Written by Meaghan Clark
You’re probably accustomed to taking two, maybe even three vacations in the year – especially one during the summer when the kids are out of school. Now that it’s time to start planning, is your bank account ready for the tropical splurges?
As much as economists keep telling us that things are turning around, we haven’t spotted too many changes – what with the rising gas prices and dismal housing market. No matter the state of your wallet, the kids and wife are expecting another show stopping affair –something to rival last year’s Caribbean cruise or Cabo getaway. Now not only are you pegged with the task of finding a new five-star retreat, but you’ll be stuck with the bill. So read on, dear friends - there are answers to get around that five figure price tag.
As successful as the daily deal industry has become, a new area of expertise has arisen in every major international city around the globe. The segment is refined luxury travel, for cheap. Cut from the same cloth as Gilt Groupe, Groupon and LivingSocial, both literally and figuratively, discount travel websites have popped up everywhere and offer a range of five-star hotels and packages at reduced rates.
A few months ago, Exec Digital welcomed an invitation to an exclusive, invite-only site that partnered with Travel+Leisure called Vacationist.com. We can’t say no to anything from T&L– but we were skeptical about a site that offered deals on five-star, T&L recommended duds. Anything that the magazine suggests tends to be classy, chic and filled with guests that make full figured incomes – so why would they want to offer hotel rooms or packages at a discounted price?
“In the luxury hotel business, one is always looking for new customers,” says LuxuryLink President and Co-Founder Diane McDavitt. Vacationist is part of the great LuxuryLink Travel Group, a three-tiered brand with a synonymous auction site and another for families. For more than a decade, LuxuryLink has been offering affluent and aspirational travelers a place to try the world’s most legendary hotels at discounted rates. The 1000 carefully selected hotel partnerships from LuxuryLink – from Ritz Carlton to Orient-Express – are extraordinary properties that customers flock to already, with deals users can’t find anywhere else.
Vacationist.com appeals to the impulse buyer; LuxuryLink is for the customer in search of a more formal affair. “It’s not just a hotel room, it’s an entire experience that we’re looking to create for our consumer,” McDavitt says. “We’re considered a best-kept secret by our regulars – we have some people who have been buying from us for the last 10-12 years.”
“For LuxuryLink consumers, we have an option that comes as a whole model - we deal exclusively in luxury and we offer packages. For someone who is looking for a total experience at a fine luxury resort, at the rates we’re providing, there’s really not another option. Other sites are based on impulse – at LuxuryLink you can find an incredible experience on any day.”
Vacationist might attract a niche market, but other similar sites like Jetsetter or LivingSocial Escapes are popular for their mass appeal. Jetsetter is a Gilt Groupe leg, the popular high-end flash retail site that offers member-only discounts from major fashion houses. Though initially just a specialty clothing site, Gilt eventually split their successful platform that fused content, social and retail into several outskirts – from food to home, and eventually travel.
LivingSocial Escapes might be known for their flash sales, but their travel tier has been praised for its insider appeal into the local travel industry. It helps that LivingSocial directly employs experienced travel experts within each specific region. “[LivingSocial Escapes] hires the best and brightest in the travel industry,” says Dave Madden, General Manager of LivingSocial Escapes, North America, “who live in the markets they support and are intimately familiar with the unique experiences in that region.”
With 60 million users worldwide, LivingSocial Escapes has capitalized on the flash deal model; Madden doesn’t underestimate the power of that daily email. “LivingSocial is really trying to inspire people to do something they wouldn’t have otherwise – it pops in their email inbox and it’s a bucket list item that they didn’t think was attainable before,” he says.
VIDEO: Living Social Escapes
“70 percent of LivingSocial Escapes members revealed in a survey that they weren’t even in the market to buy travel when they got up in the morning, but once they got that experience in their email inbox it inspired them to do something that they hadn’t planned on before,” he adds.
In the case of any flash sale site, it pays to do your research – if you find that the hotel’s consumer rating is low, ask yourself if it’s really worth the loaded expense. Even more critical – the fine print; oftentimes popular dates will be blocked out, or a minimum number of nights are required – things that might damper that special price tag.
Whether it’s about a $4,000 adventure in Saint Lucia, or a weekend getaway to Palm Springs – the root of success is the same for every travel site: “It’ll always be about inspiring people to take a trip or go travel,” says Madden. Luxury or not; Travel & Leisure recommended or not; it’s about a place that allows you to enjoy great vacations at a steal.
VIDEO: Travel and Leisure