If you’re looking for more information on RCI, you’ve come to the right place. As a happy timeshare owner of 16 years, this article is the real talk on what RCI is, how it works, and how to make the most of it to score epic vacations across the globe. This article will candidly answer the most commonly asked questions that I’ve seen asked over the years in my timeshare owners’ groups.
Is wrapping your brain around it complicated? Yes! Is it worth it? Absolutely, 100% yes! I believe that an RCI membership is one of the key ingredients to making the most out of your timeshare ownership.
Do You Feel Like You’re Doing RCI Wrong?
Have you already searched for an RCI exchange vacation and are slightly panicking because you don’t see what you are looking for vs. what you saw in the RCI Resort Directory? For example, say you want to go to Yellowstone in August for a family vacation. You go to the RCI homepage and type in Yellowstone, and you can’t even check for a month because it says no inventory.
You feel your blood starting to boil, think you’ve made a wrong decision and threw money down the toilet. Breathe, and then keep on reading! I’ll share what I’ve learned about the RCI over the years and how the savvy timeshare owners are “hacking” their timeshare ownership with RCI.
Wait, This is a Timeshare Thing?
Yes! To have an RCI Membership, you must own a timeshare. If you’ve found yourself in this article and don’t own a timeshare, start with my article What Is a Timeshare? A Happy Owner Explains All You Want to Know.
1. What is RCI Exactly?
RCI (Resorts Condominiums International) is the largest timeshare exchange company in the world. It is owned by Wyndham Destinations, part of the Travel & Leisure conglomerate of vacation brands and companies. (Yes, the magazine brand!)
Their full name is a nod to the fact that timeshares bring the best of condos and resorts together in a type of vacation accommodation that I personally feel can’t be beaten. It’s like an Airbnb apartment rental inside a resort. Many happy timeshare owners out there think that we are traveling the world in upscale condo resorts for Motel 6 prices.
If you’re brand new to the concept of timeshare exchange companies, they essentially facilitate resort trades for timeshare owners but at a large scale. RCI, for example, makes these trades happen for their 3 million+ members. This middleman, if you will, allows me to take a week at my Catskills NY timeshare and swap it for a week’s vacation at 4,200 resorts in their network across the United States and 110 countries.
Pretty cool, right?
2. Who Can Get An RCI Membership?
So many people ask if you can get an RCI membership without owning a timeshare. And the answer is no. As part of the sign-up process, you’ll be asked to provide the name of the resort you own a timeshare with or the vacation club you’re a member of. Before your account is set up, your home resort will confirm your ownership.
Also, not all timeshare ownerships qualify for an RCI membership. There is a bit of church and state in the timeshare industry, and a basic understanding of it is critical if you have certain exchanges in mind.
So if you’re hoping to use RCI to trade into the beloved Marriot Maui Ocean Club, that’s not possible. You see, Marriott International owns the second largest timeshare exchange company in the world Interval International. So Marriott Timeshares will never be found in RCI, as those owners aren’t eligible for an RCI membership.
While some timeshare resorts have dual affiliations, many timeshare resorts only let you deposit your timeshare into one or the other. Our Vail Resorts timeshare is only affiliated with RCI, for example. Unfortunately, that means I don’t have a timeshare exchange company choice and must use RCI.
Am I slightly bothered that I’ll never exchange into Marriott’s or Westin’s? Somedays, I am. But then I look at my very long bucket list of RCI-affiliated resorts and remember all the fantastic vacations I can have at Divi Aruba, Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki, Massanutten Resort, and an almost endless list of amazing Orlando Resorts.
3. What Membership Types Are there?
When talking to your home resort about your timeshare exchange company affiliation, ask them if you’d be an RCI Weeks Member or an RCI Points member. While these two RCI Memberships are similar, some differences exist, and some owners are only eligible for one type of membership. For example, we are RCI Weeks members and didn’t have a choice in the matter.
4. How are RCI Points and RCI Weeks Programs Different?
RCI was a straight-up week or week exchange back in the day. Meaning I would give up a week and get a week at another resort. But people who had a week at premium resorts or during peak travel didn’t feel that it was a fair system. Conversely, people who had a “cheaper to own” week were able to score weeks at upscale resorts. They were able to “trade up,” so to say. If this type of system interests you, Interval International still operates this way.
RCI’s exchange approach changed when they assigned number values to everyone’s weeks based on how in-demand your resort week is, how big your unit is, and how far in advance you deposit your week into the system. So, for example, it makes sense that a summer week at Cape Cod would be worth more trading currency than, say, a December week at Cape Cod due to travel demand.
These “points” are the currency within the RCI system that you can use to secure reservations at resorts. And what that currency looks very different based on if you’re in the RCI Weeks or RCI Points program.
RCI Weeks Trading Currency
When you deposit a week into the RCI Weeks program, your get Trading Power Units, which you’ll see people call TPUs. It will be a number under 60.
- For example, our 2 bedroom ski-in/ski-out condo receives 23 TPUs when I deposit it at least 9 months out from the check-in date.
- Some smaller units or non-peak travel time weeks will get fewer TPUs.
- If you want to stay in a super premium resort, you’ll need to combine weeks, like we did when we stayed at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort in Orlando over Spring Break (for 45 TPUs).
- However, RCI has “sales” where they decrease the amount of TPUs needed, and you can score weeks in Orlando at resorts with thousands of rooms (Like Vacation Village Parkway 1 Bedroom for 3 TPUs.)
- So it’s entirely possible to take your one week deposited into the RCI system and turn it into 2,3,4,5, or more weeks of vacation! Check out my article 4 Ways to Hack Your Timeshare to learn more.
RCI Points Trading Currency
The same concepts apply, but if you’re an RCI points member, the trading currency you will receive is called points, and the number is much more significant, like 12,000 or 45,000 points or more. You can easily see how this is confusing as the numbers are so different from each other, but alas, this is the way it is.
Two Other Differences Between The Weeks and Points Programs
- Resort Choices – There are “reports” in the owner’s groups that a small handful of resorts only seem to be available for points owners to trade into. As weeks owners, I don’t feel deprived and haven’t been bummed out by the resorts available to me in my RCI Membership.
- Length of Stay – While there is a handful of 3, 4, or 5-night stays in the RCI Weeks program, there are significantly more short stays available for exchange in the RCI Points program. If you are the type of traveler who mostly makes long weekend trips, then this is the RCI membership program ideal for you.
5. How Much is an RCI Membership?
A one-year RCI Membership is $99, and multi-year membership discounts range from 10 to 30% depending on how many years you purchase upfront. Many people start with a one-year membership, but I recommend buying a two-year one if your budget allows.
You see, timeshare traveling favors those who plan in advance. And especially if you can only travel during peak times such as Spring Break, Summer Break, and December break, you’ll need to plan those trips one year or more in advance. So when giving an RCI Membership your first turn, spend a little more money so that you can secure the type of vacation exchanges you want and get the whole experience of trading vacations with RCI.
6. What Are The Benefits?
So there are a lot of benefits that RCI lists on their website outside of vacation exchange. However, RCI is a business, and they are trying to upsell their 3.8 million members on other travel products by offering discounts on travel-related services like rental cars, cruises, etc.
But here’s my take. Those offers 99% of the time aren’t the best price. So like all purchases in life, make sure you price compare. You’ll see members regularly ask questions about all-inclusive fees, car rental, and cruise reservations, and it is almost unanimous that Costco’s car rental prices can’t be beaten; a travel agent or the cruise’s website directly is the best place to book, and hotel prices should be researched thoroughly on an aggregator site like Kayak.com.
Have there been some reports of unbeatable deals? Yes, but they are definitely the exception and not the rule.
7. Is Platinum Worth It?
This is one of the most commonly asked questions in timeshare groups. And the answer given by veteran timeshare owners and travelers is that it depends. It depends on how much you use RCI and what type of traveler you are.
But if you want to have VIP access to the best resorts in the RCI system, then it’s well worth the extra cost. Remember you’re competing with the other 3 million members of RCI for exchanges. Personally, getting a vacation that’s worth 5K is well worth the extra $125, don’t you think?!?
I think it is well worth the cost if you can swing the extra $124 a year. For example, if you use it to restore the full deposit power of a late deposit only once, you’ve practically covered the cost by using one benefit by “buying” yourself more points for a whole other week’s vacation.
RCI Platinum Benefits:
- 10% Discount on Extra Vacations and Last Call Bookings
- 10% savings on Combined Deposit Fee
- 25% off Guest Certificates
- Unlimited Free Ongoing Searches
- 24-hour Exchange Holds To Secure a Room and think about it
- Access to Exchanges and Extra Vacations before “base” members
- Customer Service Line just for Platinum Members
- Unit upgrades when available
- Deposit your week 181 and 270 days and receive the full value as if you deposited it at the 9-month mark.
8. What Resorts Are There?
Well, it’s pretty hard to summarize RCI’s network of 4300 resorts across the world, but I’ll give it a try! You’ll find a wide range of resorts in the RCI system. From Gold Crown resorts ( their highest distinction) to large global chains like Hilton, Wyndham, regional brands like Worldmark and Divi, to independently owned and beloved hotels.
And since I’m here to give you the honest truth, a very small percentage of the resorts in the RCI system are older, run-down, and not well maintained. That’s why it is crucial to research the resort on TripAdvisor before you book. No system is perfect, and you must take 5 minutes to do your own due diligence.
Timeshare Resorts Around The World: Cities Vs. Non-Cities
The other dynamic at play is that timeshares historically are built outside of cities. Historically people lived in cities and wanted to “escape” them on vacation, so resorts were built outside cities. On a global basis, there are actually very few timeshares in cities. While that is starting to change in the industry, the total number of timeshares in European cities is low vs. outside of cities, for example.
And since there aren’t that many of them, they are very much in demand. Those timeshare owners probably use it themselves or rent it out for top dollar. There are starting to be more timeshares in cities (Nashville, Charleston, New Orleans, New York City, etc.) in the U.S., but most of them are in the mountains or on beaches.
That being said, there are some fantastic gems in the RCI network of affiliated hotels. For example, we exchanged into the Bougainvillas Barbados resort in 2021 for my birthday with our RCI Membership. Even the locals love this family-owned and operated resort located next to Sandals. And for Christmas break 2021, we exchanged into the amazing Belair Beach Hotel in St. Maarten where all the spacious 2 bedroom units are oceanfront.
9. What is the General Concept of How It Works?
So, say you’re looking to exchange a week at your resort for a timeshare family vacation in Hawaii. For one to be in RCI’s system, another owner would have to decide not to use their Hawaii timeshare week, not let family/friends use it, not rent it out, and put their week specifically into RCI ( vs. another timeshare exchange company).
You can see how supply and demand definitely play into the RCI Exchange dynamics. So don’t fret about getting the RCI Resorts you want; it just takes some planning!
That being said, the supply and demand dynamics can also aid in your planning! For example, towns with tons of timeshare resorts like Las Vegas, Myrtle Beach, Orlando, the Smoky Mountains National Park, and Branson are regularly available in the system.
10. Can I Use It to Book Vacations for Friends and Family?
Yes, you can! If you will not be traveling along with them and want to send them on a timeshare vacation, you can book a reservation with your RCI membership and then add their name to it once you purchase a Guest Certificate for $99.
If you want to treat a family member or perhaps send someone on a memorable getaway like a birthday trip or even a honeymoon, that is possible with an RCI membership.
11. Can I Sell Exchanges to People?
No, you can not sell your exchanges to people. You can rent your owned week out, but not your RCI exchanges. It is against the Terms and Conditions that you agreed to when signing up for your RCI membership. If RCI catches you selling trades, they will cancel the reservation and potentially cancel your RCI membership. So if you’re thinking of selling, don’t do it. Image if your renter shows up at the resort and the reservation was canceled. That’s a huge nightmare that is not worth it.
However, if you book a vacation for friends and family and they thank you with you an Amazon or Grocery Store gift card, well, isn’t that super nice of them!
12. What’s an Ongoing Search, and Should I Get One?
Yes. The answer is yes! I know I haven’t explained it yet, but the answer is yes. If you had a choice between getting the best resorts in RCI or the leftovers, which would you choose?
RCI explains an Ongoing Search as: “When you start an Ongoing Search, you get prioritized access to member deposited inventory, giving you a better chance of finding the vacation you want.”
Why Is Having an Ongoing Search So Important?
So imagine only 10 Hawaii July Weeks are deposited in RCI a year. But 50 people are looking for weeks at these RCI Resorts. The people who get these timeshare vacations are ALWAYS the first ten people in the line. If you are in the back of the line or haven’t put yourself in the line at all, you’re not going to get this RCI exchange. You will get the Hawaii resorts that everyone else passed on.
This is how I secured two of the best resorts in Hawaii during prime August vacation season. By putting my name on the request list 18 months in advance.
You may start to get a sense why, when you search for certain RCI resorts in the inventory, it’s not there. Some of the most in-demand RCI properties are taken by members’ ongoing searches and therefore aren’t ever put in search inventory for others to see and reserve that way.
Let me repeat that again – The resort or week you may be looking for may NEVER get put into the search inventory as they are all being taken by savvy members who put in an Ongoing Search.
Think of it as going to a nightclub. There are always two lines. One for people who wait forever, may or may not get in and get stuck with whatever they tell you once you reach the front of the line. Then there is the VIP line, of course, where you want to be. The Ongoing Search is the “VIP” line.
Just to be clear – You don’t need to be an RCI Platinum Member to make an ongoing search request; you just have to pay your exchange fee upfront. If you don’t get your request, the fee will be returned. To read more about the ins and of Ongoing Searches, like how to get a match for the resort you want successfully, read my full article on the topic Scoring the RCI Properties You Want
13. How Does Exchanging to All-Inclusive Resorts Work?
When exchanging into an All-inclusive resort with your RCI Membership, you’ll have to use some trading currency, pay the exchange fee, and pay the per person all-inclusive fees directly to the resort. Those extra costs can be found in the Fees tab when looking at all-inclusive resorts in the RCI system.
While there have been some owners’ reports of snagging deals, once you add up all these costs, it’s most likely going to be more cost-effective to book an all-inclusive resort directly from the hotel, at Costco Travel, or with a travel agent.
Make sure to do the cost comparisons before booking, not after!
14. What’s the difference between RCI Extra Vacation Getaways and RCI Last Call?
These are two programs included with an RCI membership that doesn’t require you to use any of your trading power points. These are cash-only options for booking resorts. What differentiates them from each other is the price and included resorts.
The RCI Last Program offers week-long stays at RCI properties 45 days out. Based on the size of the unit, the prices range from $269 to $319. This is a great place to score epic vacation deals, but don’t expect to get the most in-demand destinations (Key West) or 3-bedroom units.
You will find rooms at huge resorts, like Vacation Village Parkway in Orlando or Massanutten Resort neighboring Shenandoah National Park, which has thousands of rooms. Or you’ll discover shoulder-season or off-season locations like the mountains in the summer. If you’re open to the type of vacation you’re willing to take, it is a great way to secure extra weeks of vacation for very little money.
The RCI Extra Vacation Getaways are similar, but you can book them much further out and will include some resorts that you won’t find in the last-minute deals. However, you’ll have to pay more to book something further in advance. Again, they can be pricey, so make sure you price compare paying the cash RCI price vs. a timeshare rental on Go-Koala.com, Redweek.com or TUG, or other travel booking sites.
15. What’s the Best Timeshare to Buy for the Sole Purpose of RCI Exchanges?
I say a lot, “Buying a timeshare is not the type of real estate decision to make on a whim, three margaritas deep, while on vacation.” Can your budget–and your emergency fund—comfortably cover all the costs every year? Even during job loss, retirement, or a pandemic?
These are really important, self-reflective questions to ask yourself before buying a timeshare. Of course, there is no reason to rush buying a timeshare, as it is a buyer’s market. But if you’ve already done this necessary work and are looking to make the savviest purchase out there, I’ve got you.
You can save 75 to 99% of the purchase price by buying in the resale market. Timeshare Users Group (TUG) hits it right on the head when they say, “Why would anyone buy from a resort if they could get the exact same “used condo” week, at the exact same resort property, for pennies on the dollar from an existing owner?”
While there are perks offered by the resorts for direct-purchased contracts, if you’re not interested in those specific perks, than the large difference in price wouldn’t be worth it for you.
There are folklores out there on the best timeshare purchase for value, but I’ve never seen a comparative analysis done just for RCI. One legend is that Grandview, a Vacation Village Resort in Las Vegas, is THE timeshare that gives you the most value for the money. So I did an analysis myself and answered once and for all, Is the Grandview Resort the Granddaddy of Timeshare Value?
Read my article here to find the answer and my system on how to analyze timeshare purchases for value and trading power with an RCI membership.
16. How Does a Membership Help Timeshare Owners with Last-Minute Change of Plans
Pandemic traveling showed us that having flexibility and backup plans are critical when planning vacations. Well, what’s the equivalent of that for timeshare owners? I believe that an exchange company membership is a form of travel insurance for timeshare owners to protect the money they’d pre-paid for their yearly vacations. Why?
Because RCI allows you to deposit your week as late as the day before your check-in date and still receive a portion of your trading power currency. Deposits 15 days or more before check-in qualify for their Deposit Restore program. For a $69 fee, you get 100% of the trading power for your week as if you deposited it nine+ months ago.
It is an excellent option for owners with high-value weeks, as restoring your full trading power can translate into a trip during peak travel or multiple weeks of vacation in the future.
17. What is the RCI Charter Program?
This was a question I recently got from a reader and it stumped me! So I went right to source and asked an RCI rep on their chat feature– my favorite way to interact RCI!
It turns out this is the name of the new Cruise Booking program with RCI.
RCI explained it as “That is a new cruise option for members to use Trading Power or points towards. Members may now use 7 Trading Power or 20,000 Points towards an Exchange for a Cruise on select cruise lines (Norwegian Cruise Lines and Princess Cruises) and get up to $1200 in additional RCI savings when booking a cruise!
So that leads to another very common question about RCI and Cruises!
18. Should I use my Timeshare to Book a Cruise with RCI?
The answer is no! Why? Because you’ll use your trading power and you’ll pay the same or even more money than booking the cruise the “usual” way. That’s right, if you price compare the RCI prices with the cruise lines direct, Costco, a travel agent or other booking sites you’ll find that you’re not saving any money by using your RCI membership points to book a cruise this way.
The cruise booking company is actually a separate entity from RCI and there has been reports of people being caught up in extreme red tape.
To be blunt, you’ll be wasting your trading power or RCI points and most likely spending more money!
Just like the all-inclusive resorts 99% of the time, it is not a good use of RCI. The best use of an RCI membership and your trading current points is to book “regular” resorts. That is where the real value is in timesharing and timeshare exchanging.
19. What are the Levels of RCI Resorts?
Another recent question in my email was does owning at a certain resort mean you have wider access to the best resorts in RCI? So this question in part is because this is how Interval International works, but RCI does not work like this at all.
With an RCI Membership, you see all the same resorts whether you own the most expensive timeshare or the least expensive one. If you have the TPUs or points, you can book that exchange no matter what you own.
With Interval, if you own a lower-tiered timeshare, you won’t see the most high-end exchanges, like Disney Vacation Club resorts for example. And if you own a top tier timeshare, you won’t see the value exchanges either. If you want to book things outside of this standard “mold” you have to call into the II hotline.
But getting back to RCI, there are three, and only three, tiers of resorts. If a salesperson is telling you that there is a list of RCI Platinum resorts, they are wrong.
According to RCI’s website, there are:
- RCI Gold Crown Resorts – The highest of the three RCI Award Designations, these resorts regularly met or exceeded standards in unit housekeeping and maintenance, hospitality, and an evaluation of resort facilities, amenities and services.
- RCI Silver Crown Resort – Resorts that have achieved excellence in these areas
- RCI Hospitality Level: Resorts consistently high ratings in the check-in/check-out and hospitality categories
What seems to be not spoken about much anymore is a collection of resorts that RCI branded at one time or another The Registry Collection. According to an RCI chat representative this program “is a credits based exchange program for luxury fractional residences. Participation in this program requires ownership at a Registry Collection affiliated residence.” This includes the Four Seasons timeshare vacation ownership and the penthouse units at The Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki.
A list of those resorts can be found at this program’s website, The Registry Collection.
What I did not know that I learned from this online chat with the RCI rep, was that you can actually do an RCI exchange search just for these resorts by:
- Click on the “Exchange Search” tab
- Click on the circle in front of the “Search The Registry Collection” option
- Using the filters on the left of the screen:
- Select the “Region” of interest
- Select the Check-in Date Range
- Click on the “Available Units” options to view unit sizes and the points required for the exchange
I tried to do this type of search, but because I don’t own this particular type of timeshare, I could not search the inventory this way. But from browsing around the site, it has the top tier rooms like the Signature Collection units at River Island within Holiday Inn Club Vacations Orange Lake Resort or Wyndham Bonnet Creek which is a rare find in the RCI inventory without putting in an Ongoing Search.
20. Can I use RCI Points to Buy a Plane Ticket?
This question recently popped up in one of the RCI Members Facebook groups I am in. Based on the responses, it seems like this is a common question especially among long-time members. See, this is something that you used to be able to do with your deposited weeks.
But, this is not something that you can do anymore! But don’t feel too bad, because the conversion and value you got for your points were really poor anyway.
21. Do They Still Make the Physical Book of The Resorts?
Another question from a reader! The answer surprised me, because it turns out that RCI does still make physical resort directories. If you’d like one, you need to request it. My preferred method of communication with RCI is the chat feature as the wait times are short, and you can always save a copy of your conversation on your computer afterwards.
I tested this out, and yes you can request a book be mailed to you by chatting with an RCI representative.
Getting Started with RCI? Check out My Free Tutorial Series Walking You Through the Tips and Tricks
Have you decided to get an RCI Membership and are ready to get started? Here’s my Free article series on how to get started with RCI and how to use the system to get what you want!
- RCI.com 101: Free Tutorial by an Owner for Other Owners Getting Started with RCI
- RCI 201: Using the Resort Directory and Historical Tools to Find and Plan Vacations You Want on RCI.com!
- RCI 301: Scoring the RCI Resort Exchanges You Want
- RCI Master Class: See 70% of U.S. National Parks with RCI Exchanges: My Exclusive List
- Timeshare Deals with RCI Last Call
PS – If there is an RCI Membership topic I haven’t addressed here, please feel free to send me an email at [email protected], and I’ll do my best to answer your question and also add it to this article. I get a lot of timeshare owner emails with questions, and I promise I Don’t bite.
Happy Timeshare Traveling ya’ll!