt pretty pathetic later about this.

The trouble is, if you look around on the internet, you can find reports of up to 10x higher than that, and quite often in large chunks of cash. We learned this pretty soon, and chatted with other timeshare hawkers as we walked around. No one offered us $300 to attend another, but many offered $100, and some a bit more, as I recall. That’s $100 cash, up front, and also a ride to/from, and also a breakfast. (Some of this may relate to how hot the market is at any given time, and/or how aggressive various resorts are currently marketing when you visit.)

But, as a bare minimum, you should never take a timeshare tour unless someone offers you at least the equivalent of $100 USD. Getting paid up front, perhaps that day, is also probably not a bad thing to ask about, as I’ve read of a few bad experiences. (Search timeshares for your destination on TripAdvisor forums; you’ll find individual tales / experiences.) Some of the $100 offers we had involved up-front payment (e.g., when they drop you off).

About the Sales System

As you may know, timeshare sales are notoriously high-pressure. It all starts off nice enough with the brekfast and tour, but at some point they have to get down to business. The whole system is a giant, well-oiled sales machine, and you’re entering that sales cycle from the moment you engage with the person offering the tour. The system is huge, too. Players include:

  • The initial hook person. This is the guy at the airport or at the malecon (the large boardwalk-style sidewalk that runs along the ocean shore). He’ll offer you a free shot of tequila and chat you up for a long time. This is the person who will offer you deals, be it cash, gifts, discounts, experiences, etc. (BTW, I say “he” because I didn’t meet any women doing this particular role.)
  • The reception staff. These are the people who will verify various aspects of your candidacy as a legitimate lead. You will have to show them a valid credit card, and they’ll want to know where you’re staying. They do not like long-term guests, and they do not particularly want to hear about your Airbnb (more about this detail later). They prefer guests staying in town one or two weeks, and staying at a hotel. 
  • The tour guide. This person will walk you around and show you the property and the units. 
  • The sales team. This will be anywhere from one to perhaps five different people, usually ordered from the lowest to highest seniority. Each one has just one job — to get you to buy. Ideally, you’d buy the biggest / best offering, perhaps a $75,000 unit that you get a few weeks per year in, plus time elsewhere and a host of other perks. But, as you say “no,” others will offer you the same or lesser offerings. It can get fairly high-pressure and uncomfortable as this progresses. I think the final guy tried to convince us to purchase some weird membership-type amenity that cost a few thousand dollars, which seemed reasonable after saying no to so many other huge items. Yet, we held our ground and didn’t buy anything.
  • The payoff people. Finally, someone will staff a rewards office where they make good on the various items promised to you. You can tell by glancing around that the initial sales person must’ve had a million options to promise you, as there are tons of gifts lying about.

There may well be others involved in less visible ways, of course. But you’ll meet those listed above, and then you’ll ride back to your hotel, possibly quite considerably more in debt than a few hours ago. (They often tout a 90-minute tour, but ours took around three hours.)

Gaming the System

Later, as I said, we learned of the higher value that prospects have versus what we received. We got to talking to a guy on the malecon and he told us of a not-so-uncommon thing that some tourists do. (We didn’t do this, and I’m not suggesting that you do it, but it’s still rather interesting, and I believe is actually a valid possibility, regardless of the ethics involved.)

Basically, it goes like this:

  • You find yourself a guy like we found, with ties to multiple resorts. You tell him upfront that you’re NOT going to buy anything, but that you indeed are a credit card holder and have a job (and thus are a valid prospect).
  • He sets you up with four or five tours during a week.
  • Each day, you travel to a different place, and he will get you $100 USD (or the equivalent in pesos) for your trouble. (He gets about 1,000 pesos for his part, he said.) You should ask about when you get paid — up front each day, or after each tour. Answers to this may vary, so use your judgement.
  • In a week, you can pocket $400–500 USD, without buying anything.

You would have to know a few things up front:

  • First, you will almost certainly not be a buyer here. So, you’ll have to know up-front that you’re going to say no, and you’re going to stick to that. That’s a lot of no answers, and some will take it better than others, so you’re probably assured to frustrate a lot of people. Their conversion rates are actually pretty good, so it takes a lot of resolve to say no sometimes. But, at the end of the day, you don’t owe anyone a purchase — certainly not a whole timeshare for their $100! 
  • The Airbnb problem: They do not like to receive people from Airbnbs because, I suspect, those aren’t good fits. Airbnb people can get *quite* comfortable for $20-$50/night in many locales like this, and the math doesn’t work when comparing resorts to that quality and price range. The math favors comparisons to hotels, which aren’t as nice as Airbnbs. 
  • The Airbnb soution: The guy we spoke with had this covered. He would bribe a local hotel concierge, who would set you up with a key and a room number. Then, if/when the resort calls to verify you’re a guest, they’ll indeed get that verification. (Yes, this sounds sketch to me, too, but that’s what was offered to us!) 
  • This also fixes another problem, which is that the resorts favor people in town for just one or two weeks — not the month or two that we usually stay. So, the aforementioned bribed concierge will also tell them your short stay duration.

In the end, one has to ask onesself: Is it worth several hours per day, for a whole week, and all that hassle for $400 or $500 USD? Well… it might be, for some! That’s why I’m writing this. I also kind of hate sales cycle scenarios like this, and part of me would feel somewhat winning if I ever pulled this off. But, again, I probably wouldn’t feel like investing the time into it.

Photo by Hugues de BUYER-MIMEURE on Unsplash.  (Note: This is just a random "resort" photo -- not from a Puerto Vallarta resort.)