The concept of the timeshare swap is simple: You have a week of time at a resort in one place, but you'd rather take your vacation someplace else this year. All you have to do is find someone with a timeshare in the place you want to visit who is willing to vacation at your timeshare, and then you trade. Finding a willing trading partner, however, is the complicated part.
Some resorts are owned by companies that own several other resorts. They may provide a completely open system, in which you can schedule flex weeks or spend points at any resort in their system, or they may offer an internal swap system, in which you can swap shares with anyone at any of their resorts.
The next option is an exchange company. These are companies that facilitate the trading of shares, matching people's wants with what others have to offer. If you have a static share, you simply sign up for an exchange company, put your share into the exchange pool and indicate potential times and places you'd be willing to trade for. If all goes well, you'll be notified when a match is found. The transaction can then be completed by mail or fax, or even by phone if time is short.
If you participate in a flex or points system, you'll have to reserve a share at your "home resort" before you sign up for an exchange. Shares in nicer rooms at peak times of the year have more trading power than off-season shares, so booking early for desirable vacation times can result in better trade offers.
If you don't have time for a vacation, you can also rent out your timeshare. You're free to set the cost and terms of the rental, although some of the details can depend on the contract you have with your home resort. Most exchange companies also offer rental listings. Keep in mind that the exchange company will charge a fee for any swaps or rentals that take place through its own channels, and all share-swap agreements must be cleared with the resorts in question.
In the next section, we'll learn about selling a timeshare.