12 ways to save at spas

Hot stone massage. Chocolate body scrub. Lavender rose wrap. All sound lusciously decadent … and expensive. But even the $14 billion spa industry isn’t immune to a skittish economy. Pressured to keep expenses low yet maintain customer levels, spas (both day and destination resort) continue to ramp up incentives. That means there’s never been a better time to indulge yourself. Here are 12 tips for spa savings:

1. Discount is a dirty word. Instead, ask, “What specials are you offering?” Look into off-season deals, or if certain days or times are cheaper than others. Some day spas slash prices for any “first” treatment like a manicure or facial. If your destination has a particularly hot summer (think Arizona) or cold winter (think Maine), off-season specials may be only a thermometer away. Even five-star resorts have their slow seasons and use room discounts to lure in customers, then toss in spa specials to sweeten the deal.

2. Timing Counts. Every spa has its own non-peak hours of operation – when it first opens, around noon, or late in the day. Same for Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Ask if certain days or times are cheaper than others.

3. Look for package deals. Planning a stay in a resort/hotel spa? Book a package that includes spa treatments. Often it’s less expensive than purchasing the room and treatments individually, and the package may feature special benefits like lunch, health club passes or parting gifts. Day spa packages work the same way. Bundling multiple treatments can reduce the cost 10% to 20% over a la carte services. If you don’t want a particular service in the package (say a body wrap makes you claustrophobic), some spas will even substitute … if you ask.

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4. Ask about one-day specials. To eliminate product waste, spas need to use every bit of goop they order. So as they transition from one season to another or change product lines, spas often offer an in-house special. These types of specials are here one day and gone the next. Some aren’t even posted online, only at the front desk or if you call.

5. Don’t be bashful. Most spa reservationists are trained to distinguish between “big spenders” and budget-minded customers. Don’t be afraid to admit up front you are looking for a deal. If you are new to the spa scene, be truthful. A good spa hopes to win you over, even with one basic treatment, so you become a repeat customer.

6. Make the most of your visit. Just because your treatment is over doesn’t mean you are shown the door. With most full-service spa centers, visitors who book a treatment are free to use the entire facility for the rest of the day. So consider the scope of a spa’s facilities. You may pay a few dollars more for that massage, but then you can linger all day in the sauna, steam rooms, swimming pool and relaxation lounge.

7. Frequency Pays. If you’re in a location for a couple of weeks or visit frequently, you may be able to purchase a series of treatments – say six for the price of five — to be used within a specified amount of time. Some spas offers a frequent-user card. After nine visits, the tenth is free.

8. Don’t scoff at chains. Massages can top $250 at swanky resorts, but if décor doesn’t matter, consider a national or regional massage chain. True, the chains are prone to staffing turnover and it may take a few visits to find the ideal masseuse, but savings are significant. 

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9. Go back to school. Cosmetology and massage therapy schools charge a fraction of a regular spa. How much less? One Scottsdale, Ariz., beauty school charges $40 for a spa facial. A nearby resort wants $145 for its “signature” facial. Most schools offer a student spa/salon or clinic where treatments are performed under the watchful eyes of instructors. Search the American Association of Cosmetology Schools or the American Massage Therapy Association by city or state.

10. Comparison shop. If you are headed to a new city, find out if your hotel has an in-house spa or affiliate nearby. Then, call to see if any specials or packages are available. Tell them you’ll come early or are willing to use their newest employee. Or make friends with the hotel concierge and drop his or her name to get a discount or complimentary service. Travelers should also look off-property or just outside resort areas where the facilities are often equal in quality but less costly. A 10-minute walk can mean big savings.

11. Less Is More. Services that require extensive training – Thai Massage, Shiatsu, Cranio-Facial, etc — are going to cost more. So too will a spa’s “signature” treatments because of the more expensive products employed. Among the most over-priced spa services: manicures and pedicures, as much as triple what a typical nail salon charges.

12. Search and Ye Shall Find. displays dozens of deals and specials. Other spa saving options: try searching for “City Name” + “spa discount” to find promotions or sign up for your favorite spa’s website e-mail list for advance notice of any last-minute specials.

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