Synopsis: When we’re not talking about ways to make more money to help other people and live better lives, we’re talking about ways to save money on fantastic experiences. This post is part 1/2 of a travel hack rarely discussed. It sets up the stage and provides some insights into more extravagant spending. We’ll also explore whether more luxurious living is really worth the price. Hope you enjoy and stick around for part 2!
When I got to the 4th floor of my hotel there was Ryan Seacrest, hanging outside of my room with his dad. They were waiting for their wives and heading out for dinner. Choosing to be chill rather than starstruck, I just said, “How’s it going guys?” as I passed. They were staying on the same floor of our boutique hotel and responded with a friendly, “not too much.”
Ryan shot to fame as the host of American Idol and is one of the most successful media personalities on the planet with an estimated $300M fortune. How was he able to create so much wealth by being just a reality show personality? By creating his own company, Ryan Seacrest Media and producing hit shows like “Keeping Up With The Kardashians.”
Disclosure: Financial Samurai has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Financial Samurai and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.
It’s A Small World After All
It’s funny because here we were, staying at the same hotel, getting the same service, breathing the same air, but with such significantly different net worths. His suite probably had a view of the Eiffel Tower and cost 3X as much, and I’m sure he paid for his parents’ suite as well. But for the most part, we lived exactly the same for three nights. Then, he had to leave, while we got to stay for a week.
I realized something interesting long ago. While it’s hard to live it up year round like a celebrity, it’s easier to live it up each year for 2 – 6 weeks. As a result, the older I get, the more I gravitate towards “making these trips count.” The gap in lifestyle between the really rich and the rest of us is narrowing.
A lot of extremely wealthy people are workaholics and don’t take much more than six weeks off a year because they can’t. Their success demands they work around the clock, which is quite frankly, a paradox of success. I’d much rather be a nobody with modest financial means and max freedom, than a CEO with thousands of shareholders or a celebrity who is always under media scrutiny. How about you?
La Reserve, Paris
I stayed at a boutique hotel called La Reserve in Paris, situated midway between the Champs-Elysées and the Faubourg Saint-Honoré. The hotel opened in 2015 after a careful remodel to recreate the Belle 'Epoque style of the 19th century. There’re only 26 suites and 14 rooms, making the place feel more like a large residence than a hotel.
The hotel is unique because it caters to a clientele that values service and privacy. There are hidden doors that lead to private libraries, bathrooms and spas. Even the outside brunch area in front of the hotel is blocked by large hedges so guests can eat in private (see pic). That’s where I first saw Ryan and his family eating breakfast.
We pulled up in our Uber in sweats, hoodies and backpacks on the first evening from Budapest. I’m sure they were surprised, but they didn’t show it. Instead, they rapidly took our bags up to our room, handed us two glasses of Michel Reybier champagne and gave us an intimate tour of the hotel. According to the concierge, the entire staff was very happy to see us because we had a reservation for seven nights instead of the typical one-to-three nights.
After observing what the other guests wore, we self-conciously felt underdressed. It seemed as though every gentleman wore an Armani suit and every woman wore an ensemble of Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Manolo. But hey, we are Americans and enjoy comfort over style. Besides, there’s only one Financial Samurai hoodie in the world and it’s a priceless collector’s item!
Unlike some startups that have the courage to spend more on business retreats each month than they make in operating profits each month, Financial Samurai Inc is cost conscious because we aren’t spending other people’s money. As a result, we budgeted $20,000 for all expenses for 15 days of travel for two people in Europe.
It costs a lot to get our Travel category off the ground, but we are determined to provide unique travel insights from a personal finance angle. We love to travel, and there’s nothing better than doing what you love for work.
The Junior Suite Deluxe
We stayed in the Junior Suite Deluxe on the 4th floor. As you can tell from the pricing menu, we’re close to the bottom of the list. There’s no way we could afford to stay in a more expensive room since I’m only a personal finance blogger. Why pay 9000 EUR a night for the Presidential Suite when you can pay a more reasonable 1700 EUR a night for the Junior Suite Deluxe and gain access to the same amenities and service? Good value baby! It’s all about managing business expenses in order to not go out of business.
At ~$2,000 a night, the Junior Suite Deluxe cost 10x the average nightly hotel rate we paid in Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. But that’s why we were staying in such inexpensive places the first week were in Europe, to afford the second week. We realized Paris makes San Francisco feel like the Midwest in terms of cost, so we budgeted accordingly.
~$2,000 a night is completely beyond what our normal budget is for a business trip. But in order to write about what it’s like to live in a luxury hotel and listen to the sentiments of EU citizens before writing my Brexit post, you’ve got to actually stay in one for an extended period of time. Sacrifices must be made to write such in-depth posts.
So was it worth it? Let’s discuss some of the positives:
- Every time we got back to our suite, it felt more like a home instead of a hotel due to the size (~500 sqft). Our master bedroom in SF, bathroom, and sanctuary is about ~550 sqft, so the size matched. The only difference is in SF we have a view of the ocean, and this suite has a view of the inner courtyard.
- It wasn’t until the third day that we realized our fully stocked fridge was completely free except for the alcohol. I’m a huge natural fruit juice drinker and they had organic mango, pineapple, orange, and apple juices. They also had endless bottles of slightly flavored Evian water which was a real treat. They also gave us homemade chocolate marshmallows and artisan chocolates from the two-star Michelin restaurant, Le Gabriel downstairs. Yum! Who doesn’t love free treats?
- Our suite was at the end of the hotel, so it was extremely private. The doors were four inches thick, and there was a vestibule to our door for extra peace and quiet. The quality of the craftsmanship was impeccable. As someone who has spent the past two years slowly remodeling his fixer in Golden Gate Heights, I appreciated all the details of the room down to the velvet wrapped TV.
- Room service was superb. One evening at 9:30pm, we asked food services to deliver a meal at 11:30pm, and they were spot on time. The housekeepers always did an amazing job cleaning and made each night feel like the first.
- The WiFi was excellent, unlike in Czech, Austria, and Hungary. As business travelers, fast and reliable wifi is extremely important. Wifi is the first thing I check after I arrive at a hotel since because of its high cost, I don’t use international roaming. I always want my readership here to feel like I’m giving maximum effort with consistently three posts a week even while I’m traveling.
And here are some misses:
- We could hear some remodeling noises from the building next door at about 8:30am one morning. But we were already awake for our trip to Versailles, so it wasn’t a big deal.
- The elevator at the other end of the hotel leading to the pool was out of order for two nights, which meant we had to take the elevator closest to us, which was fine. But then we had to walk across the fancy lobby/eating area in our bathrobes to get to the indoor pool. It was a bit embarrassing, but it was then that we saw another familiar face, Lukas Haas, who’s been in such movies as Inception and The Revenant, dining with his model girlfriend and another lady friend. It’s interesting how extremely thin some movie actors are when seen in person.
- After spending an hour in the indoor pool and another 30 minutes in a nifty starlit steam room, we traversed back through the eating area to find Lukas and friends still dining away. I noticed them looking at us as we walked by because I was staring straight at them. At first I couldn’t remember who he was, so I had to do a double take. He smiled and one of the women turned around to check out who we were. I smiled back, but declined to give an autograph or wave. That would just be too awkward in our bathrobes.
The Verdict: The experience was 3X nicer that our previous hotels, but cost 8-10X more. Therefore, from a financial perspective, it’s hard to justify the cost unless you have endless sums of money. For special occasions, such as a honeymoon, a 10 year wedding anniversary, a big promotion, a 40th birthday party, or a gift to your parents, staying at a luxury hotel is absolutely worth it. Unforgettable experiences are priceless.
Here’s a video of our room for you to get a better idea of what $1,500 – $2,000 a night costs. Remember, Paris is one of the most expensive cities in the world, so there is tremendous price inflation. This room would probably cost closer to $750 – $1,000 a night in San Francisco and $1,000 – $1,500 a night in Manhattan.
Living It Up On A Budget
The best way never to be homesick on vacation or on business is to simply own a vacation property everywhere you regularly go. However, it’s just economically silly to buy a pied-a-terre in so many different places. Thus, the next closest thing is renting a wonderful spot that feels like home.
If you’ve gotten to the end of this post wondering whether a frugal person like me who drives a Honda Fit has gone completely bonkers paying $14,000 for a week’s hotel stay, well done, and not to worry. My entire stay was free! To feel comfortable spending so extravagantly, I’d have to be making well over a million bucks a year and be worth at least $20M.
Due to the complimentary week’s stay in Paris, we only ended up spending $9,000 on everything for our 15-day trip instead of our budgeted $20,000. The $11,000 in savings will be used to build the company’s cash reserves to prepare for harder times ahead.
Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards
Looking for the best travel rewards credit cards to enjoy more free travel? Here are my favorite out of over one hundred I’ve reviewed so far. I’ve traveled to over 60 countries in my lifetime and always use travel rewards points to get free airfare.
1) Capital One(R) Venture(R) Rewards Credit Card
This popular travel rewards card waives its annual fee for the first year and offers flexible 2X miles rewards on every purchase. I’ve partnered with Capital One on several occasions and have always been pleased with their product offerings and customer service.
- Get 50,000 miles (=$500 value in travel rewards) when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months
- Earn unlimited 2X miles fast on every purchase you make
- Transfer miles to any of Venture’s 10+ travel partners
- No foreign transaction fees
- Get a $100 application fee credit for TSA Pre or Global Entry if you use your card
- Built-in coverage and purchase protections
2) Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
I’ve been a happy Chase customer and cardmember for over 10 years. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is one of my favorite travel rewards credit cards.
- Get 60,000 points (=$750 value in travel rewards) if you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months
- Earn 2X points fast for travel-related and dining purchases
- 25% extra value when you redeem for travel bookings
- No foreign transaction fees
- Built-in coverage and purchase protections
- Frequent travel point transfers 1:1
- Invite friends for up to 75,000 extra bonus points
3) Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card
If you’re looking for a card with no annual fee, the Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card is a great option.
- Get 30,000 points (=$300 value) if you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months
- No annual fee to worry about
- No foreign transaction fees
- Earn unlimited 3X points fast on travel, gas, ride-sharing, transit, eating out, ordering in, and on popular streaming services
- Points don’t expire as long as your account is active
- No travel black out dates if you redeem using Go Far Rewards
- Built-in cell phone protection
Disclosure: Financial Samurai has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Financial Samurai and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.
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Update 2020: It’s funny re-reading this post because I’m a stay at home dad now to a boy under 3. As a result, my wife and I have decided not to travel internationally until he is at least 5 years old. Kids under 5 years old don’t remember much, so we think it would be a waste to go so far. Instead, we’ll travel to Sonoma, Tahoe, and then Hawaii.