Dermatologist Shira Maryles, 45, decided that she and her husband David deserved a European vacation à deux this summer — an extra treat as all four of their kids will be away at camp or college. The New Rochelle, NY, pair are avid travelers already but resolved to make 2022’s trip a blowout splurge, bolstering their regular budget by 20%.
Getting away and getting pampered was the big priority.
“We’ve all put a lot of things on hold for the last couple of years, and we need a pressure-release, a way to get out of your everyday headspace,” Maryles told The Post. “Part of us was, like, let’s do this — we don’t know when the next opportunity will present itself.”
They’re not alone. “The spending has really shifted. Americans are being a lot more flashy with money now,” said travel agent Jaclyn Sienna India. That includes hiring private charter planes, spending six figures on villa rentals and shelling out twice-as-high rates to rent yachts.
Maryles and her husband asked their travel agent, Janel Carnero from NYC’s Embark Beyond, to arrange a blowout 10-day trip. She’s planned out an adventure that includes an EDM festival in Barcelona, primo seating for the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, and a five-star beach hideaway in Biarritz, France. The couple opted for the priciest hotel available.
“We chose the more expensive option, and I don’t feel bad about it. I never feel bad about taking vacations,” Maryles said, “And whoever is traveling this year is paying a premium.”
And then some. Per hospitality data tracker STR, a tony hotel room in Europe this summer will cost $471.96 versus $364.91 in 2019 — almost one-third more. According to the Consumer Price Index, airfare jumped 18.6% between March and April this year, marking the highest single hike, ever.
Taking a trip this summer is a pricey proposition — but more wealthy Americans just don’t care, even amidst record inflation.
“So many of my clients have more than doubled in terms of what they spend, though the amount they’re going to spend is no longer part of the conversation,” said luxury agent Carnero. “Now it’s, ‘This is what I want, tell me how much I need to spend to get that.’”
Another of her clients, a couple who usually book two or three trips a year, might typically have spent $30,000 on a week or so in the Mediterranean. “Now they want private charters, not business class, and they spend that much on two nights of the trip, instead of an entire week,” Camero said.
Many of the world’s hotspots, of course, are desperate for such free-spending largesse. They’re reeling not only from pandemic shutdowns, but also the absence of two groups of free-spending travelers used to keep five-star piles afloat: Chinese travelers remain largely precluded from venturing overseas thanks to their government’s measures, while sanctions keep many Russians away. Even those Russians able to travel to, say, St Tropez might feel unwelcome so and prefer instead to stay in Putin-friendly regions.
But Americans are making up for it.
“Americans are the new Russians,” Embark Beyond’s founder Jack Ezon told The Post. “They are filling the Med hot spots at ridiculously inflated rates, and they cannot seem to get enough of it.”
They’re even planning for the future, looming recession be damned.
“The travelers we’re dealing with now want to plan their next four or five amazing trips together — we’re grabbing space in 2024 and 2025,” Keith Waldon of Departure Lounge told The Post. “A lot of people now realize that nothing’s guaranteed, and if they put something off it may not happen.”
The insatiable appetite currently prizes Italy above all, according to experts. Cari Gray of Gray & Co said that she’s seeing clients cram their days there like never before.
“They are doing it all, and fitting everything they can into a three-night stay in any city — some nights, they’re even having two dinners,” Gray told The Post.
“People are spending about 40% more per capita this year,” said Jennifer Schwarz of Authentic Explorations, who specializes in ultra-luxe Italian vacanze. “And the big thing we see during the booking process is boats. People are renting them who would never have done that before. They say ‘Omigod, let’s do it.’”
But chartering a luxe yacht is pricier than ever this summer, Ezon said, mostly as a result of those absent Russians. Many rental yachts were Russian-owned and inventory is down around 30% since Russia’s war on Ukraine began.
“They’re difficult to get,” said Carnero, “So most times you have to be willing to pay most double what you typically would have before.”
Deep-pocketed Americans are also powering a surge in villa rentals, a COVID trend that continues apace. On the once Russian-heavy Côte d’Azur, for example, Americans are filling the villas sanction-hobbled Muscovites can’t.
“Hands down, my biggest clients are two American families – they’re so pleasant to work with, and they just enjoy themselves,” Alexandra Lloyd is a longtime agent on the French Riviera who owns and runs a namesake firm.
And while Americans, like the wealthy Russians before them, are willing to spend six figures for a St Tropez getaway, the difference is that the Russians might stay for six weeks. The Yanks will tap out after one or perhaps two weeks, but they are splurging on every little detail.
Jeff Tolkin, who runs World Travel Holdings, parent company of five-star specialist Villas of Distinction, told The Post that his internal data shows pricing has risen 24% over last year. And, among Americans, the demands for add-ons like private chefs has risen 30-35%.
Sean Siegal is one of Tolkin’s longtime customers and said he’s taking twice as many trips this year.
“Sometimes you need a break,” says the 49-year father of four, who runs a beverage distribution company and lives in Weston, Mass. “With this COVID thing, we’re ready to get out there and spend all the money we’ve been socking away for the last two years when we didn’t travel. If you have to pay a little extra right now, that’s OK. You only live once.”
He just got back from a two-week jaunt around Europe — including Italy, of course — as well as a bucket-list visit to Iceland. He’s teeing up another vacation right now, to St Martin, one of the family’s favorite Caribbean islands.
“The only thing I worry about how is how busy everywhere is,” he told The Post. “Everybody is going so that’s going to cause some frustration when you’re traveling.”