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Where to live the high life for less

Imagine arriving at a hotel and being greeted by a smiling face that whisks away your luggage, then being escorted by another helping hand to reception. Picture sumptuous rooms with plush bedding and high-end amenities, and indulging in high-quality spa treatments and restaurants on-site. You’re being treated like a V.I.P., rather than just a room number. Luxury hotels provide all this and more, albeit with a hefty price tag.

According to Shelley Pyne-Hanley, vice president of sales and marketing for Leading Interactive, a joint venture of The Leading Hotels of the World, the average nightly rate for a Leading Hotel of the World property this year is $493, up about five percent from 2005. Spending nearly $500 a night isn’t feasible for many travelers, but there are destinations where stellar service and luxurious accommodations are available for bargain prices. You just have to know where to go.

Thailand

Southeast Asia is a hotspot for backpackers, but it also draws businesspeople and well-heeled travelers. In particular, Thailand has a wide array of accommodations options, including luxury hotels at inexpensive rates. Veteran traveler and SmarterTravel.com columnist Ed Perkins recommends Thailand for “outstanding hotel accommodations, plus the usual ubiquitous Asian service, in quite a few hotels.”

In Thailand, one of the best ways to snag a good rate on luxury accommodations is to venture away from worldwide hotel chains such as Ritz-Carlton and the Four Seasons, and instead seek out high-quality non-chain and boutique hotels. Perkins notes, “By comparison to Europe, rooms at even the top-reputation places, notably the [Mandarin] Oriental, are a good deal. But the real deals are at the dozen or so outstanding top-of-the-line hotels that do not enjoy the cachet of the Oriental or Peninsula.” The website 2bangkok.com is Perkins’ website of choice for finding hotel bargains around Thailand.

It’s not difficult to find a four- or five-star hotel room, even a suite, for less than $100 per night in Bangkok. For example, the downtown, all-suite Windsor Suites Hotel is currently available from $72 on 2bangkok.com and the Windsor’s website has last-minute Internet specials from $55 per night. The modern Luxx hotel, a boutique design hotel, has rates from $58, while the upscale, five-star Sofitel Silom Bangkok starts at $96. Pricier (but still relatively inexpensive) options include the Plaza Athenee Hotel from $129, the Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok from $204, and the Peninsula Bangkok from $210.

Bargain prices on luxury hotels aren’t exclusive to Bangkok. Phuket, a resort island in southern Thailand, has its share of upscale hotels from under $100 as well. The highly-rated Amari Coral Beach Resort starts at $72 on 2bangkok.com, while the Merlin Beach Resort goes for $97. For worldwide chains, Le Royal Meridian starts at $118 and the JW Marriott‘s rates start at $160.

In addition to cheap hotel costs, spa services are available at bargain-basement prices in Thailand. In Bangkok, Phuket, Koh Samuai, and other busy tourist areas, it’s possible to get a massage on nearly every block. Generally, a two-hour massage costs around 300 baht (about $8). Upscale pampering is available at beauty and health spas around Thailand, where massages cost 1,200 baht (about $40) and up. In many more upscale spas, you can indulge in a 90-minute massage for well under $100, a bargain compared to rates in many U.S. cities.

For more information on visiting Thailand, visit Tourism Thailand’s website.

Argentina

The dollar stretches further in South America, including nations such as Argentina, due to favorable exchange rates. As noted on Fodors.com, “The cheap peso has made [Buenos Aires] one of the planet’s most affordable cities, and dollar- and euro-wielding visitors are arriving in record numbers.” Shelley Pyne-Hanley also mentions Argentina in her recommendations, and says that traveling to South America in the shoulder season is a good way to nab a luxury hotel for cheap (Argentina’s seasons are reversed since the country is in the Southern Hemisphere).

Many rooms at Argentina’s five-star hotels start around $150. The price may seem steep at first, but when comparing rates in Buenos Aires to rates in New York City, for example, $150 is a steal for a five-star property. Argentina also has many upscale four-star hotels with quality service that are quite a bit cheaper than the five-star hotel chains. You can find a listing of four- and five-star hotels, along with Argentina travel tips, on the Argentina Hotels’ website.

The five-star Claridge Hotel in downtown Buenos Aires starts at $135 per night, including breakfast, while rates at the five-star Hilton Buenos Aires begin at $147. Rooms at the LoiSuites Recoleta Hotel begin at $165, also including breakfast. In Mendoza, a city at the foot of the Andes in western Argentina, rates at the five-star Park Hyatt begin as low as $172, though you’re more likely to find prices around $200.

Shopping, dining, and sightseeing in Buenos Aires, or “the Paris of South America,” are notoriously cheap, even at the upscale level. In fact, Buenos Aires’ dining scene is often considered the hottest in Latin America. Pyne-Hanley considers Argentina a bargain “in terms of costs per day,” noting that a nice dinner at an Argentine restaurant costs a fraction of a comparable meal in New York City. Argentine beef is particularly famous, and a steak dinner paired with one of the country’s up-and-coming wines can cost as little as $25.

Mendoza is home to Argentina’s wine region, and buying wine in-country is much cheaper than purchasing the same bottle in the U.S. Bottles cost anywhere from 35 cents to $15. Fine leather goods are also considerably less in Argentina than in other parts of the world, and admission to many museums costs less than $1.

For more information on planning an Argentine vacation, check out AllAboutArgentina.com.

Croatia

Europe isn’t cheap, but Croatia offers some of the best values in the region. Croatia, while popular with visitors from Europe, hasn’t yet been “discovered” by U.S. travelers. Of course, travelers won’t find the same sort of luxury as in London or Paris, but the country’s top-notch hotels with superior amenities and attentive staffs are available for far less than elsewhere in Europe.

Most hotels in Croatia aren’t big international chains, although there are a few exceptions. One of the most luxurious, and priciest, chain hotels is the Regent Esplanade in Zagreb, the capital. Rates at the highly rated property begin around €149 (about $191), while guestrooms at the Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik start as low as €90 (about $115).

Travelers may find better values at hotels that aren’t part of a major hotel group. The GS Hotels and Resorts group has five hotels in Croatia, including two five-star luxury properties in Dubrovnik, a city on the Dalmatian coast. Rates at the Dubrovnik Palace Hotel are as low as €127 (about $162), while the lowest rack-rate price for a room at the Excelsior Hotel is €199 (about $254). Meanwhile, the five-star Hotel Milenij in Opatija, a coastal city aside the Adriatic Sea, has rooms for as low as €96 (about $123).

Rates for ocean-view suites with balconies at the Hotel Miramar in Opatija begin at €140 (about $177), while the hotel’s most inexpensive rates start at €58. The Falkensteiner Hotel Adriana Select in Zadar, a popular city on the Adriatic coast, offers per-person rates in junior suite accommodations starting at €59 (about $75) per day.

To find out more about traveling to Croatia, visit the Croatian National Tourist Board’s website.

Luxury travel doesn’t have to come with a hefty price tag. Your chances of getting a low price for a luxury hotel room in an expensive city like New York, London, or Tokyo is close to none, but by traveling in less expensive destinations, you can stretch your dollars further.

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