My mother has always joked that she thinks roughing it is when there’s no chocolate on her pillow at night.
Unfortunately, staying in a five-star/chocolate-on-the-pillow hotel does not come cheap, and in this economy, it may seem as though luxurious travel is only for the 1%.
But savvy travelers can still find great rates on some of the most sumptuous accommodations and travel packages.
It’s important to remember that luxury travel will never be a bargain—the very idea is an oxymoron. But if you have champagne wishes and caviar dreams about your next vacation, know that you can make your money go much farther with some of these luxe for less tools:
1. Vacation Package Sites
Package vacation deals can be something of a mixed bag. While it is entirely possible to score a great deal on a vacation you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford, it is also possible to pay more for “extras” than you would if you purchased each element separately.
When you find a travel package that sounds interesting, it is up to you to do the research to determine if you’re getting a good value. You will need to price each element of the package, which is going to require a little legwork.
Since websites for service providers—like the hotel, cruise line, safari touring company, etc—will generally not post all of the price information online, you will need to get on the phone to get details on cost.
Once you crunch the numbers—and take into account any extras that you aren’t interested in, which you should consider to be budget liabilities—you can decide if the package is a deal or a dud. According to the website BootsNall,
“a good rule of thumb: if you can save $150 or more on what you’d already be buying, a package is worth your while.”
Vacation package sites to check out: Both PerfectEscapes.com and JustLuxe.com offer luxury package deals in addition to guides, photo galleries, and industry news.
2. Travel Auction Sites
These sites offer travelers the opportunity to bid on packages, hotels, tours, cruises, and villas. They will also generally offer direct sale items, although the savings on these don’t measure up to what you can get by bidding on an auction.
There are some caveats to this method of budget luxury travel. Most auction sites require an annual registration fee of a couple of hundred dollars or more. However, many successful bidders can earn back the price of the registration fee with a single booking. But if you don’t plan to splurge on luxury travel more than once a year, the registration fee may be too steep for you.
In addition to the registration fee, you will also want to be cautious about the fine print on travel auction sites. You will have to pay handling fees and room taxes on top of the amount you bid. These fees are listed in the auction details, so make sure you add that amount to your bid when calculating how much you can afford to spend.
Travel auction sites to check out: According to Condé Nast Traveler, there are two standouts among travel auction websites—LuxuryLink.com and AndrewHarper.com. Luxury Link offers more package deals and does not require a registration fee, although it does charge a transaction fee of $20.
Andrew Harper tends to offer fewer extras, and it requires a minimum $199 registration fee for a one-year membership, but it tends to offer some of the most impressive deals out there. The membership also includes access to the Q Club, which provides members with upgrades and exclusive rates.
3. Luxury Travel Deal Aggregator Sites
These sites are familiar to any traveler on a budget. Aggregators search through hundreds of travel websites to show the best deals on any particular flight or hotel, making price comparisons very easy. Even if you do not book your travel with the help of an aggregator site, it can be a very good idea to use these to do a price check when you are not sure if an auction or package site is really offering you a good deal.
Another benefit to aggregator sites is that they can check with third-party travel sites that may be unfamiliar to you, leading you to better deals and comparisons than you might be able to find on your own.
Aggregator sites to check out: Kayak.com is the most well-known of the aggregator sites, but some other good ones to check out include Mobissimo.com and FareCompare.com. One good way to make sure that you are getting an excellent cross section of rates is to open more than one aggregator site for searching once you have eliminated any common purchase sites between them.
4. Luxury Travel Agents
Remember when all travel had to be booked through an agent? While finding a cheap flight to Topeka for may no longer require a call to a travel agent, booking a luxury vacation for less money is one reason why travel agents haven’t completely gone the way of the dodo.
Working with a travel agent means that you have an industry insider to find you the best deals and do all the booking of flights, hotels, tours, trains, and rental cars for you. Employing a travel agent will cost you a fee of anywhere from $150 to $500. However, having an agent handling all of the details means accountability stops with him or her should anything go wrong. Also, working with an agent can often score you upgrades, which is part of what luxury travel is all about.
Where to find a luxury travel agent: There are two websites that offer referrals for travel agents who specialize in luxury travel—Virtuoso.com and Altour.com. When first contacting your agent, make sure you speak in person or call rather than email. It will be easier for you to convey your wants and expectations without adding in the potential confusion of email communication.
If you are willing to do some research, you can find luxury travel deals to some of the most incredible spots in the world—places where they always leave a chocolate on the pillow for you.