Cigar Aficionado

For the seasoned traveler who sees five-star hotels as a been-there-done-that experience without the comfort or space of home, but doesn't relish the headaches of owning a vacation house, a new vacation trend is burgeoning: members-only luxury travel clubs.

Travel clubs offer access to a choice of top-tier vacation residences for varying amounts of time during the year. Unlike with timeshares, members (who pay an initiation fee and annual dues) are not tied to particular properties or vacation times and typically enjoy services that can be likened to concierge assistance at a hotel. Two companies—Connecticut-based Abercrombie & Kent and Exclusive Resorts in Denver—are leading the way.

A&K, which partnered with an existing travel club in 2003 to launch its Destinations Clubs, offers two membership levels: Private Retreats ($295,000 initiation fee), which comprises properties with an average price of $1.1 million, and Distinctive Retreats ($495,000), with a $2.5 million average. (Both initiation fees are 100 percent refundable.) Members have access to more than 140 far-flung residences, such as three residences in Cabo San Lucas, and Castello di Reschio in Tuscany, and personalized service, including full-time concierges, luxury products, state-of-the-art appliances and access to nearby golf courses. Annual dues are $9,500 for Private Retreats and $13,500 for Distinctive Retreats. The member-to-property ratio is 5.5 to 1, and members have unlimited access to properties, but pay a daily fee in addition to dues. They can also use A&K's private aircraft for a fee.

Not to be outdone, Denver-based Exclusive Resorts LLC, founded in 2002 by brothers Brad and Brent Handler and Tom Filippini, offers members access to more than 200 retreats, with a median value of $2.5 million, in 27 locations around the world. The initiation fee is $375,000 (80 percent refundable) and annual dues vary from $15,000 to $25,000, depending upon the usage plan (30 to 60 days, no added per diem). Properties are categorized as beach—e.g Los Cabos, Mexico (pictured); Wailea, Hawaii; Little Dix Bay, British Virgin Islands—mountain—e.g. Lake Tahoe, California; Telluride, Colorado; and Whistler, British Columbia—leisure—e.g. Scottsdale, Arizona, and Newport, Rhode Island—and metropolitan—e.g. London, Paris and New York. Members are pampered with the same sort of services as with A&K. Member-to-property ratio is 6 to 1. Both clubs continually add new properties.

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