Resort day passes offer travelers luxury on a budget

Avid traveler Lora Bowler is cutting back on her holiday spending. That doesn't mean she's skipping the resort.

The New York resident said she spent more than she expected in 2023, including on travel, and is now reining in her spending. She uses travel tips and perks to cut some of the costs, and she's part of a growing number of people using hotel day passes as a cheaper option for relaxation.

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

Day passes at hotels and resorts allow guests access to amenities without the cost of reserving a room. Bowler said she booked sunbeds and poolside services and even found a pass that got her 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-conscious consumers and luxury prices.

A typical luxury hotel room in the U.S. cost about $400 per night between Jan. 1 and April 6, according to CoStar, a global provider of real estate data, analytics and news. These rates are approximately 1% higher than in 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,” said Hayley Berg, chief economist at travel site Hopper. “They are prioritizing spending on vacations more than spending on consumer goods.”

In a questionnaire performed in July 2023 by Booking.comMore than 60% of respondents say their cost of living will determine their travel plans in 2024, while just over half say they are likely to pay for accommodation upgrades.

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

Consumers indulging in travel splurges after Covid restrictions were lifted fueled the trend of “revenge travel,” Berg said, boosting demand for luxury accommodations. Now, she said, that trend is “completely over” and many travelers are working on tighter budgets.

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

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

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

The pool, with azure blue tiles flanked by 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 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 selection. A day pass to the pool club starts at $130.

“Everyone needs a little escapism,” says Sarah Payton, the hotel's head of partnerships and programming.

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

Launched in 2016, ResortPass has a 95% share of the day guest market, according to the company, and partners 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 can really do is give people a more local way to get away without leaving,” said Michael Wolf, CEO of ResortPass. “I think it complements, and could potentially take the place of, other types of travel.”

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

“Our guests spent an average of over $250 on the property, and often much more than that,” he said.

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

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