Denise, hopefully there is no problem with there being a thread on this subject? I wouldn't mind hearing a bit of a description of pros & cons of the various exchange companies, without having to search multiple threads. Hopefully more will feel the same way!
I'll make a stab at my impressions:
II: Exchange company with the most hotel-chain TS, which translates into TS with the most hotel-like amenities (a huge plus to us). Good variety of available locales in mainland US, Hawaii, Mexico & Caribbean. Lots of opportunities for uptrades and bonus weeks, can leverage one week into two or more if savvy. Ability to book, search, request exchanges on-line. Cheap Getaways.
CONS: Poor availability in cities (New York, London), Europe, and Asia (although II does have Marriotts in Thailand). Many reps poorly trained. Glitchy computer system.
SFX: Good access to resorts in Mexico, including high end resorts, and decent
access in NYC, London & SF. Semi-cheap to cheap sell-off weeks. Frequent deposit specials with bonus weeks which may be booked up to a year in advance. Can search & book online, although most good exchanges are booked via on-going search.
CONS: Bonus weeks subject to numerous fees, making them comparable to the cost of a rental in some cases. Although SFX states they deal in only "high end" timeshares, if you search their resort directory I would say the emphasis is actually on midrange resorts (many Tripadvisor 3 star properties, Hawaii properties that are off the beach, units with no a/c, etc)- it is my strong impression that their availability of high end resorts is not as strong as
II's, Generally studios not available (except cities). Way less available weeks than II at any given time. Weak in Hawaii, East Coast, Europe (except London), Asia. Real danger if you make a high-end deposit of not getting a comparable exchange unless you are interested in a Grand Mayan resort.
RCI: I only have a passing familiarity- best range of locales, greater proportion
of low-mid range resorts than II, but still some very nice inventory (Hilton, Disney, Tradewinds). Can search & book online. Rent many weeks, sometimes in a manner which seems to be to the detriment of exchangers (??).
Independents: Often touted as THE answer for exchangers, but every time I try to look into them, I get them impression that many deal with more low-end resorts. Because they hold less inventory, there is frequently little opportunity for bonus weeks/exchanges. Sometimes exchanges may be cheaper.
Bottom line: If you own a high-end TS, your best bets are in II & RCI, maybe SFX in some circumstances. If you own a mid-range resort, II, RCI, & SFX would all provide ample opportunity for like-for-like exchanges or uptrades. If you own a low-end resort, you should be able to get a like-for-like exchange from any of the exchange companies and maybe an uptrade. Since II & RCI hold the most inventory, there is also the most opportunity. Some people here feel like the big exchange companies are the devil and they recommend the independents, but I think sometimes they may be cutting off their nose to spite their face.
I really have NO first hand experience with the smaller exchange companies or RCI. I would love to have any of my misperceptions set straight by more experienced TUGgers.
Note: When I say "high-end" timeshare, I am talking about the posh, freshly updated, super-location (on beach, ski slope, etc), with extensive amenities, great landscaping, etc. When I say "mid-range" I am talking about the traditional TS- few amenities, maybe a simple pool with plastic strap loungers, decent decor, but frequently in an excellent location and well-maintained. When I say "low end" I am talking about that same traditional TS property, but maybe dated, or with maintenance issues, or with indifferent staff, or with a less desirable location.