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Luxury for Less: 5 Tips for Planning Spa Vacations on a Budget


If you’re like most people, you probably consider spa vacations a luxury. In this economy, you may have even taken that monthly mani/pedi out of your budget. But is it really wise to skip the spa when you’re busier, more sleep deprived, and more stressed out than ever?

Spending a relatively small amount of money to relieve all that tension now is a worthwhile investment given the negative long-term effects that stress can have on your health—and your health-care costs. What’s more, there are plenty of deals to be had. Here are some ways you can make visiting a spa less of a luxury and more of an essential.

1) Opt for basic and/or shorter treatments.

Straightforward Swedish or deep-tissue massages, simple sugar or salt scrubs, and basic deep-cleansing or moisturizing facials cost less than more elaborate treatments. Period. These days, spas who appreciate their clients are getting back to basics—but good-quality basics so everyone saves money. And although it’s nice to indulge in a 60- to 90-minute minute massage or reflexology session, you can benefit nearly the same from the more-affordable 30-, 50- or 70-minute therapies that are increasingly on offer.

The spa at the Tides Inn, on the Chesapeake Bay in Irvington, Virginia, has 30-, 60-, and 90-minute versions of it body treatments, massages, and facials. Prices range from $70 for a classic Swedish massage and $80 for a custom body scrub (both 30 minutes) to $165 for a custom massage and $170 for an essential-oil massage and body wrap (both 90 minutes). A particularly good deal is the $165 Tides Inn Sampler package, with three 30-minute treatments: a custom massage, custom facial, and a hand therapy. Room rates begin at about $250 a night, give or take, but the hotel has packages that bring the cost of your stay down or add considerable value to it.

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Other options: Most people don’t know that Kohler, the maker of high-end plumbing fixtures, owns three spas: a destination spa in Kohler, Wisconsin (an hour north of Milwaukee), another in St. Andrew’s, Scotland, and a day spa about 30 miles from downtown Chicago. It should be no surprise that its spas specialize in water treatments—streamlined, simple, and elegant, just like the faucets. Soak in an aromatic bath with or without jets, undergo any number of Vichy showers, or get a facial or massage. Treatments, durations, and prices vary, but a specialty at all three spas is the Highland Fling, involving warm buckets of water, exfoliation, and moisturization.

2) Book short stays at hotel spas close to home.

Sure, treatments at day spas are a great and affordable way to regularly detox and destress. But there’s a good chance that a hotel spa near you has an affordable weekend spa package, discounts on spa treatments, or reduced rates on weeknights, which is when many hotels have beds to fill. And of course there are the seasonal and holiday offers.

The sleek, contemporary Sè San Diego Hotel, in the city’s financial district, has a $449 Girlfriend Getaway package that includes a night’s stay in a room with two beds, two 60-minute Swedish massages, post-treatment drinks and appetizers, a $50 Nordstrom’s gift card, and valet parking. The $579 Sèduce Us couples package is also a good value: a night’s stay, chocolate and strawberries on arrival, an in-room couples massage and dinner service, breakfast in bed, and valet parking.

Other options: The Website of Ashville, North Carolina’s Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa has a calendar of deals, including spa packages, seemingly everyday (best offers are from Sunday through Thursday). In Atlantic City, New Jersey, the Water Club at Borgata’s Serenity Package ($299) includes a night’s stay and a personalized facial or 80-minute massage; get $50 off a second spa treatment.

3) Look for treatments and programs that offer short- and long-term benefits.

Many spa offerings—standard or customized— combine, say, massage with advice on nutrition, exercise, or relaxation techniques. Classes on cooking, gardening, art, and crafts are also options, as is personalized guidance on fitness and wellness (e.g., weight loss, smoking cessation). The immediate sense of physical well being added to the long-term physical, mental, and/or intellectual benefits make such offerings good value for money.

Mandarin Oriental’s Signature Spa Therapies were created with the help of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners and aromatherapy specialists. The 110-minute treatments ($450–$470) start with a consultation to determine your state of well being. This is followed by a meridian massage using custom-blended oils. Later, you receive guidance on nutrition and exercise.

Other options: Some places outdo themselves when it comes to classes and special programs. Lake Austin Spa Resort in Austin, Texas, offers gardening classes—their organic gardens are a point of pride—and also runs a Culinary Experience one week a month year-round. In the past, chefs have lectured on herbs, cheese, party planning—even kitchen gadgets. Not far from Las Vegas in St. George, Utah, Red Mountain Resort & Spa is a reasonably priced spa known for its customized weight-loss programs. Both places have a variety of packages that include rooms, meals, and activities (though not always spa treatments.)

4) Don’t rule out multilayer trips to all-inclusive destination spas.

All-inclusive destination spas make trip-planning a cinch. Not only are accommodations and meals covered, but so are spa treatments and, in some instances, airport transfers. Off-season stays can bring costs down further. Just watch out for singles supplements if you’re a solo traveler. And don’t forget to factor in tips (and, of course, taxes and service charges).

Among the better spa-package deals are those at Mii Amo, a destination spa that’s part of a larger resort situated amid red rocks in Sedona, AZ. Its four-night standard-room spa package is $2,320 per person double occupancy and includes three daily meals, all activities, and an unheard-of total of eight spa treatments (three 90 minute and five 60 minute) during your stay. What’s more, its solo-traveler friendly: the same package costs only $140 more if you’re on your own.

Another option: Stays at BodyHoliday at LeSport on St. Lucia in the eastern Caribbean include three meals and afternoon tea daily, all beverages (even alcoholic ones), fitness classes and activities, one daily 50-minute spa treatment, nightly entertainment, and gratuities. Oh, yeah, and the tropical beach setting isn’t bad either. Rooms cost between $215 and $295 a night per person, depending on type accommodation and time of year. There’s no single supplement unless you upgrade to a double room.

5) Look into rewards programs.

If you’re part of a resort or hotel rewards program with a chain whose properties have spas, you may be eligible not only for discounts on rooms but also on treatments. Often you can sign up for e-mail alerts with special offers, including those specifically at hotel spas.

Members of Fairmont’s President’s Club are eligible for 10% discounts on products and treatments at the chain’s nine exclusive Willow Stream spas; 10 stays or 30 room nights in a year earns a US$100 Willow Stream spa gift certificate. Many other Fairmont properties have spas and special offers as well.

Given that Starwood has so many brands—Le Meridien, The Luxury Collection, Sheraton, St. Regis, W, Westin—it’s probably smart to sign up for its preferred guest program even if you aren’t a spa-goer. If you are one, note that many of the company’s properties are part of the Starwood Spa Collection and offer a good-value, two-night Spa Welcome Package as well as a changing roster of spa deals.

Other links:

Spa magazine and SpaFinder have reviews and lists of packages and special offers. The International Spa Association has a member database as well as very good general information on spa-going and industry standards.

Photo courtesy istock/ Christian Michael

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