Resort day passes offers travelers luxury on a budget

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Resort day passes offers travelers luxury on a budget

Avid traveler Lora Bowler is saving less money on vacation, but that doesn't mean she's giving up on resort vacations.

The New Yorker said she spent more than expected in 2023, including on travel, and is now cutting back on her spending. She's using travel tips and perks to cut some of the costs, and she's one of a growing number of people turning to day passes for hotels as a cheaper way to relax.

“It's a nice way to get away from it all and feel like you're in a five-star hotel,” Bowler said, “but you can't afford to stay.”

Day passes from hotels and resorts give guests access to amenities without having to reserve a room. Bowler said she booked beach chairs and pool service and even found a pass that included a room where her husband could work on his laptop.

Hotels and partner companies are increasing the availability of day passes to bridge the gap between travel-hungry consumers and luxury prices.

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

According to luxury travel company Virtuoso, prices for luxury hotel rooms in July are expected to be 85% higher than the same month in 2019, before the Covid pandemic.

“People are thinking about travel budgets again,” says Hayley Berg, chief economist at travel website Hopper. “They're prioritizing vacation spending over spending on consumer goods.”

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

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

Consumers indulging in travel sprees after Covid restrictions were lifted fueled the “revenge travel” trend, Berg said, driving up demand for luxury accommodations. Now, she said, that trend has “very much run its course” and many travelers are on tighter budgets.

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

“Hotels are generating an additional revenue stream by offering exactly what they already have,” she said.

One of these hotels is the Virgin Hotels New York City in Manhattan's Koreatown district. On May 8, the hotel opened its rooftop pool for the second time and offers day guests the opportunity to use this facility.

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

Customers can reserve a poolside lounge chair or upgrade to a cabana and invite up to four additional guests. The cabana includes complimentary services and refreshments such as wine and fruit. Pool club day pass users can also get their own personalized server based on their selection. A pool club day pass starts at $130.

“Everyone needs a little escape,” says Sarah Payton, the hotel’s director of partnerships and programming.

In May 2023, the hotel partnered with ResortPass, a website that offers day passes for access to luxury hotels, resorts and spas, often at a discounted rate.

Launched in 2016, ResortPass has a 95% market share of day guests, according to the company, and has partnerships with more than 1,300 luxury hotels, including the Waldorf-Astoria, JW Marriott and Fontainebleau.

The day guest platform is used by more than three million users and has introduced day pass access in more than 250 cities with prices starting at $25, the company said.

“We can offer people a way to relax in their local area without having to drive away,” said ResortPass CEO Michael Wolf. “I think it complements and can potentially replace other types of travel.”

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

“Our guests spent an average of over $250 on site, often significantly more,” he said.

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