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Rich People’s Problems: Should I cut back on my holiday spending?

Holidays are an essential, not a luxury. And a bit of luxury is also an essential. Not that my bank account would agree. In such circumstances, is it even a good idea to consider booking a hotel where it costs over £1 a minute to stay?

It’s not as if I can’t escape the Big Smoke. I am fortunate to have a second home nestled on England’s Gold Coast, Frinton-on-Sea in God’s own county, Essex. I love it there. The beaches have glorious golden sand, I love my beach hut — a brilliant spot for lunch — and the wonderful lawn tennis courts at my local club. If the sun is shining, I’ll be sure to get a Frin-tan. Who needs to go abroad?

I should make as much use of the house as possible. The place costs a fortune to run and now the pool is on, energy bills are burning through my cash as fast as the muntjacs are eating the roses in my garden. Staying there, I won’t have the expense of dog kennels nor suffer airport queues or being squeezed into an airline seat eating food I’d normally turn my nose up at. On my last flight, the best thing on the pay-for menu was a Marks and Spencer sarnie and a bag of M&Ms. I know it’s at altitude but that’s hardly haute cuisine.

Nowadays, researching holidays online can unleash spam hell. Type “holiday”, “flight”, “hotel” or any holiday destination into your search engine and prepare to be inundated with targeted advertisements by operators. But images of five-star hotels with their pools, sumptuous loungers, endless cocktails and delicious chefery are primarily served up for fantasy, and rarely matched by reality.

Years ago, when I didn’t own a second home, holidays were the escape. Working for an investment bank, it was important to fly as far away as possible from the office. Not to show off — everyone had enough money to do that. But to be unreachable for whatever catastrophe a jealous colleague manufactured to see if they could drag you back from your travels. 

On one occasion, I took great pleasure in being so far away that the delay on the line allowed me to cut across everything that was said, suggest it was too difficult and that I’d leave the fax number should it really be that urgent. I didn’t hear another word.

These days, communications make contact easy. One can work from pretty much anywhere if there’s WiFi. Anyway, I’m freelance. Holidays mean money lost, not freedom gained. And recently that means even more money — whether it’s food, liquid refreshment or the power to get us to where we want to be. 

Forget the Covid era holiday bargains. They’re long gone. Air travel was up 44.1 per cent in the year to December 2022 before easing back this year, the Office for National Statistics found. And high season holiday prices were up by 51 per cent on average, according to research by consumer group Which? International travel is back. Problem is, no one told the bank account.

When it comes to holidays, other than my acceptance of the occasional Club Med activity break, I’m looking for luxury. Following my grandfather’s travel ethos, I want the hotel to be nicer than my home. The service must be exemplary. And the culinary experiences should be beyond anything I could find around the corner or a short Uber trip away. I’m not interested in slumming it for “the experience”. Nor staying in a hotel that’s so large it’s like living in an airport lounge, with the queues to match.

So given the cash crunch and sheer expense, why did I buckle last week and go full tilt in booking an expensive getaway? And with my mother? I’m 53 and surely over the need for a family holiday. 

Over lunch we’d concocted a plan to revisit Venice, her favourite destination and a place we’ve often been before. There’s only one place to stay if you’re planning a trip: Hotel Cipriani. It’s more money per night than many package holidays are for a week, with room rates in June starting at around €1,700 a night. 

That’s not the point, though. This place is luxury personified. It’s not the smartest hotel I’ve visited, nor the one with the best decor. But it’s about coming back to a place that holds special memories. 

Some may argue that a Bellini at €29 a pop is pushing it. You could always go for a glass of Ruinart for €50 instead — or blow the budget and buy a bottle for a cool €200. But we all know that a pint in a pub is going to be more expensive than a tinny of own-label lager bought at the supermarket. It’s the location and ambience you’re paying for. 

If I’m going to take time off work and forgo the income, I don’t want to be living like a student just to save a bit of cash. Happily, I’ve already convinced myself I’m economising by opting for a four-night stay. Anyway, I need to buy some new shoes, and following Brexit, I can buy them in Venice and claim back the VAT.

Fly off-season, you can grab an easyJet flight for £30-£40 each way. High season, it’s more expensive. On the face of it, BA looks pricier at a couple of hundred quid. But by the time you’ve realised you might actually want to take a piece of luggage with you, it’s not financially damaging by comparison. Booking through my Amex Centurion credit card means they provide “free” airport transfers. And if you travel midweek, even in high season, the costs are lower. 

It’s the hotel that will have you howling in financial agony. Again, I got Amex to make the booking. There’s no saving on the eye-watering price, but you’ll receive a daily room credit, enough for a few glasses of fizz, a “free” room upgrade and a late checkout. Handy if you want to take a cheaper evening flight home. 

But there is another reason for this pilgrimage. We’re all getting older, and it could be the last time we’re able to go together. And time spent together making memories is priceless.

James Max is a broadcaster on TV and radio and a property expert. The views expressed are personal. Twitter: @thejamesmax

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