Spa deal. Two little words, a mere syllable apiece, but together they're as magical as Hogwarts, as mythical as Ponce de Léon's fountain, and as desirable as a pair of Christian Louboutins.
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Spa Deal or No Deal
By Vera Value
Let's get one thing straight: Deal and cheap don't mean the same thing. To earn a perfect 10 on Vera's value scale, a spa should provide sublime services and surroundings and lots of stretching—the kind aimed at your dollar, yen, euro, or pound. And Vera always applies to spas the same rule of thumb when shopping for handbags on sale: If I were paying full price, would I still want it?
Basic strategies for procuring luxury on the cheap abound—go midweek, travel off-season, and play the exchange rate (welcome to America!). But those are just the warm-ups. Here are Vera's Lucky Seven—my ultimate tips for finding the best spa deals:
1) Unpack the packages. Spas are big on bundling services, meals, and rooms. But be leery. Unlike little blue boxes from Tiffany, not all spa packages are a score. Always deconstruct the deal, and add up the costs you'd accrue if you bought everything à la carte. It's amazing how often a so-called deal is precisely what you'd pay item by item.
2) Investigate who's paying for dinner. If the spa is on a remote Maldivian isle and meals aren't included, your savings can disappear with each swallow of that $30 oatmeal. Vera is willing to do without at spas, especially if it means she'll look luscious in the latest Lanvin, but only if it's her idea.
3) Exploit the package to the fullest. A fabulous deal at Connecticut's Spa at Norwich Inn entitled me to two free spa services. So, of course, I booked the most expensive—a wrap where I was showered with rose petals and an übermassage with aromatherapy. The price would have been the same had I selected a manicure and pedicure. Who's foolish enough to do that?
4) Use packages to road test treatments. While not a deal-finding tip per se, a package that includes several spa services is a good means of ordering something new off the menu. Like when someone else is paying for dinner. For example, the heavenly Cloud 999 package at the Equinox Spa in Vermont gave me $999 worth of treatments and a room for three days. So I tried reflexology, a foot rub I'd never wanted to shell out $100 for. My feet loved it. (I did, too.)
5) Look closely at lodging. Does the deal cover the cost per room or the cost per person? This question is of particular interest for those traveling solo or women on a girls' weekend. Sometimes a per-person equation is in your favor, and sometimes it isn't. Always know what you're getting, and calculate, calculate, calculate.
6) Ask pointed questions upfront. Are costs insanely low because the spa is undergoing renovations? Are there immovable charges that will appear on your bill, like a daily resort fee? Are taxes and gratuities included? What about parking or airport transfers? (I haven't seen a going-green fee yet, but I'm waiting.) A great-sounding deal can lose its luster at checkout if you don't ask at booking.
7) Know when to roll your eyes. Spas often tout "use of all spa facilities" as part of the deal. This is like saying you get free tap water with your meal. Now, if you can use the spa facilities for the length of your stay, even if you're not having a daily spa treatment, that's a deal.
Illustration by Lisa Plaskett
January 7, 2009