Come vacation time, Tai and Theresa Quan used to take their teenage son and daughter to five-star resorts. But not this past year. Tai, an engineering executive from San Jose, Calif., packed up his family and spent five weeks traveling the U.S. in a luxurious 40-ft recreational vehicle (RV) that included a gourmet kitchen, a 42-inch plasma TV and a king-sized bed. “We loved everything about it—from the fine china in the kitchen all the way down to the monogrammed towels,” says Tai.
As the Quans can attest, piloting a luxury RV these days is about as far from puttering around in a stodgy old motorhome as dinner at El Bulli is from a burger at McDonald’s. The vehicles of choice for today’s well-heeled kings of the road cost from $300,000 to $2 million. Many of these RVs are designed to pull “toy haulers” behind them—trailers with his-and-her motorcycles, golf carts, even small cars. And the real show stopper? “Slideouts,” says Jim Palmer, CEO of CoachShare of Encinitas, Calif. “You just push a button and the sides of the RV glide out smoothly on electric slides, expanding the interior of the living room, kitchen and bedrooms.”
As over the top as these luxurious RVs may be, they can be surprisingly affordable thanks to a new concept known as fractional ownership. A group of people agree to rotate the use of the RV while sharing expenses such as depreciation, maintenance, storage and insurance. After three to five years, the RV is sold and the proceeds are distributed to the fractional owners.
“We were about to buy an RV two years ago,” says Tai, “but after watching a TV special on fractional RV ownership, my wife and I decided this was a better way for us to go. RVs depreciate quickly and we couldn’t use one much throughout the year because we’re not retired.”
At the moment, only two companies, both of them in the U.S., offer fractional RV ownership. CoachShare offers a flyand-drive program that lets you fly to an airport in the U.S. and pick up your RV there, but it limits your RV travels to inside the U.S. On the other hand, Carefree RV of Houston will deliver the RV to your doorstep in Canada and you’re free to travel in both Canada and the U.S.
The Quans paid CoachShare $36,000 (U.S.) for a one-eighth share in a $350,000 Monaco Diplomat 40 PDQ. Their package entitles them to use the coach for five weeks annually for three years. The Quans can then sell their share back to CoachShare—for about 40% of their initial investment, if projections pan out—or renew for another three-year term. “Before we bought our RV, we took about four family vacations a year to places like Florida and Hawaii at $10,000 or so each,” says Tai. “I have to say that luxury coach travel has been as good as some of those trips.”
The companies that arrange the fractional RV deals also store, clean, repair and maintain the RVs. They even include basic training. “When you simply rent an RV,” says Brian Tucker, president of Carefree RV, “most places just hand you the keys and say ‘good luck, and have a good time.’ We try to empower people so that they feel confident driving it.”
Ron Eisenberg, 66, of San Francisco, says most of his fears about driving a big rig vanished after he took the day-long driver’s training program offered by CoachShare. “My wife Jodi drove our RV, too, and we had about 60 feet behind us because we were also towing our car,” says Eisenberg. “You wouldn’t want to drive your RV in downtown L.A. but through most cities it was just fine.”
Tai Quan says the training program was one of the major selling points for his family. “They took us through all the mechanicals,” he says. “How to flush the toilet, how to drain the tank, stuff like that.” When the Quans had a circuit breaker cut out during their trip to the Grand Canyon, help was just a click away. “We had our computer with us and Monaco, the company that built our coach, has online support,” says Tai. “They walked us through the process of how to reset the breaker and we fixed it ourselves in no time.”
You should talk to a lawyer before signing any fractional ownership deal. Be sure to check out the company that is arranging the deal. Ensure that creditors can’t put a lien on your portion of the RV if the firm gets into financial trouble.
The Quans say they’re delighted with their fractional RV. Last year they spent their weeks in California, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Las Vegas. “This year we’re thinking of including Colorado and Idaho on our trip as well,” says Tai Quan. “We can’t wait to get rolling again.”