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Weekend Is the Time to Get Away for a Bargain

<i> Greenberg is a Los Angeles free-lance writer. </i>

According to a recent survey, almost half the people who traveled last year took weekend trips. And the number is growing.

As a result, it’s hard to find a hotel that doesn’t offer at least one weekend package.

The reason for the growth of weekend packages is simple. On weekdays, hotel occupancy averages 66%. On weekends it drops to as low as 30%.

“A hotel room is a very sensitive, precious commodity,” says Mary Carroll, spokeswoman for Inter-Continental hotels. “There’s no way to recover the cost of a room that’s gone unsold. So the weekend package deals make sense to us.”

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Some chains, such as Westin and Marriott, have begun company-wide reductions on weekend rates. Marriott hotel rooms in most cities cost just $49 a night on weekends, and Westin offers a straight 50% reduction on all rooms.

Little Vacations

Many hotels are going beyond just slashing their room rates. They’re offering nothing less than weekend vacations. They range from $260 weekend flings at the Parker Meridien Hotel in New York to expensive fantasy weekends at the posh Park Hyatt Hotel in Chicago.

“Our fantasy weekend is just about anything you’d want us to make it,” says Wolfgang Triebnig, the Park Hyatt’s general manager.

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Since the 255-room hotel began the program in 1985, more than 2,000 couples have tried the special weekend package.

“If you want the room filled with flowers or covered with balloons,” we can do it,” Triebnig says, “and we have done it. Sometimes the requests can be quite detailed.”

Before guests arrive, the hotel sends them a detailed questionnaire about their preferences of type of room, champagne, limousine and special requests.

One summer favorite is a picnic basket the hotel prepares, with a limousine ride to a nearby park or a trip on Lake Michigan.

At other times of the year the hotel offers a “day of beauty” at Neiman-Marcus. For $125, the beauty day includes a complete make-over, manicure, haircut and styling.

Supplementary Services

The Park Hyatt package may also include carriage rides, baby-sitting services, city tours, theater tickets and seats at major sporting events.

Triebnig reports that recently a couple wanted dinner in their suite, complete with classical musicians to serenade them.

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The fantasy weekend package starts with the cost of a regular guest room ($125) and goes up to more than $6,000 for those who want their fantasies fulfilled in the luxurious penthouse suite.

A majority of the people who have bought the fantasy weekend package live within a 50-mile radius of Chicago.

“For some people,” Triebnig says, “it really is a fantasy fulfilled to be able to spend a weekend away from the children, and from the suburbs.”

You can find a similar deal at the Lafayette Hotel in Boston. Its two-day deluxe weekend package goes for a mere $5,000. Included is the 22nd-floor penthouse suite, special meals, 10 hours of limousine service, a private guide, a day at a beauty salon and more.

Resort Specials

On the other hand, resort hotels make most of their money on weekends. The best bargains there are between Sunday night and Thursday night.

For example, the “Golden Getaway” package at the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas is a two-night, three-day package that includes a dinner, a visit to the hotel’s spa, baggage handling, a Golden Nugget T-shirt, taxes and gratuities, and one free 10-spot Keno ticket. The cost is $66.30 per person a night, double occupancy.

Anyone traveling to Perth, Australia, for the America’s Cup can take advantage of a weekend package at the Merlin Hotel for about $50 a night, per person. The package also includes a champagne breakfast.

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The Merlin package has worked magic for both hotel and guests. “Our weekends used to be about 85% vacant,” says Clive Plummer, a Merlin spokesman. “Not any more.” Other Perth hotels have begun to offer similar deals.

Airline Offers

Some airlines have also begun promoting special, somewhat longer weekend getaways. Aer Lingus has Wednesday to Sunday or Thursday to Monday weekend packages. The great Irish escape from New York costs $479 to $499 for air fare, hotels, all meals (including a medieval banquet) and sightseeing or visits to shops in Dublin or Shannon.

British Caledonian, along with its Copthorne Hotel Group, promotes a “Couples Weekend,” the key, the airline says, “to saving the business marriage.” For starters, the airline offers a $120 round-trip ticket from London to Belgium and a weekend at the Arcade Stephanie Hotel for less than $200.

Icelandair offers a long Luxembourg weekend that includes air fare, hotel, breakfasts, transfers and a sightseeing tour. The cost, from New York, is as low as $399.

Weekends in New York have never been cheap, but some hotels are making sure that their guests leave complaining about expensive Broadway tickets instead of steep hotel rates.

A number of hotels, like the Berkshire House, the Drake and the Vista, offer attractive weekend deals.

Another hotel, the Halloran House, offers $108 a night “Vacation Weekends.” The rooms come complete with fresh flowers, boxes of Godiva chocolates, a bottle of champagne, breakfasts and free valet parking (in New York, parking can cost as much as some hotel rooms in other cities).

Promotional Packages

A growing number of hotels are trying to build their Saturday and Sunday business by marrying their weekend packages to other promotions. Many sponsor “Murder Mystery” weekends, chocolate-lover weekends and sports weekends.

In Minneapolis, Embassy Suites Hotel, four blocks from the Metrodome stadium, offers a “Sports Getaway” package: a $79 a night room for up to four people, champagne and a $20 credit on dining, room service or entertainment.

Throughout Europe, hotels are also discovering the weekend packages.

In Scotland, Gleneagles Hotel offers International Rugby weekends. The Plaza Athenee offers a stylish Paris weekend. In Madrid the legendary Ritz Hotel offers a “Crown” weekend package that includes most meals, a bottle of vintage sherry, airport transfers and an embroidered Ritz bathrobe and shoulder bag.

So many weekend deals are being offered that Rand McNally publishes a series of travel guides called “Weekend Escapes.” There is one guide (cost: $6.95) for each region of the United States, including Southern California. In Atlanta the publisher has experimented with a “weekend escape” hot line, a 976 number that readers can call for the most up-to-the-minute information about weekend attractions and availabilities.

For Shoppers

Some hotels offer shopping weekends. In San Francisco the Clift Hotel has an attractive weekend package and will help wrap all your Christmas gifts.

Four other San Francisco hotels offer Christmas shopping packages in conjunction with Pier 39. They are the York, Bedford, Donatello and Marriott at Fisherman’s Wharf.

At the York, for example, the deal is available through Jan. 15 and offers a “VIP Shopping Spree” at Pier 39 and discounts at 40 stores on the pier, free gift wrapping of packages and free delivery back to the York Hotel. The York also includes parking and a nightly hospitality hour for guests. The cost: $68 a night.

There’s a “Winter Wine Getaway” offered by the Mount View Hotel in Napa Valley, including deluxe accommodations for two nights, a full American breakfast each morning, one dinner at the hotel and a VIP tour of the Sterling Winery. The cost: $235 per couple.

Just for Kids

A weekend package for children was offered by The Ritz Carlton in Atlanta last August. For $100 per child, boys and girls 9 to 13 were taught grooming, ballroom dancing and the art of serving high tea at the “Etiquette Weekend.” There was a formal dinner and a Sunday brunch. If you can believe this, after Sunday brunch the hotel package also featured a financial seminar.

Last, and perhaps least, for grown-ups there’s something called the “Corporate Kill,” a weekend package at the Inn at Buck Hill Falls, Pa. Guests spend the weekend pretending to be multimillionaire stockholders stuck in the middle of a very unfriendly corporate takeover.

To win, a guest must discover the takeover victor and solve a murder mystery in the process. Considering the insider trading scandals on Wall Street, this $325 package may be the best deal, because the vicious weekend stock arbitraging comes without an SEC investigation or a jail term.


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