Business class flights, fancy hotels: Luxury travel experiences that are worth the money (and some that aren’t)

The business and first-class bar on Emirates A380 flights. Photo: Emirates Nicole Kidman lounging on the Residence’s double bed. Photo: Etihad
Shanghai night field

THIS IS LUXURY: Emirates’ First Class Cabin. Photo: Emirates上海夜网m

The business and first-class bar on Emirates A380 flights. Photo: Emirates

The business and first-class bar on Emirates A380 flights. Photo: Emirates

The business and first-class bar on Emirates A380 flights. Photo: Emirates

Qantas is eliminating first-class service on most of its long-haul flights except for a few flagship routes to Los Angeles and London from Australia.

Qantas is eliminating first-class service on most of its long-haul flights except for a few flagship routes to Los Angeles and London from Australia.

Qantas is eliminating first-class service on most of its long-haul flights except for a few flagship routes to Los Angeles and London from Australia.

Sports cars are fun. Save some extra money and go for it, at least once. Photo: iStock

Five-star accommodation: Sure, it’s great and all, but imagine all of the other things you could do with that money. Photo: iStock

It doesn’t matter who you are – backpacker or big-budget traveller, rich person or poor – there are some travel experiences that almost everyone dreams of splashing out on.

These things aren’t cheap. In fact they’re often sell-all-your-furniture, remortgage-your-house expensive. But you’ve been told time and time again that they’re worth it. The theory, after all, is that the more you’re forced to pay for something, the better it will be.

But is it? Through my job I’ve been lucky enough to be able to sample some of those big-budget, bucket-list experiences that most travellers dream about. And I’ve found that they’re not all worth the money. Flying business class

The experience: There can’t be a person alive who hasn’t wandered past the fancy seats at the front of the plane and wanted to jump in one. You have to pay a lot, but think of the perks! You get lounge access, and sometimes a shower before theflight. You get personalised, professional service. You get meals presented on white linen and proper crockery. You get to lie down flat and sleep, or watch a huge TV screen, and then walk off the plane refreshed and ready on arrival.

The cost: Between five and 10 times what you’d pay for an economy seat.

The verdict: Are you paying for it yourself? Forget it. That money could be better spent in a million ways. This is, after all, just a seat on a plane that you’ll only get to enjoy for 24 hours at the most. But hang on: are you upgrading on points? Go for it. Especially if it’s with Emirates or Qantas. It’s a pretty amazing experience. The only downside is that economy will seem even worse for the rest of your life. (And it’s even worse if you manage to fly first class – take a look at the best first class seats in the gallery above.) Staying in a fancy hotel

The experience: Here’s what all that money gets you at a luxurious, five-star hotel. It gets you service from the moment your cab pulls up outside the door. It gets you a huge, comfortable room with a beautiful view. It gets you a “pillow menu”. It gets you a bathroom that’s probably bigger than your apartment back home. It gets you a day spa and a pool and all the other amenities. It gets you access to high-quality restaurants and bars that you don’t even have to leave the hotel to find.

The cost: As much as you want to pay.

The verdict: I wouldn’t. Unless it’s for a really special occasion, I wouldn’t splash out on high-end accommodation. Sure, it’s great and all, but imagine all of the other things you could do with that money. Imagine how much longer you could travel if you just stayed in a basic hotel, or a hostel. Imagine the great meals you could have, or the events you could go to, or the souvenirs you could buy. Unless you’re the sort of person who likes to spend the bulk of your holiday hanging around the hotel, I wouldn’t recommend it. Going to Antarctica

The experience: This is bucket-list stuff. You board a ship in the south of Argentina and set sail for the great southern continent, where you’ll get to see huge colonies of penguins; you’ll get to see orcas, and seals, and flocks of seabirds; you’ll get to spend time in an Antarctic research station; and you’ll get to watch and listen as huge glaciers groan and crack and tumble into the ocean. That’s pretty amazing.

The cost: From about $8000, and that’s not including flights.

The verdict: Do it. Save your money, and do it. All of those things you’re picturing – they will all be there. There’s nothing on Earth that can compare to a trip to Antarctica, to feeling like an explorer as you set off from Ushuaia, to the thrill of being isolated at the bottom of the globe in one of the most beautiful places you’ve ever seen. Going to Antarctica is expensive, but it’s undoubtedly worth it. Hiring a luxury car

The experience: Here’s the deal: you could hire any old regular sedan, and make your way around, say, the USA in economically sensible style. Or, you could accept the upgrade you’ll inevitably be offered, and spend your journey roaring around the countryside in a Mustang, or a Corvette, or some equally ridiculous sports car that guzzles more fuel that you thought possible, and makes everyone look at you like you’re a balding wannabe having a midlife crisis. Ahem.

The cost: From about $100 per day, plus fuel.

The verdict: This is not something I would ever have done, until a travelling buddy talked me into hiring a Mustang convertible to get around California for a week. To begin with it felt ridiculous, but once the sun was out and the top was down, I realised that my ‘Stang was just about the best investment I could have made. Sports cars are fun. Save some extra money and go for it, at least once. Doing a big-budget African safari

The experience: There seem to be only two ways to do a safari in southern or east Africa: the ultra-budget backpacker way, or the five-star high-end fancy way. The fancy way involves luxury accommodation in huge permanent tents with wooden floors and proper showers, or beautiful bungalows with plunge pools looking out over the savannah. You get private game drives with highly skilled trackers, who break from their wildlife spotting only to set up a table and pour a G&T for you while the sun sets. In short, it’s ridiculous, and awesome.

The cost: From about $600 per person night to upwards of $1800 per night.

The verdict: Do it once. Just for a few nights. Make it your honeymoon or something special like that. Book a place like Phinda in South Africa or Somalisa Camp in Zimbabwe. They’re amazing. And after that, go back to regular old budget safaris. I actually love the stripped-back version of the safari experience, sleeping in a tent and making your own fire in the morning for coffee. It feels more authentic, more adventurous, than the big-budget version. Dining at a three-Michelin-star restaurant

The experience: This is the best of the best. It’s like going to see Lionel Messi play football, or Tom Morello play guitar. When you go to a three-Michelin-star restaurant, you’re experiencing food at its finest and most inventive. It will probably be silver service, with ultra-professional waitstaff serving up tiny morsels of food that have undergone days of preparation and years of planning to make it to your table. For foodies, it’s the top rung.

The cost: From $150 to about $800 per person.

The verdict: You have to be into food. Really into food. If you’re not the sort of person who’s going to appreciate that this dish is a whimsical play on the chef’s childhood in Paris, or that this rare seaweed was foraged from a secluded coastline in northern Scotland, then going to a three-Michelin-star restaurant is going to be a waste of time. And even for those who really are into food, some of the best dining experiences when you’re travelling can come from the cheapest restaurants. But if you want to try the best of the best, this is your only option.

Which luxury experiences do you think are worth saving for? And which aren’t?

See also: Forget the house: Travel is the secret to happiness

See also: Visiting all the world’s iconic sights by private jet

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