Want to travel in style and comfort, but concerned about how far your dollars can go? Despair not— travel experts agree: there are many ways to stretch your budget and still take a five-star trip. Using a top-notch travel agent can be key.
Although you will probably have to pay a service fee for the agent’s expertise, it could well be worth it. Agents who belong to consortia of high-end travel agencies like the Ensemble Travel Group and Virtuoso have access to special offers you couldn’t get if you were booking the trip on your own.
Case in point: Travelers who book cruises through Ensemble get free shore excursions on select sailings; that’s worth between $125 and $350 per person. Crystal Serenity offers passengers who have booked through Ensemble a sunset kangaroo and koala watch when the ship stops in Melbourne; it includes a rustic bush dinner. Or if travelers book a room at the posh Hotel Danieli in Venice— again, through Ensemble— they’ll receive a full buffet breakfast each day plus a bottle of wine in their room. Similar goodies are offered by Virtuoso.
According to Forrester Research analyst Henry Forrester, renting a villa, not a hotel room, is another way to stretch your travel budget. If you’re traveling with a group of friends or family, the cost of the villa rental can be divided among travelers, and therefore will probably be cheaper than hotel accommodations. Another advantage of staying in a villa is that you can cook your own meals, a great way to save money, particularly in Europe. Some upscale villa rental companies even offer concierge services, so you can still get help from knowledgeable, local experts.
For travelers who choose this path, Harteveldt recommends they do their homework. “You want to make sure that the property meets your standards of great,” he says.
Many services and Web sites can help you navigate the mysteries of discounted first- and business-class air fares and flight upgrades. They include First Class Flyer, an online newsletter that also has a new blog, http://www.flightbliss.com/. Flyer Talk.com is an online community of frequent flyers who can help you make the most of travel loyalty programs run by airlines, hotels and car rental companies.
Even luxury travelers aren’t immune from the eBay bug. At LuxuryLink.com, hotel and resort packages are discounted as much as 40 percent in the daily auctions. But, says, Diane McDavitt, the Web site’s president and founder, these purchases are nonrefundable. If your plans could change, consider buying travel at fixed prices, which are also available at LuxuryLink.
Evelyn Sandstede, vice president of U.S. leisure operations for Navigant Vacations, a travel agency that is a member of Virtuoso, is a firm believer in pre-booking and prepaying for as much of your trip as possible. This way, you can protect yourself against any fluctuations in the value of the dollar. “When you get the price in advance,” she says, “you know what it will cost you.” She recommends pre-booking and prepaying for your hotel accommodations and train tickets, even meals and theater tickets.
Another way to get more luxury bang for your buck, Sandstede says, is to book hotels that offer rates guaranteed in U.S. dollars. The Gritti Palace in Venice, Hotel Eden in Rome and Hotel Cala di Volpe in Costa Smeralda currently offer rates guaranteed at the fixed exchange rate of $1.3 to the Euro. (These rates are not available online; contact the Luxury Collection Reservation Desk at 1-800-325-3589 and request promotion code BTE.) The Stafford, a Small Luxury Hotel in London, is offering all accommodations at a fixed dollar rate of $1.80 to the British pound, with rates starting at £250. Likewise, Leading Hotels of the World is doing its part to promote international travel by offering rates guaranteed in U.S. dollars at various properties (imagine $590 instead of $896 at the Hotel Raphael in Paris). The booking code to ask for is L09.
Although the dollar is weak in many travel destinations, it’s still possible to find luxury bargains overseas. Particularly, in Eastern Europe, Latin America and several Asian countries. When traveling to these spots, McDavitt suggests “looking for properties that are willing to extend special offers or promotions.” LuxuryLink has a special three-night package at the five-star Hotel Savoy in Prague starting at $1,315; that’s nearly half off the normal price.
McDavitt and Hartveldt offer another reason to consider going abroad for your vacation: American luxury is attracting foreign travelers with strong currencies. That means stiff competition when it comes to finding domestic bargains.