An Insider's, Insider's Guide to Luxury Travel
The luxury traveler is awash in options – when even Yangon, Myanmar has two (!) 5-star hotels, you know that the forward scouts of the voluptuary have planted flags just about everywhere. Now the question is: how do you find the best of the best? While numerous sites swear numerous oaths about being the finest in sybaritic escapes, as is always the case in these matters, only a few have a worthy insider's eye on luxury destinations. What's more, some of them offer insider deals so you can do more with your time away – or maybe do less and feel better about it. We had a chat with three of them, Gilt Groupe's Jetsetter, TabletHotels.com, and Urban Daddy's Jetset to see what they had to say about their offerings.
A few years ago Delta Airlines offered surprise getaway fares; every week about midweek the airline would publish a list of destinations and absurdly low prices. Gilt's Jetsetter something like that, only better, because it won't offer you trips to Omaha for $75 in the middle of Winter. Jetsetter's menu offers just some of the finest resorts in the world, the kind that you'll find in Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler, and it offers them at sale prices.
Jetsetter's hotels are "curated," which signifies that they have personally been deemed worthy, and written up, by the site and its contributors. Their assessments are then bolstered by several categories: Who Says, where a third party like Travel + Leisure registers its thoughts; and Why, which reveals the ambiance and ideal audience. Then there's our favorite, the How to Get There, which tells you just that. Lust-worthy locations can be in remote locations, and it has surprised us how often a site will clue us in on a secluded place to stay and then not offer simple instructions on how to get there. Jetsetter, on the other hand, has it covered.
There is a calendar of sales on offer so you can find something that already agrees with your travel plans, or make up travel plans based on finding a fantastic place to stay. That's how the Washington Post's Andrea Sachs ended up at the Greenbrier, and we'd imagine she's not the only professional purveyor of luxury to do so.
Becoming a member of Jetsetter is as easy as... finding someone who's already a member to invite you. But we must warn you of a potential danger in accepting that membership: thinking you're going to use Jetsetter to explore hotel deals, then ending up at Gilt, Gilt Man or Gilt Fuse private sale sites and blowing your hotel budget on Alexander Wang or Tom Ford or Heutchy shoes. If, though, you trust yourself (and even if you don't) and you don't want to wait for an invite, Gilt has offered Luxist readers membership to Jetsetter just by clicking here.
TabletHotels.com has grown quietly, steadily from being the little site with a passel of boutique hotels to de facto reference standard on the experiences provided by 1,800 luxury lodges around the world. Its specialization on the accommodation component of your journey, and because its millions of reviews have come from members who booked through Tablet and stayed at the hotel, the veracity and value of the write-ups is impressive. Every hotel in Tablet's database has been vetted personally and anonymously by the site, and Tablet won't accept any paid placements. Those who make the grade are required to offer Tablet members rate parity with the lowest public rate made available anywhere, so you never need worry about not getting the best deal. Best of all, the final selection rests with users: no matter where a resort began its ranked life on Tablet, if it falls below a rating of 15 out of 20, it is automatically removed from the pool.
The volume of data has furthermore been turned into a full range of dynamic top ten lists: best hotels, best service, best hotels in Oceania & the Pacific Islands, best country hotels, even a list of the most e-mailed hotels among others. The numbers have been crunched not just for where folks have been, but where they're going: the trends lists tells you where the most booked destinations are over the next two weeks, the next month, and beyond. If there is a criterium you use to judge the oh-la-la factor of a hotel, Tablet Hotels probably has a chart for it.
Those looking for more return from the places they stay can join the Tablet Plus Members Only Program. At $195 annually, it's like going Club Level at a Starwood resort: special privileges are doled out at over 350 hotels such as complimentary upgrade and breakfast, late check-out, and airport transfers. Membership also comes with a subscription to Tablet10 magazine, which glossily reveals the best new openings in some quadrant of the world, and early access to the site's private sales.
Ah, private sales – that has a beautiful ring to it, no? It is exactly what it sounds like: reduced room rates for Tablet Community Members. Unlike Tablet Plus, you only need to have booked a room on the site, or be invited by someone who's booked a room on the site, to be a community member. Tablet Plus simply gets you early access to the sales. Rooms are offered at a minimum of 30% off the lowest available rate, and in some cases go as high as 60%.
One of our favorite features of the site that isn't a sale, but is a little private, is when Tablet offers the chance to stay in a hotel before it officially opens. These opportunities to experience soft openings only come up occasionally, and although you might endure a hiccup or two during your stay it is more than made up for by the extra attention you receive, and you can find out what a hotel is all about before it's overtaken by, well... everyone else.
Of course, it's difficult to have so many people engaging in a discussion on a particular hotel without also having them discuss what there is to do within and without that hotel. That's where Tablet Guides come in. Curated by the site, the Guides corral contributions from members, concierges, and Tablet staff.
They are a survey of the finer goings-on in more than 800 cities – and sometimes jungles – around the world, and open to any visitor to the site. You can even create your own guide when you stumble on that amazing little bar on the piazza in Turin.
Finally, as a nod to social networking, Tablet has introduced its Tablet Overlap feature, which lets members share trips and connect with other Tablet users who'll be venturing to points distant at the same time. And hey, if they helped get you there in the first place, why not rub shoulders with them? If you want to join, normally one of them would need to invite you – but we hear that if Luxist readers e-mail their first and last names to email@example.com, you can be made a member just like that...
Urban Daddy's Jetset is a bit of the odd man out in this list, and the site probably likes it that way. It doesn't specialize in hotels, and although it occasionally presents discounted prices or perks, it isn't in the business of making travel cheaper. What it does, though, and why we love it, is that it makes everything else about travel a lot more exciting. Jetset is to voyaging what time travel would be to vacationing: give it a shot and who knows where you'll end up, but it'll probably be interesting.
Some of its most recent features include a cruise around Norway on a vessel fitted with a Turkish bath, a golf course in South Africa with a 19th hole that presents a tee shot off a half-mile-high cliff, a luxury tent hotel in the Sahara, reindeer sledding in Russia, and a resort built into a former German power plant. And there's plenty of coverage for those who like their luxury a bit more standard: a Zen chalet in Valais, Switzerland called Hidden Dragon that comes with a live-in masseuse and instant access to Alpine slopes.
Then there's the iPhone app, The Next Move. Tied to Urban Daddy's city guides, you tell it where you are and what you're looking for and it will send you to the closest place that can fulfill your wishes. At the moment it's only available for six cities in the States, but you don't always need to go far to find excitement, and sometimes finding a the right spot for "dinner with your hipster vegetarian girlfriend" is the most important thing in the world. Besides, are insider tips ever a bad thing no matter where you are?
All of these finds come courtesy of Jetset's and Urban Daddy's "secluded lab of researchers (location: undisclosed) who investigate dispatches from all over the world." We were later told they were kidding about that, but knowing the site we don't believe it's that far from the truth. One more truth that you'll often read if you become a member: "you can't buy love from the Daddy." Actually, that's only partially true; you can buy love, but that's clearly labeled "Sponsored Love." The rest is free, natural, and hand-picked.
If you want the Urban Daddy to have your back, all you need to do is head over and sign up. Getting inside has never been easier.