It’s official: Internet booking sites are the worst. Which means travel agents are back in a big way, to such a degree that the crème de la crème among them are so selective that they’ll work with only a small group of card-carrying members.
We talked to the top dogs at four very different membership travel companies to find out what kind of VIP hook ups they’ll get you—and how much hand-holding you can expect along the way.
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Source: Stacy Fischer Rosenthal, president
The Gist: Founded almost 54 years ago by her father, Bill Fischer—who got his clients into sold-out spots like the Hotel du Cap in Antibes in the ’80s—this family-run business is as exclusive as a club gets. “We have a very serious vetting process,” says Fischer Rosenthal.
The Membership: You might want to sit down for this: a $100,000 initiation fee, plus an annual $25,000 renewal fee, plus service fees for all trip planning. And that’s only if you’re accepted. Right now, Fischer has just 175 members.
The Claim to Fame: One-on-one tennis lessons with John McEnroe, a private tour of the Egyptian pyramids, Christmas dinner cooked by a Michelin-starred chef—you name it, Fischer Rosenthal can do it. If she told us her team could move mountains, we’d almost believe her.
Hand-Holding Quotient: Next-level. “My clients will never check in at a front desk, they will never fill out any forms, they will never have a moment when their trip isn’t absolutely seamless.”
Source: Joan Roca, founder
The Gist: Former Travelocity exec Roca ditched digital and went private bespoke in 2017 after realizing travelers didn’t need more choice—they needed more curation. His cabal of experts includes more than 75 journalists and editors specializing in various destinations around the world.
The Membership: A flat fee of $1,400 per household per year includes unlimited travel-planning services by a designated “travel designer” who knows everything about you, from what you like to eat to what you like to drive.
The Claim to Fame: Ultra-insider experiences are the name of Roca’s game, whether it’s the best paella in Majorca at a secret restaurant few locals know or a private dinner in a Venetian palazzo. “It’s not about the price tag,” he says. “It’s about discovering things that are under the radar and unique.”
Hand-Holding Quotient: Minimal. “Our client doesn’t require a lot of hand-holding,” Roca says. “They don’t want people standing at the door of their hotel room every morning. They just want to go.”
Source: Karl Backlund, cofounder
The Gist: With partner Jon Ein of private equity firm Foundry Capital, Backlund devised not an agency but a “travel community of like-minded individuals,” in which pay-for-play travel agents wouldn’t be welcome.
The Membership: $4,500 for a full annual membership with unlimited bespoke trip planning, or $1,750 for a one-trip planning fee. “We admit limited members to make sure the service standards are maintained,” Backlund says.
The Claim to Fame: Seamless execution of even the most complicated itineraries, whether it’s an island-hopping extravaganza in the Caribbean via private jet and yacht or a Scottish golf spree with 11 tee times in 11 days.
Hand-Holding Quotient: That’s up to you. “Our clients appreciate a significant portion of discovery—the thirst for exploration is definitely there,” Backlund says. But he’ll still hold your hand if you ask.
Source: Brent Handler, founder
The Gist: Handler is like the Thomas Edison of travel clubs. He invented the destination club with Exclusive Resorts in 2002, then went on to create Inspirato, a similar but more affordable club in 2011. The Inspirato Pass, his latest brainchild, is a subscription app.
The Membership: $2,500 per month gets you household booking rights to exclusive trips, events and accommodations—all at no added cost. The catch? After booking a trip, you have to take it before you can reserve another.
The Claim to Fame: There’s the usual hotel suites and over-the-top villas, but what gets really interesting is Inspirato Pass’s access to marquee events and experiences, from US Open seats to a European river cruise.
Hand-Holding Quotient: Surprisingly high, for an app. “All Inspirato Pass trips include pre-trip planning by our expert travel designers, including custom itineraries,” says Handler. Impressive.