The luxury market is having a fire sale, which means that the lucky few who actually saved money and lived within their means prior to the recession are now reaping the rewards and living the high life.
Or, at least, they could be.
We talked to the experts to bring you this guide to using the economy to attain aspirational, elite status — to live like a celebrity on the cheap.
Private Jets & First Class Flights
Jet shares and charters, like Sentient Jet and World Class Charters, Inc. offer the privacy and convenience of the jet setter life without actually needing to buy a plane.
According to Catherine Smith, founder of WCCI, “Overall…the cost of charter flights is down about 20% and aircraft operators are more willing to negotiate deals than I have ever seen in 20 years of arranging charter flights.” To give you a snapshot, a deal Smith brokered this week was for a one-way flight from Scottsdale, AZ to Aspen, CO for 10 people on a Challenger 601 jet at the cost of $3,700 or about $370 per person.
While that doesn’t include taxes, surcharges or catering fees, it does include the fee-free luxury of bringing your pets on board, having access to your baggage throughout the flight — even smoking. There’s no security checkpoint, no waiting in lines, and you’ll never again miss a flight, since the plane waits for you. Smith suggests working with an experienced aviation broker and signing up for “empty leg” alerts to find the best deals and the best service.
For discounted First Class tickets on commercial flights, Anne Banas, executive editor at SmarterTravel.com, advises buying the most affordable seat you can find in economy class and then using frequent flyer miles or rewards points to upgrade to one of those coveted seats in front of the curtain.
“Miles have really been devalued over the years,” Banas said. “If you figure out that a mile is worth just over a penny, you can better justify your decision. Don’t spend fifty thousand miles for a flight that only costs $250. It just doesn’t make any sense, and ultimately upgrades are more fun, anyway.”
Concierge Services & “Hired Help”
New websites like RunMyErrand.com and Care.com allow you to have “hired help” — nannies, doggie daycare, gophers, and personal assistants — like a celebrity, but on a regular household budget.
Leah Busque, founder of Run My Errand, said that when she thinks of having arrived, she thinks of “big beautiful families with
lots of nannies.” Busque created her service, which currently only covers the Boston area (but will be expanding soon), “with price points so reasonable that it’s like taking advantage of a personal assistant or concierge service, but for pennies in comparison.” The average fee for most errands posted on her service is between $7 and $15. “You have to ask yourself what is your time worth, do the math, and then make good decisions about how to maximize your dollar.” Another bonus? Get a discount with code “shoestring” when you sign up at RunMyErrand.com.
If it really is the whole team of reinforcements you’re after — including a gaggle of nannies — then Care.com is a good bet. “Think a personal assistant is someone who walks behind you, furiously flipping through a day planner while you shout into three cell phones simultaneously? That’s only in the movies,” says Sheila Marcelo, Care.com’s founder and CEO. “In real life, a personal assistant can be a terrific asset and a solution to some of life’s problems. They can even save you money! For example, if you’re terrible at managing your finances and sticking to a budget, it may be worth it to ‘outsource’ your bills to a PA. They’ll get you back on track in no time.” A premium Care.com membership (around $10 per month) also gets you direct access to reviewed and referenced housekeepers, pet sitters, babysitters, nannies, and elder caregivers. [Disclaimer: I previously worked for Care.com, but am also a paying member of the service.]
Chateaus, Villas & 5-Star Resorts
Between house swaps, vacation rentals, and auction sites like LuxuryLink.com, it seems that the hautiest accomodations are also the ones hurting the most in this economy.
“When I think of celebrity culture, I think of villa rentals,” says Anne Banas of SmarterTravel.com. “Villas range in services, but most of the time it’s like having your own high-end private home. They’re generally self-catering and much more like a celebrity hideaway experience, and the deals right now are really, really high-end.” Banas said she recently found a last-minute deal to Belize, the up-and-coming hotspot with expats, for 30% less than it would have been a few months ago, plus it included extras like bike rentals, breakfast coupons, and discounts for attractions. She suggests checking out CaribbeanVillas.org and CaribbeanVillasHotel.com, plus direct-to-owner vacation rental sites like VRBO.com or HomeAway to get some stellar deals on celebrity hangouts like St. Barths, Grenada and Tortola.
“There are some really good deals out there if you deal directly with the owners, since they haven’t been able to fill the weeks,” Banas said. “Have a price in mind when trying to negotiate and remember that this is the person’s home and they still have to pay a mortgage. Ask for $50 a night less, or ask for ferry tickets. Don’t say ‘Hey, what can you do for me?’ Be as specific as possible. In some places like Myrtle Beach, it’s normal to hear that the owners will throw in a round of golf.”
As for getting there, Banas also says the time is prime for taking in the island life: Cayman Airways is celebrating its 41st anniversary with fare specials running through the end of August that start at just $69 one-way.
Exclusive Clubs & VIP Nightspots
According to the producers of Luxaholics.com, a new site dedicated to helping ordinary plebes live the posh life of celebs on the cheap, naming your price for travel is so passe — now it’s all about naming your price for VIP clubbing and bottle service. They suggest VelvetNightlife.com, which allows you to name the price you want to spend for a night out at your favorite nightclub, and BirthdayPartyBooker.com, to feel like a celeb at your bash for not a lot of cash, as well as “sending an actual invitation — you step your luxe level up ten notches. We just discovered Paper Culture. They have really unique and fun cards at a great price.”
So, we also wanted to know: is there still a need to get on the list and wait in line when hardly anyone’s going out clubbing?
Somer Perez, master mixologist, founder of Couture Cocktail Concepts, beverage director to some of the hottest bars, and NYC Rising Star 2008, says she’s definitely noticed a shift. “I have heard, yes, that Waverly Inn especially has been more apt to let people in and not have them wait as long,” Perez said. “Speaking from what I know about New York, it’s all just about timing and flexibility, being willing to wait. These places still want to keep their door policies, but they are more apt to hold tables for walk-ins. In this economy there is just no reason to have an empty table if you have guests willing to fill it — no matter what kind of place you have.”
Couture Culture & Personal Stylists
Between the surge in private sale sites and the shockingly unheard-of clearance sales in boutiques on Rodeo Drive and the Champs Elysees, now is the time to buy that Chanel suit, red carpet gown, or tuxedo. But how will you put it all together and keep yourself off your friend’s “worst dressed” lists on Facebook?
Two exciting, free services launched this year to help any recessionista look like she was styled by Rachel Zoe — including one from Rachel Zoe herself: a daily email with fashion and styling tips called The Zoe Report, which launched earlier this week. (Zoe even offers a box where wannabes can ask for her help with their personal fashion crises directly, through Twitter.)
The site that really has us reeling from red carpet dreams, however, is MyFashionPlate. The service is free to join, and offers additional a la carte, virtual one-on-one consultations with professional fashion stylists for as little as $3. Founder Jessica Mandeville was inspired to create the service by her cramped NYC closet and dreams of having her wardrobe organized like Cher in Clueless.
“Celebrities have that team of people that surround them and have them looking put together, not just for red carpet events but for everyday life,” Mandeville said. “If you have that, you have arrived. My Fashion Plate makes that available to women everywhere for what you’d pay for a gourmet coffee. For less than $5, you have a sounding board so you don’t stress about what to wear or what to pack and you don’t walk out of the house as a fashion don’t.”
Above and beyond the styling advice, My Fashion Plate really does offer that Clueless experience, where at the touch of a button you can see all your clothing and accessories rotating before you, from any computer with Internet access. “It helps you keep track of all the pieces that you have, even when they’re tucked in storage under the bed or in the back of your closet, so you don’t keep re-buying the same items,” Mandeville said.
And, ladies, as we all know, that alone could help us afford all the other luxury items on this list put together.
Copyright 2009 Shoestring, LLC. Photo: iStock