Skip to main content

Twenty years ago, the closest thing many hotels had to a spa was a one-chair barber shop, an overstuffed newspaper rack and a man with a worn rag offering shoe shines for a dollar.

But today, world-weary travelers looking for pampering between meetings and flights no longer have to leave the hotel -- an increasing number of hotel chains are turning to spa treatments to court not only business travelers, but families as well. In January,

Starwood Hotels


bought Bliss spas for $25 million, and is rolling out more Bliss branches in its upscale W Hotels properties. Other hotel companies, like

Host Marriott


, have snapped up million-dollar spa and resort properties, hoping to capitalize on the growing spa trend.

"If you look at the upper upscale hotels, spas have moved from a 'nice to have' amenity to the 'must have' standard. Now, you can't build a five-star hotel without a pretty extensive spa offering," said Jan Freitag, director at Smith Travel Research, a hotel fare research firm. "The trend with consumers is towards small indulgences. Going away for a long weekend or taking a three-day trip with your spouse or significant other and you want to get pampered."

The spa industry is booming. In 2002, according to a study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Americans spent $14 billion on spa treatments, making the category the third most popular leisure activity in the U.S., more popular than even going to the movies. One out of every five Americans has received a massage in the last year and the number of spas has nearly doubled since 2000.

And it's not just for the ladies -- men are opting for spa treatments as well. Last year, 29% of all spa visitors were men, up from 24% in 2002, according to a study from the International Spa Association.With the demise of Friday casual and the resurgence of business travel, hotels are using spas as a way of luring men to their lobbies. At the 20,000-square-foot spa Cornelia, which will open in New York City at the end of the summer, the men's locker room will be larger than the women's locker room.

"They're targeting the young, hip, affluent 30- to 40-something on business. It's another way to keep them in the hotel and increase revenue," said Freitag.

But with spa popularity on the rise, hotels are trying to make a return on their investment. As a result, first-class spa packages and services are premium products that aren't being deeply discounted the way first-class airline tickets are. At the Mandarin Oriental hotel in New York, an 80-minute shiatsu massage is $285. In comparison, a full night's stay in the hotel at the discounted rate is $429, less than $150 more.

TheStreet Recommends

"What's been happening this spring is that travel is starting to come back," said Ray Vastola, president of Quikbook. "Prices are starting to firm as the hotels start to increase their prices somewhat. It's not to say that there aren't good deals, but it's not necessarily as promotional."

In other words, good deals are getting harder to find now, but by traveling at the right times and knowing which treatments to pick, you'll be able to make the most of any luxurious spa getaway, regardless of budget.

Not all spas are created equal and not every spa caters to the same clientele, so if you're looking for great deals, pay attention to where the spa is, who it caters to and when you can take some time off to take advantage of its best deals.

"The deal you get depends on location, a lot of the time," said Vastola. "City spas can be cheaper on weekends, while the destination spas are better on weekdays. And you can aim for shoulder season, when demand isn't so high. In the Southwest or South, you'll get better deals in the summers. All you need to do is shop around."

Indeed, with many urban centered hotels ratcheting up their spa services to court the midweek business traveler, weekend rooms are often sold at a discount, with premium perks thrown in for good measure. Case in point: Through Independence Day weekend, W Hotels offers discounted weekend Bliss spa packages with rates that are at least 30% cheaper than the weekday rates and include a variety of goodies.

For $500, travelers can spend the weekend at the W New York, including continental breakfast-in-bed, a free in-room movie rental and best of all -- a complimentary overnight bag from Bliss that includes peppermint foot pumice, minty scrub soap, an exfoliating mask and lemon and sage body butter. During the week, when business travelers are in town for meetings, the same two-night stay would cost $700 and the complimentary gift bag from Bliss, valued at $80, is not included.

The inverse, however, is also true. Destination spas, which court leisure travelers into taking getaway weekends, tend to offer better deals during the week when demand is lower. The Spa at Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, Ariz., a five-diamond rated hotel by the American Automobile Association, has its share of business travelers, but it's the weekend escapists that are the resort's bread-and-butter.

"We try to increase demand during the week, because when we have business travelers they're working during the week and not using the spa," said Terri Worthington, a company spokesperson. "Mondays and Tuesdays are always less crowded."

Even if you're not staying at Camelback, but want the same experience at a fraction of the cost, just buy a single spa treatment. Any spa guest can spend the whole day lounging in Camelback's 32,000-square foot facility, swimming in the private pool or indulging in one of its many fitness classes. An added bonus: No screaming kids -- all spa guests must be at least 16 years old.

To get the best deal, pick the right time of week and aim for the shoulder season -- those off-peak periods when fewer people are traveling to the area. By zigging when others are zagging, heading to summer hot spots when the weather's cooler, you can save a bundle.

At the Sanderling Resort & Spa, in Duck, N.C. two hours from Norfolk, Va., summertime is the peak season, when tourists flock to the white beaches for spa treatments in a secluded setting. But from late March to mid-May and again from mid-October until the end of November, the resort's rooms are on sale.

During the off-peak season, it's $345 a night for Sanderling's spa sampler package, which includes lodging and a 70-minute body treatment, consisting of herbal and mud wraps, aromatherapy and a pressure point message. In the summer, however, this same package is $444 a night.

"If you wanted to go to the Sanderling, go in October," said Heather Freeman, spokesperson for the company. "The weather is still nice. You can still go kayaking. I've even swum there in October. It's not the same as July -- you're probably not in your bikini on the beach, but if you're going on a spa weekend, it's a good value."