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Rise of resort day passes offers travelers luxury on a budget

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Avid traveler Lora Bowler is cutting back on vacation spending. That doesn’t mean she’s skipping the resort.

The New York resident said she spent more in 2023 than she had expected to, including on travel, and is now reining in her expenses. She uses travel hacks and benefits to cut some of the cost, and she’s part of a growing number of people turning to hotel day passes as a cheaper option for relaxation.

“It’s like a neat way to escape and feel like you’re at a five-star hotel,” Bowler said, “but you can’t afford to stay.”

Day passes at hotels and resorts offer guests access to amenities without the cost of reserving a room. Bowler said she’s booked daybeds and poolside services and even found a pass that offered a room where her husband could work from his laptop.

Hotels and third-party partners are making day passes more readily available to help bridge the gap between travel-minded consumers and luxury prices.

A typical luxury hotel room in the U.S. between Jan. 1 and April 6 cost roughly $400 per night, according to CoStar, a global provider of real estate data, analytics and news. Those rates are about 1% higher than the same period a year ago.

Luxury hotel room rates in July are expected to be 85% higher than the same month in 2019, before the Covid pandemic, according to the luxury travel company Virtuoso.

“People are back to thinking about travel budgets,” said Hayley Berg, lead economist with travel site Hopper. “They’re prioritizing expenditure on vacations, more so than consumer goods.”

In a survey conducted in July 2023 by Booking.com, more than 60% of respondents said their cost of living will determine their travel planning in 2024, while slightly more than half said they were likely to pay for accommodation upgrades.

A majority of U.S. travelers said they would be willing to pay for day passes to use the amenities in a five-star hotel without staying there, according to a Booking.com press release about the survey. The survey included nearly 28,000 adults from 33 countries who said they planned to travel over the next 12-24 months.

Consumers who indulged in travel splurges after Covid restrictions lifted fueled the “revenge travel” trend, Berg said, driving up demand for lavish accommodations. Now, she said, that trend “has very much run out” and many travelers are working with tighter budgets.

Berg said day passes “give people exactly what they want” and provide a separate source of revenue for hotels.

“Hotels get an incremental revenue stream by providing exactly what they already have,” she said.

One of those hotels is the Virgin Hotels New York City, in Manhattan’s Koreatown neighborhood. On May 8 the hotel opened its rooftop pool for the second time, with the option for day guests to use the amenity.

The pool, with cerulean blue tiles flanked by black-and-white lounge chairs, offers guests views of the Empire State Building and city skyline.

Customers can reserve a pool lounge chair or upgrade to a cabana and invite up to four other people. The cabana includes complimentary services and refreshments such as wine and fruit. Day-pass users at the pool club can also get their own personalized server, depending on their selections. A day pass for the pool club starts at $130.

“Everybody needs a little bit of escape,” said Sarah Payton, the hotel’s head of partnerships and programming.

In May 2023 the hotel partnered with ResortPass, a site that provides day-pass access at luxury hotels, resorts and spas, often at a discounted rate.

ResortPass, launched in 2016, holds 95% share of the day-guest market, according to the company, and has partnered with more than 1,300 luxury hotels, including the Waldorf-Astoria, JW Marriott and Fontainebleau.

The day-guest platform has served more than 3 million users and has rolled out day-pass access in more than 250 cities, the company said, at prices as low as $25.

“What we are really able to do is enable people a more local way of getting away without going away,” ResortPass CEO Michael Wolf said. “I think it compliments other types of travel, and serves potentially in lieu of it.”

The average ResortPass customer purchases all-day access at a cost of about $165, the company said. Customers who buy day passes through ResortPass often splurge on poolside or other hotel amenities more than overnight guests do, Wolf said.

“Our guests on average spent over $250 on the premise of the property, and often quite a bit more than that,” he said.

Wolf said ResortPass is currently working on a membership-like program for customers who use day passes frequently, with an announcement expected later in 2024.

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