Business Insider: You’re not imagining it. Everyone’s vacationing like a VIP.
By Chloe Pantazi | 11-21-2023 |
A swanky dinner. A seat in business class. A hotel room with a view.
If you're a traveler with disposable income, chances are you've splurged on at least one of these things.
I'll admit, I have. Gone are the days when I was a 20-something and sharing a dirt-cheap apartment rental in Paris with friends — never mind the mold on the bathroom walls! Now, in my 30s, if I'm going on vacation, I want it to be nice.
And looking at my Instagram feed, it seems as if almost everyone is taking luxurious vacations, so I know I'm not alone.
People are still 'revenge traveling'
Even though it's become more expensive to have fun and travel continues to be a mess — flying is a nightmare and cities have a tourism problem — people are vacationing like never before.
"Demand for American travelers to go somewhere is still at near-record highs," Amir Eylon, the CEO of the market-research consultancy Longwoods International, told me. The firm surveyed 1,000 American adults in October, and 91% said they have travel plans in the next six months.
"With such a sustained level of demand, we are seeing people spending more," Eylon said, adding that it's partly because of inflation and because some people saved more during the COVID-19 pandemic. While they may have spent a lot of that money since, he said, people with disposable income are dipping into their savings for trips.
And inflation hasn't affected people's travel plans as much as you might expect. Only 22% of those involved in Longwoods International's survey said inflation would "greatly impact" their choice to travel in the next six months.
A few industry experts told me we're still in a "revenge travel" stage following the pandemic, and it's driving travelers to splurge.
"Our clients are spending more, and they're traveling for longer periods of time," Cheri Ozimac, a senior travel designer at Tully Luxury Travel, told Business Insider. Ozimac added that after so much time lost to COVID, people are saying: "'Let's make this trip fabulous and upgrade to business class and just go all out because time is precious.' They don't know what tomorrow's going to bring."
Similarly, Anna Abelson, an adjunct professor at New York University's Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality, noted a sentiment among travelers to "live it up." She said her research shows that "travel is somehow looked as a need rather than a want" right now and seen as beneficial to mental health.
People are also splurging with credit-card points, Gilbert Ott, the travel blogger behind God Save the Points, told me. He said he's noticed "a much bigger focus on the actual burning of points now," such as people cashing in points for flight upgrades.
"I feel like there's a very 'YOLO' kind of time with that now," he said.
We're splurging on 'the 3 Cs'
Curious to know how others spend when they travel, I asked my colleagues, friends, and anyone who sees my Instagram stories the question: "What do you splurge on when you're on vacation?"
The answers could mostly be grouped into three categories I'm calling the three Cs: comfort, convenience, and costly experiences. I shared my findings with travel experts, who explained what's driving these spending habits and the broader trends in the industry.
Comfort is a hot commodity
Unsurprisingly, comfort is high on the list of people's vacation splurges.
Some said they pay for airport lounges — or travel credit cards that get them in for free — and even airport hotels during long layovers.
And many people care enough about where they sit on a plane that they'll pay more for it. Some pay to sit in business class on a long-haul flight or as close to the front of the plane as possible. One colleague told me she'll upgrade her seat on the way home to have something to look forward to at the end of her trip.
Andria Godfrey, an adjunct professor of hospitality and tourism at the University of Southern California, said she's noticed leisure travelers filling the front of plane cabins "because they wanted to be comfortable, they wanted space."
"Even though business hasn't really come back quite yet, planes are still seeing the front of the cabin that's full," she told me, referring to the dip in business travelers following the pandemic.
The desire for comfort, of course, extends to luxurious accommodation. Some people said they pay extra for a hotel room with a view or all-inclusive resorts that cater to their every need.
Parents are spending more to be comfortable while traveling with kids, too. One colleague told me she pays for a seat for her toddler instead of traveling with her 2-year-old on her lap. Some splurge on suites with multiple rooms to have their own space while their kids sleep. Connecting rooms are also in demand among parents, Abelson said.
Parents are also splurging on kid-free trips. A mom of three told me she paid for her own room on a girls' spa trip to Arizona to avoid "having to go back to a big crowded suite with a bunch of people and all their stuff."
Godfrey said that for many people, vacationing now is "very much emotionally driven." She said more people are traveling to connect with friends and family, so they may be spending more on amenities that provide comfort for larger groups.
"They're willing to spend more on those amenities or to splurge on those amenities like a spa or something like that because travel is so meaningful to them," Godfrey said.
Convenience is worth the price
Many people said they splurge for the sake of practicality, including investing in custom suitcases that are easy to spot at baggage claim, prebooked airport and hotel transfers, their cellphone carrier's international plan, extra insurance on rental cars, and bags designed to deter pickpockets — anything that gives them one less thing to think about.
Parents, in particular, splurge for convenience's sake. A colleague told me she'll buy more expensive flights with a layover so her family can fly in and out of their local airport. And Ott, a father of two, said some parents will pay extra to travel around their kids' sleep schedules.
Others want the convenience of not planning at all and hire travel advisors.
Michael Trager, the director of the luxury travel agency TravelZork and a travel advisor at Travel Edge, calls the boom in demand for travel advisors "a snowball effect."
When things go wrong, he said, his clients don't have to wait on hold with an airline and "wonder if it's going to work out." Trager said his clients think of him as "their insurance policy."
Costly experiences and amenities are king
Above all, people said they splurge on lavish experiences, whether it's fine dining, a thrill-seeking excursion, a day bed at a buzzy beach club, or a cooking class.
Ozimac and Diana Wehrle, also a senior travel designer at Tully Luxury Travel, said they've seen their clients gravitate toward adventure travel, off-the-beaten-path destinations, and small-ship cruising with luxury amenities.
Travelers are also seeking more private, personalized activities.
Ott has noticed a trend of people hiring local photographers to capture special vacation moments. "I've done it a few times whenever we've gone somewhere special or that we probably won't return to quickly, and that felt like a really worthwhile purchase," he told me.
Eylon said he and his wife hired a private tour guide on a trip to Boston rather than join a large group. He thinks people crave these experiences because they want recognition "as being VIPs."
"At the end of the day, it's all about meaningful experiences," Eylon added. "If they're going on a fishing trip, they want to catch the fish, and they want the chef to prepare it for them for dinner."
Godfrey told me that while travelers seeking more authentic, unique experiences isn't a new phenomenon, "we're really seeing it now."
And people are willing to pay for it.