Hot stone massage. Chocolate body scrub. Seaweed thalassotherapy wrap. All sound lusciously decadent and expensive.
Even the $10.9 billion spa industry admits prices are inching up, with some massages reaching $250 at the chicest of resorts. But you don’t have to pay full price. Just like the airlines and hotels, spas operate using yield management, meaning that when things are slow and the economy nosedives, prices drop. You can benefit if you learn when and what to book. Here are tips.
Weather your savings. If your destination has a particularly hot summer (Arizona) or cold winter (Maine), off-season specials may be only a thermometer away. Even five-star resorts have an off-season and a busy season. In the off-season, hotels use room discounts to attract guests, then toss in spa discounts to sweeten the deal.
Timing counts. Every spa has off-peak hours of operation: when it first opens, around noon and late in the day. Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to be slow days. Check if services cost less at some days or times.
Ask and ye shall receive. If you’re a walk-in client, ask about daily specials. Say you’ll come early or are willing to use the newest employee. Many spas offer discounted services to fill unbooked time. Occasionally, day spas slash prices for any first-visit treatment, such as a manicure or facial, in the hope you’ll become a repeat customer.
Or, e-mail spas ahead of time and ask about discounts for business travelers. Julie Gallaher of ThingsYouShould Do.com suggests, “Write something like, ‘I’m going to be in your town next month, but I’m on a budget, so I’m looking for something affordable.’ ”
Also, check for special-occasion discounts. For example, Glen Ivy Hot Springs (www.glenivy.com) in southern California offers free spa admission on guests’ birthdays.
Less is more. Services that require extensive training (Thai massage, Shiatsu, cranio-facial, etc.) cost more. So will a spa’s signature treatments because of the more expensive products used. Among the most overpriced spa services, manicures and pedicures as much as triple what a typical nail salon charges.
Bundle up. Bundling several treatments on one day can reduce the cost 10 percent to 20 percent over à la carte services. If you don’t want a particular service in the package, some spas will substitute.
Cast your net wide. Look off-property or outside resort areas where the facilities are often equal in quality but far less in cost. Within a mile of Honolulu’s Waikiki is Aloha Lomilomi (www.aloha lomilomi.com), which specializes in the Hawaiian lomilomi massage with extra discounts for those older than 65. Ask your hotel concierge if any neighborhood spa offers discounts to hotel guests, advises Mary Hall, author of the Recessionista Blog.
Frequency pays. If you’re in a location for a couple of weeks or visit frequently, you may be able to buy a series of treatments – say, six for the price of five – to be used within a specified time. Some spas offer a frequent-user card. The Spa at Inverness (www.invernessspa.com) in Denver offers a Relaxation Rewards card. After 11 visits that rack up $95 or more each in services, you receive a free treatment of choice.
Show your loyalty. Most spas offer loyalty programs for local or repeat customers. The Relache spa at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine (817-778-1800; www.gaylord hotels.com/gaylord-texan) offers the Preferred Customer program. Participants get 20 percent off all services on Mondays through Thursdays. To make the PC list, share your e-mail address so the spa can send you information.
Maximize a mini. Consider express treatments such as a mini-facial or 30-minute massage. A shorter facial and half-hour spent in the relaxation area may just give you the boost you need. Plus, with most full-service spas, visitors who book a treatment are free to use the entire facility – saunas, steam rooms, swimming pool, relaxation lounge – for the day.
Surf the Internet. For other spa savings options, search with city name and “spa discount.”
Go back to school. Cosmetology or massage-therapy schools charge a fraction of their spa counterparts. Most offer a student salon or clinic where treatments are performed under the supervision of instructors. Search for schools of the American Association of Cosmetology Schools (www.careersinbeauty.org) or the American Massage Therapy Association (www.amtamassage.org).
In Dallas, the Salon Professional Academy (214-222-2436) offers facials for $22. Manicures start at $11.
Shop Costco. Another great deal dug up by Consumer Reports’ Shop Smart magazine: Discount warehouse Costco sells two $50 gift certificates for $79.99 (a 20 percent savings). Use the certificates for treatments (even discounted ones) at any spa in the network. Make sure you have a local spa that accepts them ands use them right away.
Join the club. Consider a national or regional massage chain. The chains are prone to staffing turnover, and it may take a few visits to find the ideal masseuse, but savings can be significant. For example, Massage Envy has more than 500 storefront clinics nationwide and employs only certified therapists. Members get one massage for $49 to $59 per month (depending on location) with any extras $39 to $49 each.
Hiatus Spa and Retreat in Dallas (214-352-4111; www.hiatusspa.com) offers a similar membership program. Customers pay $59 a month for a 12-month platinum membership or $69 for a six-month gold membership, which gets them one core service such as massage, facial or wrap each month plus unlimited core services priced at the monthly fee. Memberships may be shared by four people in the same household.