High-End Vacation Rentals: Sometimes a Good Value

Not all high-end travel is a good value. But you can find good values at the high end. Maybe it’s time to give it a try.

Cheapest isn’t always the best choice: Look at the lousy product you get on a cheap airline ticket. That’s why I never talk about “saving” money—after all, the best way to save money on travel is to stay home. What I really focus on is good value, not necessarily the lowest price. And although high-end travel often seems to be a waste of money, a top-of-the-line vacation rental is sometimes a good value. Typically, you’ll spend a week or more in a vacation rental, and enjoying luxury accommodations and facilities can add a great deal of enjoyment to just about any destination. The typical high-end rental starts at somewhere around $500 a night or $4,000 a week. And that kind of money buys you great locations, ranging from city-center penthouses to beachfront villas to ski chalets.

Typically, it buys top-of-the-line furnishings and services, often including housekeeping. It can also buy you houses with 10 or more bedrooms, accommodating large families or travel groups. And at the top-of-the-top range, you can rent a castle or a private island. Many online vacation rental agencies specialize in high-end properties:

  • HomeAway, the overall worldwide giant among vacation rental agencies, says its dedicated “Luxury Rentals” subset hosts “the largest collection of high-end vacation rentals available in one place.” It also notes that each luxury listing is screened by an evaluation system designed by Andrew Harper, the long-term leading expert in upscale hotels and resorts. As with HomeAway’s full list, the luxury group covers most of the places you’re likely to want a rental, with more than 2,000 properties in the United States, about 1,500 in the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico; 657 in Europe, and a smattering around the rest of the world.
  • Although the other leading vacation rental agency, FlipKey, doesn’t provide a dedicated high-end section, it does permit you to screen its listings by tags such as “villa” and “estate” and the categories “5-star” and “luxury.” These searches result in much the same kind of property that you get on HomeAway’s luxury pages.
  • Most of what I call the “curated” vacation rental agencies tend toward handling high-end properties. These are the smaller boutique agencies that represent properties only after their personnel have actually visited and vetted them. Most specialize in specific areas, with a high concentration focusing on Tuscany, Provence, the Caribbean, London, and Paris.

For some folks, the ultimate in vacation rentals is membership in a high-end “destination club.” They’re something like upscale timeshares, offering a cluster of high-end residences worldwide with variable occupancy options. The best actually provide you with an equity ownership position, and—unlike conventional timeshares—you get money back when you leave. But the initial buy-in price is high, typically starting in six figures. For more details, the Sherpa Report provides a searchable database of some of the top high-end destination clubs.

Many high-end travelers prefer to have professionals arrange their travels as they do so for many other aspects of their lives. Numerous travel agencies and individual agents cater to these travelers—far too many for me to try to develop a comprehensive list. I can, however, mention one I’ve known for decades. Originally focused strictly on top-end vacation rentals, Mike Thiel has morphed his operation into the Hideaways Aficionado Club, a full-service planning and booking agency for high-end travelers. As with the best such agencies, Mike and his colleagues take care to vet any service in advance of booking and search for value along with luxury. Membership costs $195 per year, increasing to $250 in mid-November.

If you’d like to find a high-end specialized agent located near your home, you can log onto the agent locator page on the American Society of Travel Agents website and filter your search for “luxury.”

Not all high-end travel is a good value. But you can find good values at the high end. Maybe it’s time to give it a try.

Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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By Ed Perkins

A nationally recognized reporter, writer, and consumer advocate, Ed Perkins focuses on how travelers can find the best deals and avoid scams.

He is the author of "Online Travel" (2000) and "Business Travel: When It's Your Money" (2004), the first step-by-step guide specifically written for small business and self-employed professional travelers. He was also the co-author of the annual "Best Travel Deals" series from Consumers Union.

Perkins' advice for business travelers is featured on MyBusinessTravel.com, a website devoted to helping small business and self-employed professional travelers find the best value for their travel dollars.

Perkins was founding editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter, one of the country's most influential travel publications, from which he retired in 1998. He has also written for Business Traveller magazine (London).

Perkins' travel expertise has led to frequent television appearances, including ABC's "Good Morning America" and "This Week with David Brinkley," "The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather," CNN, and numerous local TV and radio stations.

Before editing Consumer Reports Travel Letter, Perkins spent 25 years in travel research and consulting with assignments ranging from national tourism development strategies to the design of computer-based tourism models.

Born in Evanston, Illinois, Perkins lives in Ashland, Oregon with his wife.

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