Affluent travelers are still leaving a glittering trail around the world despite the success of discount operators, bargain air fares and low-cost package tours.
Members of this fortunate group are able to spend more for their vacations and usually they are very selective about what they buy. But sometimes even price-conscious vacationers can pick up valuable tips from the upscale wanderers -- or at least dream about trips where money is no object. Among the latest developments in status-tinged travel:
*A new survey reveals affluent travelers' favorite resorts in this country and abroad.
*The St. James's Club Antigua, a private resort (for members only) with strong ties to film celebrities, completed a successful, star-studded first year.
*American Express has signed up more than 60,000 high-income members for its 1-year-old "Platinum" credit-card program.
*Society Expeditions is accepting reservations for a 1992 space flight that will cost $52,000 per passenger.
Service, amenities and quality -- rather than cost -- are the primary considerations of affluent travelers when they select a resort or hotel. A list of favorites was compiled from a 1985 reader survey by "Hideaway Report," a monthly newsletter produced by Harper Associates Inc. (P.O. Drawer 300, Fairfax Station, Va. 22039) and described as "a connoisseur's guide to peaceful and unspoiled places."
Editor and publisher Andrew Harper, who personally scouts the destinations he writes about, says the survey was taken from 2,500 of 14,825 subscribers: 72 percent of them business executives and 19 percent physicians/attorneys, with a median age of 48.1, median annual income of $213,000 and median net worth of more than $2 million.
Their top 10 favorite U.S. resorts, ranked by number of mentions: Mauna Kea Beach Hotel in Hawaii; Caneel Bay, St. John, Virgin Islands; The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. (another major nearby resort, The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., ranked 15th); Kona Village Resort, Hawaii; Ventana Inn, Big Sur, Calif.; The Cloister, Sea Island, Ga.; Kapalua Bay Hotel, Maui, Hawaii; Tall Timber, Durango, Colo.; The Lodge at Pebble Beach, Pebble Beach, Calif.; and Hawk Mountain Resorts, Pittsfield, Vt.
The top 10 international resorts listed in the survey: Little Dix Bay Hotel, British Virgin Islands; Petit St. Vincent Resort, the Grenadines; Villa d'Este, Cernobbio (Como), Italy; The Meridian Club, Turks & Caicos; Peter Island Hotel and Yacht Harbour, British Virgin Islands; Inverlochy Castle, Highland, Scotland; San Pietro, Positano (Salerno), Italy; Long Island Resort, Antigua; Coco Point Lodge, Barbuda; Villa San Michele, Fiesole (Florence), Italy.
Prices charged for a double at Hideaway-featured resorts often range from around $200 to more than $400 a day, and usually -- but not always -- include meals.
Among other resorts frequented by the well-to-do is a newcomer, the St. James's Club Antigua. The St. James's has just announced completion of a heavily booked first year and makes no secret of its show-business ties: "The Club . . . continued to draw an international, affluent crowd including Joan Collins, Dustin Hoffman, Liza Minnelli and David Frost." The original St. James's Club is in London; the Honorary Committee of both includes Michael Caine, Liza Minnelli, Dudley Moore, Roger Moore and Christopher Plummer. They are regular visitors at the clubs, and assist in reviewing names of prospective members.
The clubs are private: First-time visitors are granted introductory memberships but full membership ($150 one-time initiation fee and $150 annual dues) is required for subsequent visits. A one-bedroomsuite in winter with living room, two baths and two balconies costs $600 a night double, MAP.
Another indication that prosperous travelers -- particularly those with an eye for status -- are spending is the success of American Express' Platinum Card. The current 60,000 membership total is six times the figure the company had projected for the first year.
Platinum's major additional benefits are complimentary membership in a worldwide network of private clubs and eligibility to use personal checks for up to $10,000 in purchases (or to obtain that amount in travelers checks), making it essentially an upscale Gold Card. It costs $250 a year compared to $65 for the Gold.
The new card is offered by invitation only to those who have held one of the other American Express cards for at least two years and have charged a minimum of $10,000 over a consecutive 12-month period. According to a recent company survey of Platinum Card members, the average household income is more than $100,000 and about two-thirds are owners or partners in a business they personally manage. Average age is about 45. Membership is limited at the moment primarily to Americans and Canadians.
Members also are given 24-hour personalized service via a toll-free number in planning their foreign and domestic trips (they are heavy travelers averaging more than 50 overnight trips per person a year). An example of the kind of service they apparently expect -- and get:
It was only a few days before his marriage but a Platinum Card holder had not yet made plans for his honeymoon. He called a Platinum Travel Service (PTS) counselor in a panic. In two days he had two tickets for a Concorde flight to Paris, and upon arrival a rental car awaited the couple. They drove to Monte Carlo, where they boarded a private yacht whose captain and crew took them on a two-week cruise. Arrangements for renting the vessel ($2,000 a day) had been completed in 72 hours, and the entire honeymoon was charged to the card.
Society Expeditions recently began soliciting reservations for what may be the ultimate far-out trip.
The Seattle-based tour operator, a specialist in worldwide travel adventures for the past decade, has signed an agreement with Pacific American Launch Systems of Redwood City, Calif., to charter two Phoenix E spaceships for five years. On Oct. 12, 1992, Society Expeditions expects to become the first private company to offer regularly scheduled space flights to the public. That date will mark the 500th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of the New World.
The Phoenix, a single-stage-to-orbit spaceship that has not yet been built, will be designed to carry 20 passengers in a 20-foot cabin with the crew of five in a pilot module. It will be "totally reusable -- a new generation of shuttles," says T.C. Swartz, president of the tour company, and will make five to eight low earth orbits in eight to 12 hours.
The spaceship will be launched from a U.S. government launch site, Swartz says. "It's not just a congressman or a teacher in space -- it's all of us." Two or three liftoffs a week are currently planned, with vertical rocket takeoff and landing.
Because of the short flight duration, physical restrictions will be nearly eliminated, according to the company. Prospective space travelers must be in "normal good health" and "be able to function effectively in space." They will undergo a three-day orientation with medical checkup at a resort complex, and after the flight they will be allowed to relax there with family or friends before returning home.
Cost: $50,000 per person, plus $2,000 for accommodations and training seminars. Though the schedule is subject to change, Swartz says the price is firm because he has a fixed-price-per-seat contract with Pacific American. For each registration Society Expeditions requires a $200 non-refundable payment to cover documentation, and a $5,000 deposit that will be placed in a bank escrow account and will be refunded without penalty, upon request, up to one year before the first flight.
More information: Society Expeditions, 723 Broadway East, Seattle, Wash. 98102, (800) 426-7794.
Pan American Airlines became the first major travel industry firm to accept reservations for a space shuttle flight, after public interest was stirred by the successful Apollo 11 moon shot. From the winter of 1969 to early 1973, Pan Am issued what it called queuing cards to people interested in taking a future orbital journey. Each card was numbered, bore the individual's name and was nontransferable and nonreplaceable if lost. The offer was withdrawn when the project "got to be too big an accounting chore," according to an airline spokesman; 92,003 cards were issued and remain on file.
"When and if commercial application to space shuttle or orbital flights becomes a reality, we believe we will be the most experienced and best equipped to handle it," says Pan Am. (The airline has been involved with space flight for nearly 30 years, in connection with an Air Force contract involving the operation of tracking stations used by NASA.) And as if to indicate that fare wars will continue in space, the spokesman added: "We will be competitive price-wise."