Unlocking the secrets of affordable luxury travel

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Unlocking the secrets of affordable luxury travel

27th May 2024

If you have 5-star taste without the budget to match, we have some insider tips to help you experience luxe travel for a whole lot less. With a few savvy tricks, you can enjoy high-end hotels, exclusive travel experiences and gourmet dining at a fraction of the cost.

How to get discounted five-star accommodation

Sign up to hotel loyalty programs

All the major hotel chains have loyalty programs and they’re an easy way to score discounts. There’s really no disadvantage to signing up, as there are rarely any fees involved at entry level. In fact, there’s often a savings incentive simply for registering.

Major programs include IHG One, ALL (Accor Live Limitless), Hilton Honors, Marriot Bonvoy and World of Hyatt. If you’re travelling a lot – particularly internationally – it can be worth committing to staying in hotels under the one program so you can accrue points and save.

It may seem like these programs are just a vehicle for endless promotional emails, but there are savings to be had. Your loyalty can get you free nights, money off your stay and perks like free breakfast and room upgrades.

There’s also an upside of being on those email lists as they’ll give you access to exclusive offers. It’s kinda like our Travel Money Club, where you get the latest foreign currency news, and also go into the draw to win $500 bucks every month! It’s also worth subscribing to newsletters from smaller boutique properties because often their deals won’t be advertised elsewhere.

Be sure to check if your chosen hotel loyalty program has any partnerships with frequent flyer programs, so you can accrue extra points for your future travels. For example, if you link your Accor Live Limitless membership to your Qantas Frequent Flyer account, you can earn Qantas points to put towards a flight upgrade.

The Velocity Frequent Flyer program also has partnerships with a range of hotel loyalty programs. As a bonus, if you have a Gold or Platinum Velocity membership you can unlock elite tier membership with either IHG One Rewards or Hilton Honors. This can be an avenue for some serious savings and perks at those luxe hotels you’ve been eyeing off.

Speaking of airline loyalty programs – if you’ve racked up a bunch of points that you’re not using because you can never find those elusive rewards seats, don’t let your points go to waste. Try booking your chosen hotel through the airline site and using any unwanted points to reduce the cost of your stay. It’s an easy way to save.

The best time to get 5-star hotel discounts

When it comes to hotel deals, timing is everything. This applies to both when you stay and when you make the booking in the first place.

First up, it seems obvious, but if you’re looking for luxury hotel discounts, peak season is not your friend. Sometimes, you simply won’t want to travel to certain destinations in the off-season because it’s the off-season for a reason. For example, you’re not going to be able to laze by the pool in monsoon season in areas of South East Asia or hit the slopes in Aspen in summer.

However, other destinations offer more flexibility. Many parts of Europe like Italy, France Spain, Portugal and Greece experience a huge boom over summer, but travelling in the ‘shoulder seasons’ of Spring or Autumn instead will score you instant savings on hotels. (For more money-saving Europe travel tips, check out our guide.)

When planning your holiday, also think strategically about how you plan your weeks. Say you’re travelling to England and want to book a luxurious country retreat in the Cotswolds. Check out the accommodation pricing mid-week as it can spike on weekends when Londoners are also looking for a mini-break. Same goes for your London stay – you can often get hotel discounts on the weekend in areas of London like the Square Mile that are typically popular with business travellers during the week.

It’s also important to consider when you make your hotel booking. In short, you either want to be super organised or super flexible. You can score cheaper advance purchase rates on luxury hotels if you know your dates well in advance. On the flipside, if you’re happy to be flexible with your plans, there are plenty of sites that offer incredible last minute deals or cut-price offers on “mystery” 5-star hotels if you’re not set on a specific property, like lastminute.com.au or wotif.com.

Choose destinations wisely to get a luxe holiday for less

When looking for affordable luxury holidays, it’s worth seeking out destinations where your dollar goes the distance. South East Asia is a prime example. Countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines offer incredible value for money.

You only have to take a quick glance at the prices of resorts in Phuket, Thailand, to know that you’re going to get far more for your money there, than for a week in the Amalfi coast in Italy. An 8-night package deal at a 5-star resort in Phuket, including flights, can cost as little as AUD$1650 a person. Many 5-star hotels on the Amalfi Coast would charge that for a single night’s accommodation.

Of course, the proximity of South East Asian destinations to Australia also helps make it more cost effective. The direct flight routes and array of airline options means it’s far cheaper than travelling to Europe. Plus, sightseeing and eating out is inexpensive. For other affordable destinations, see our blog here.

If you’ve still got your heart set on a luxe European holiday, but your budget doesn’t extend to the Amalfi seaside, there are alternatives. Eastern European destinations like Bulgaria, and Romania have a lot to offer and will give you that European charm at a lower price point.

In the Bulgarian capital Sofia, a 5-star hotel in the heart of the city, near the stunning Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and National Palace of Culture, starts at around AUD$177 a night. If venturing on to the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast, a 5-night stay in 5-star resort, including all meals and beverages, will set you back just AUD$1139 per room. Suddenly that high-end European holiday isn’t so out of reach.

Another smart strategy is to keep your eye on the Aussie dollar. When the Aussie dollar is strong – or other currencies are weaker – you’re going to get more for your dollar at your destination. For example, the AUD recently reached a record high against the Japanese Yen, which means that your budget will currently stretch further in Japan. To see how exchange rate fluctuations can impact your holiday planning, see our Japan holiday budget breakdown here.

Likewise, if you’re keen to travel to more expensive destinations like the US or UK where the Aussie dollar is typically weaker, it’s worth monitoring the forex market. Even relatively minor fluctuations can make a difference. If you’re smart about when you travel – and when you buy your currency – that luxury holiday can become slightly more affordable.

Exclusive VIP tours and experiences on a budget

Try a travel pass for discounted attractions

Sightseeing is a significant expense while travelling, but there are ways to enjoy exclusive experiences at a discount. In some circumstances, a travel pass can help you score significant savings – you just need to do the math to see if it’s worth it.

Say you’re a classical music buff and want to explore Vienna, Austria. The official Vienna City Card gives you free travel on public transport, discounts at a huge range of museums and attractions, 20% off your bill at a range of restaurants and a 20% discount at partner hotels if you book direct. Prices start at €17 (around AUD $28) for a 24-hour pass.

So, you could catch a concert in Schönbrunn Palace where Mozart performed in 1786, along with an exclusive tour of the palace after hours. Plus, upgrade to the VIP option at the concert for access to the VIP lounge, a glass of bubbles at intermission, premium seats, a custom program and more. Typically, this VIP experience would cost €160, but the Vienna City Card will get you €32 off your ticket. It effectively pays for itself, right?

Spontaneity can help you save on your travels

If you’re on a budget, but want to add some iconic cultural experiences to your itinerary, there are ways to save. Many theatres, for instance, offer heavily discounted same-day tickets when you buy direct at the box office.

For example, if you want to see the opera or ballet in the historic Palais Garnier opera house in Paris, limited view seats are sold at the box office on the day of the performance for just €10. Bonus tip: if you’re under 28 or over 65, any remaining tickets that are still available 30 minutes prior to curtain-up are sold at the box office for €35 for an opera or €25 for a ballet or concert. This will be a night to remember and won’t break the bank.

Join a small group tour to get luxury travel for less

Often if you’re looking for that exclusive VIP tour without the high price tag, a small group tour is a good compromise.

Say you’re dreaming of island hopping off Dubrovnik, Croatia for the day, but don’t quite have the budget for a private cruise. There are plenty of small boat tours on offer for a fraction of the price with capped guest numbers. On a small tour, you won’t be jostling for space on deck and will still get the freedom to explore those hidden caves and private beaches. Just a little tip for Croatia, even if you’ve paid for your tour in advance, you’ll often need to pay cash for a fuel fee once on board, so make sure you have your Euros ready. FYI - Croatia officially changed from the Kuna to the Euro in 2023.

If you’re looking to book a longer trip, a luxe small group tour often offers great value for money and saves you the hassle of organising transport and accommodation. You just need to weigh up the cost of inclusions and the complexity of travel around your chosen destination.

Perhaps you’re wanting to discover the ‘Golden Triangle’ of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur in India on an exclusive escorted tour. Sure, you could navigate the wonderfully chaotic streets of Delhi on your own, track down your own tour guides and navigate the transport system between cities. However, India already offers great value for money, so a package tour might give you a more seamless luxury experience without a huge price tag.

Plus, there’s always ways to save – even with a high-end tour. As dining is so cheap in India, you could opt for a tour without meals included and pay this part as you go. Just have your Indian Rupees (INR) ready – it’s wise to get these before you set off. Our Travel Money Oz guide to India has plenty of tips and tricks.

Get gourmet deals and discounts when you travel

Part of the fun of any trip is trying the local cuisine – and it can also eat into your budget. If you’re looking for gourmet dining experiences, it pays to do your research.

Check out if there are special promotions or food festivals running at your destination while you’re there. For instance, New York City has an annual restaurant week, where you can enjoy 2-course lunches and 3-course dinners starting at just USD$30 (around AUD$46) at some of the city’s best restaurants. Want to settle your restaurant bill without adding a bunch of extra fees to your gourmet lunch? You can use our Travel Money Oz Currency Pass to pay in US Dollars. Just remember to factor in extra for tips.

If you want to experience a top restaurant at a discount, you can also try dining at the bar instead. Many fine dining restaurants will have a bar or lounge menu, which is cooked by the same top chefs. That way, you can still soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the food without having to pay for a full 3-course meal.

For example, you’ll pay top dollar to dine on the rooftop of the iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore. A 3-course meal at the Spago Dining Room by Wolfgang Puck starts at SGD$88 (around AUD$99) plus sides and drinks. However, light bites at the adjacent Spago Bar and Lounge start at just SGD$14 with the same spectacular view and service. Plus, you can use our Travel Money Oz currency pass to pay in Singapore Dollars.

An opulent dining experience can also give you a luxe hotel experience, without having to actually shell out for a room. In London, for example, you can enjoy a classic afternoon tea in the historic Savoy Hotel, while listening to a pianist playing tunes from the stunning central gazebo in the Thames Foyer. An afternoon tea of sandwiches, scones, cakes, savoury bites and a selection of 28 teas will set you back GBP£80 (approx. AUD$155). Sure, it’s not cheap, but it’s a fraction of the room rate, which is around AUD$1300 a night for a queen room or up to $5200 for a suite.

Insider tips for affordable luxury travel

It is possible to have a luxe vacay at a discount, you just have to be smart about it. Consider the timing of your travels, investigate deals and discounts at your destination and do plenty of research before you set off.

Lastly, if you’re going to be savvy and save money on accommodation, dining and attractions, don’t forget to consider how you’re planning to pay once you’re at your destination. You don’t want to get hit with extra conversion fees because you’re mindlessly tapping your credit card for the entire trip.

You can avoid conversion fees by getting our Travel Money Oz Currency Pass before you go, loading it up with your chosen currency and locking in the exchange rate in advance. Also get some currency in cash to use when you arrive at your destination. Many countries prefer cash to card, so do your research to get the right balance for your travels.

By the way, if you’ve saved on bank fees, you can put that extra money towards a gourmet dining experience or VIP tour instead… that’s just math!