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What’s a Vacation Club? And Are They Worth the Huge Expense?

PHOTO: Exclusive Resorts

Or is it just another concierge service for the 0.1%?

As the world gets more crowded, vacation options seem to get more limited. Hotels are always booked during peak travel season and come with exorbitant costs, flights are packed (also costly), rental cars are scarce, restaurants are reserved, and attractions are swamped.

The stress of booking a vacation, especially for larger families, is at an all-time high, and the pressure to make the most of your scant time off from work becomes that much more critical.

For all these reasons, people have started turning to vacation clubs. But the question usually is: What are vacation clubs? And in actuality, there are many questions: What do they cost? How hard are they to get in? What are the perks?

First things first, vacation clubs are kind of like country clubs and also kind of not. At the highest end, they can have initiation fees that are only affordable to the 0.1%, while the less expensive options are still out of reach for the average consumer. But what a vacation club does do is eliminate the clutter. They have access to thousands of luxury homes, high-end hotel rooms, elite travel adventures, and a level of service that is unrivaled.

Most importantly, they’re not a timeshare. You don’t have to sit through a two-hour presentation to get a free helicopter ride to then sign away your net-worth on a home in the Caribbean that you’ll never go to. The clubs give you flexibility for a price–but is that price worth it?

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Exclusive Resorts

One of the most exclusive and most expensive of the vacation clubs is undoubtedly Exclusive Resorts.

“We describe ourselves as a members-only vacation club,” says Exclusive Resorts CEO James Henderson. “We have 4,000 members and we provide access to 400 homes and experiences in 75 destinations around the world. All the homes that we have run from two bedrooms up to five bedrooms and are well-positioned to offer amazing experiences for families. The other part of what we do is we have a series of what we call once-in-a-lifetime experiences. We do anywhere from 25 to 40 of those a year which are everything from bucket list trips from safaris to cruises to trips to Japan. And then we do a lot of member community type of events ranging from the Kentucky Derby, The U.S. Open, Formula One in Austin. And then we do a series of community events, which are intimate events for members to connect. And these are events where we bring members together and they create a level of community.”

The price tag for Exclusive Resorts comes in different packages. A 10-year membership starts at $150,000. A 30-year Membership starts at $250,000. Plus, annual dues are $1,395 per night and members travel 15-30 nights per year. But there’s a bevy of upgrades and you can share your days with family and friends or even gift your days to charities.

The pros of this club are the access to an unbeatable inventory of homes that all come with five-star hotel services, a dedicated concierge, personalized trip planning, and no hassle. The cons of the club are (obviously) the gigantic price and that you have to spend a minimum amount every year (though the fees are the same regardless of season), and it’s harder to become a member.

Exclusive Resorts

Inspirato

Created by the former founders of Exclusive Resorts, Inspirato is a less-expensive, more accessible vacation club that aims to bring a luxury vacation experience without the ultra-luxury cost.

“We bring a level of certainty and service to travel that is unlike anybody else,” explains Inspirato president David Kallery. “We have a portfolio of nearly 400 homes in addition to high-end hotels that are part of our service. And when you travel with us, you never have to worry about whether or not the home is going to be perfect. When you book a home through a typical marketplace site it’s a little bit of a crapshoot–you could show up and it might be incredible, but it might also be a small nightmare. Next is our service. It’s not just that you’re going to a home that you know will be near perfect, but we wrap your experience with [the] highest level of service that you can imagine. Our members work with a team of people that get to know them very intimately. They get to know everything about your family and what your personal travel preferences are and time of year you’d like to travel and the destinations you’d like to go to. And they really take all of the planning and guesswork of making the experience incredible by doing all the work. Members don’t have to call restaurants to make reservations or golf courses to make tee times, we have teams of people that take care of all those pre-planning activities. And then once you’re on the ground, our homes are staffed with teams of people that take care of any sort of last-minute requests, or changes that you want to make to your itinerary or spontaneous things that you might want.”

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What makes Inspirato different than Exclusive is that they don’t own their own properties, but lease them or have partnerships with hotels to provide inventory. This allows them flexibility in case a property isn’t rating well among members.

There are two tiers of costs for Inspirato. The Inspirato Club, which comes with a $600/month fee and $1,200 at signing and is open to anyone and everyone. This fee gets you access to the portfolio of homes and hotels, but you still have to pay for the place itself on a nightly basis. Then there’s Inspirato Pass, which is $2,500/month, which gives you access to every property that you can book any time for free. For the Pass, you’re only allowed to make one booking at a time, so jumping from one to the next into infinity is a little harder unless you pay for multiple passes. The key to remember for Inspirato is that the nightly fees you’re paying are going to be less than what you’d find on the open market for much better properties.

My Travel Rewards Club

My Travel Rewards Club is another members club that also offers more than just places to stay. Part of their infrastructure includes partners that offer airfare, rental cars, and other services. They have access to more than 700,000 properties around the world and claim to offer rates that can save you up to 70% on hotels.

Additionally, My Travel Rewards has deals and offers that include 250 different airlines, over 250 cruises, 8,000 tour packages, and even 5,000 sporting event packages. Like the other clubs, there are full-time concierge services that come with membership.

There are three membership tiers: Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Silver comes with 10% discounts on bookings, the ability to add two authorized users, and $129/year for membership dues. Gold comes with 20% discounts on bookings, the ability to earn 4% cashback on bookings, and the ability to add additional users. Platinum has 30% discounts, 8% cashback on bookings, and the ability to add 10 users.

With each booking, members earn rewards points that they can redeem on future bookings. And those rewards never expire.

Solstice Collection

A bit different than the other clubs, Solstice only has eight properties in their portfolio, along with a few additional homes that are owned by members and offered to other members on occasion. The destinations include Florence, Paris, London, Aspen, St. Barth, New York, Napa Valley, and Cabo San Lucas. The additional properties are in Lucens, Marrakesh, Pataua, Weatherford, and Koh Samui.

The club keeps its membership small with a 6:1 ratio of home to member to help ensure space is available throughout the year. Like the other clubs, concierge services handle all your needs. The highest tier of the club allows for 56 total vacation days throughout the year, as long as there’s up to eight months of notice.

To become a member of Solstice, initial fees run around $15,000 while annual dues can be well above $40,000. Also of note: all the homes are in the $6 million range.

There are dozens of other clubs to choose from including Quintess, Equity Estates, 21-5, Destination M, and many others. Each club offers its own unique properties and value propositions. Most of the clubs are for high net-worth earners, but a few are more accessible from a cost perspective. The key is, do your homework, figure out how much you like to travel, who you want to travel with, and what parts of the world you want to travel to. A travel club might make sense if you hit all the sweet spots for your future adventures.

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