Today (August 19, 2016): Travel Tip: my 4 preferred websites to book luxury hotels (and make luxury travel affordable).
One of the questions that I am asked the most often, is how I can afford this life style. Indeed, flying Business and First Class and staying at the world’s most luxurious hotels may seem like a privilege for the lucky few at first sight. To a certain degree, that’s true but I believe you can be part of that small elite as well by following my travel tips. My main strategy is to be smart when it comes to booking my travels in order to save lots of money, build up travel credits and spend them on free (or heavily discounted) airline tickets and hotel stays. A few weeks ago, I explained how to earn miles and fly Business or First Class for free. And I previously shared with you some tricks for staying for free at luxury hotels. Today, I explain you how I book stays at luxury hotels without breaking my wallet by making use of 4 incredibly valuable hotel booking engine websites.
Virtuoso is not your classic hotel booking engine website. It’s the industry’s leading network of luxury travel advisors, spanning over 26 countries and 9,000 travel advisors. When you book your holiday with Virtuoso, most of the time, you will be in touch with a Virtuoso travel agent and not make the booking online yourself. But there are some Virtuoso travel agencies though that offer online booking tool, and my preferred one is New York based Classic Travel, which has an excellent website and offers terrific service. Here’s why I like Virtuoso so much:
- The single best reason to book a stay through a Virtuoso travel agent is that it means value for money as it will get you access to special, complimentary VIP amenities and perks, such as room upgrade, free dinners, spa treatments and/or unique luxury travel experiences. You pay the same as you would by booking directly on the hotel website, but you have the added advantage of all these extra perks.
- Virtuoso networks with the world’s most luxurious hotels & resorts, most of them belonging to the portfolio of the world’s most exclusive hotel brands, such as Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, Rosewood, and Soneva to name a few.
- The advantage of booking through Virtuoso is particularly evident when staying at an Aman property, the world’s top hotel chain. In line with Aman’s hyper-exclusive and ultra-luxurious reputation, you will never find a lower rate than the one published on the official Aman website. But booking through a Virtuoso travel agent rather than on the Aman website itself will get you some free, extra perks (often worth hundreds of dollars). So if you are an Aman junkie, like me, then Virtuoso is the way to go.
Unfortunately, Virtuoso does not have a loyalty program, nor does it offer the cheapest room rates in the industry or match a lower price found somewhere else. But I like them a lot, because the extra free perks can save you tons of money at the world’s best hotels.
Hotels.com – part of Expedia – is my overall preferred hotel engine booking website, mainly because of the following reasons:
- Hotels.com allows payment in your own currency (the choice of currency can be adjusted at the top of the website). As such, you avoid paying the sometimes heavy foreign currency taxes (up to 3%) that come with most credit cards (a hidden cost that many are not aware of).
- Hotels.com has almost permanently discount coupons available (subscribe to their newsletter or simply search for them on google). Discounts on hotel bookings vary from 10% (most of the time) to a rare 15%. Unfortunately, almost all of the world’s most luxurious hotel brands are excluded from the list of hotels for which you can use a discount coupon. However, surprisingly, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts is the only ultra-luxurious hotel brand that is most of the time eligible for discount coupons on Hotels.com (almost guaranteeing you a 10% discount on every Four Seasons booking).
- They have a simple but excellent loyalty program, called “Welcome Rewards”. When you book and stay 10 nights at eligible hotels, you’ll get 1 night free to redeem at another. Hotels.com works out the average value of all the 10 nights you’ve collected and gives it back to you as a free night. Unfortunately, hotels stays that are booked using a discount coupon do not count towards the Welcome Rewards program.
- At first, you may think it does not matter to participate to the Welcome Rewards program: one night free for every 10 hotel stays is identical as applying a 10% discount for every hotel booking (since coupons are widely available anyway). But, contrary to the ordinary 10% discount coupons, the coupon(s) you receive through the Welcome Rewards program (after accomplishing 10 eligible nights) can be used for big discounts at almost all hotel chains, including the world’s most exclusive hotel brands. This is especially a lucrative business when you use Hotels.com for both company & leisure travel: you collect Welcome Rewards coupons through business stays, while you spend them on personal travel.
- Hotels.com also has an excellent Best Rate Guarantee (BRG) program: If you find a cheaper price, Hotels.com will match that rate (and refund you the difference). And finding that cheaper price is not difficult nor time-consuming at all: just use the aggregator websites Hotelscombined and Trivago, which both verify hotel prices at hundreds of other sites (e.g. Expedia, Bookers, Otel.com, Hotels.com, Hotelopia.com, Booking.com, etc…) and show where you can book the cheapest rate. So basically, you always book the lowest price, but have the added advantage of collecting points via the excellent Welcome Rewards program.
You can read here more in detail why I love Hotels.com so much, and how it can help you can save (lots of) money when booking luxury hotels.
Jetsetter offers a limited but impressive selection of luxury hotels (in addition to private residences and tours) that you can book at incredible discounts. Here’s why I like Jetsetter so much, and what you need to know about them:
- Jetsetter offers a selection of hotels, homes and tours at up to 40 percent off the usual price. These deals (so-called ‘flash sales’) are available for a limited time only (between five and ten days).
- Jetsetter has some awesome mobile apps (which are in fact much better than its website). The free iPhone and iPad apps allow you to experience all of Jetsetter’s products on the go, destination features (like the interactive New York Hood by Hood guide), 360-degree photography, multi-lingual directions and tip sharing capabilities.
- The iPhone and iPad exclusive content “Jetsetter Now” allows you to book same-night hotel stays for up to 60% off.
- The portfolio of luxury hotels offered on Jetsetter is impressive and includes top properties such as the Alila Villa Uluwatu (Bali, Indonesia), Banyan Tree Samui (Thaland) and Park Hyatt Siem Reap (Cambodia), which rank amongst the very best hotels in the world and can be booked with huge discounts during flash sales.
- While deals (so-called ‘flash sales’) for a certain property are available for a limited time only (between five to ten days), these flash sales are often repeated throughout the year, so be sure to keep an eye out for their sales when you have a particular hotel in mind (by signing up to their newsletter).
Unfortunately, Jetsetter has a no-cancellation/modification policy and all rooms are prepaid in advance and non-refundable. So only make use of them, when you don’t need to change your travel plans. You can read here more in detail why I love Jetsetter and how it can help you to make luxury travel affordable.
When I stay a property of one of the big hotel chains, I mostly make the booking directly on the hotel website to take advantage of their Best Rate Guarantee programs (not only will they match the lower price you find somewhere else, but often throw in an additional 10 to 25% discount as well) and their Hotel Loyalty programs. This is especially true when I stay at a property owned by Starwood or Hyatt, which both have an outstanding hotel loyalty program, but not so much for hotels of the Hilton, Marriott, and Intercontinental chains, which have far less rewarding and interesting programs (and which I tend to book via Hotels.com).
- Starwood hotels (recently acquired by the Marriott hotel group) is the mother company of luxury brands St Regis, W Hotels, and The Luxury Collection.
- Hyatt Hotels is the mother company of the luxury brands Park Hyatt and Andaz.
Enjoy the weekend and stay tuned for Monday when I reveal a new top 10 travel list.