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  • Post published:29/07/2021
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Photos showing exclusive experiences available from Prior travel club, including a curated trip to India, and a tour of Modena with chef Massimo Bottura

From left: Travel club Prior arranged a members-only visit to India, including the town of Maheshwar; Massimo Bottura, who led Prior members through his hometown of Modena, Italy.
| Credit: Courtesy of Prior Club

Andria Gutierrez is a marketing executive in Lake Tahoe, California, who loves to travel – but doesn’t love the time suck of researching vacations. “When I was younger, I planned all my own trips,” she says. “But now that I own a business, I just don’t have the spare hours anymore.”

That’s why she recently joined the Club (from $24 per month) from Allcall, which offers personalized itineraries and exclusive deals to members. She’s already taken three Allcall trips, including a multi-state ski trip and a vacation in Baja California, Mexico. “The team is incredibly helpful and responsive,” Gutierrez says. “They make the planning process so efficient.”

While some established outfits like Exclusive Resorts (from $150,000 for a 10-year membership) and Wheels Up (from $17,500 per year) have catered to the ultra-wealthy for years, a number of new clubs are opening their doors – at just the moment when many Americans are taking their first big trips since the start of the pandemic. One reason is, of course, a new obsession with safety.

“Health has become the paramount concern of our members,” says Melissa Biggs Bradley, founder of Indagare (from $395 per year), which plans and books trips for its members. “We have a ton of information on COVID protocols, and the team takes care of understanding those, even as they change all the time.”

There are other factors at play. “I’d traveled independently for decades,” says Suzy Kellems Dominik, an artist from New York City. But hearing about an opportunity to visit Modena, Italy, with acclaimed chef Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana was enough to convince her to join Prior (from $249 per year), a company that started out in 2019.

A table set for dinner at a resort in Tuscany, Italy

Dinner at Monte Rotundo, a Tuscan villa open to Exclusive Resorts members.
| Credit: Courtesy of Exclusive Resorts

“What’s so interesting is that they have this access,” Kellems Dominik says. “It’s intellectual and emotional travel – the imagination is just endless – and they curated a group of very interesting people who were all like-minded around food.”

That ability to open doors is also drawing travelers who don’t normally think of themselves as joiners. Around half of all millennials are now considering signing up for some form of travel club, according to one industry survey, outpacing the interest from Gen Xers and baby boomers. Even Exclusive Resorts, which charges at least $1,395 per day for trips on top of the cost of membership, has seen a surge of interest from young families. The company just notched its best December in nine years, despite the pandemic.

So which of these clubs is right for you? It all depends on what you’re looking for – and how much you’re ready to invest.

For Upscale Private Stays

Exclusive Resorts has a portfolio of nearly 400 vacation homes, plus members-only cruises and expeditions. Inspirato (from $600 per month) has the keys to villas in 150 locations; members can also jump aboard cruises arranged by the company. A more affordable choice is Koala (from $99 per year), which allows travelers to book one-off stays in time-shares in the U.S., the Caribbean, and Mexico.

For a Like-Minded Community

El Camino (from $150 per year) began as a small-group-trip operator focused on Latin America, but recently unveiled El Camino Travel Clubhouse, a platform that allows members to participate in virtual events and chats about upcoming trips. Manifest (from $2,500 per year), which debuted last August, has chapters in cities across the United States. “We create a social aspect, with people getting to know each other outside of just traveling together,” founder Jeff Potter says.

A group of four paddle boards on the Rio Grande river

Paddleboarding the Rio Grande on a trip organized by Manifest.
| Credit: Heritage Inspirations/Courtesy of Manifest

For Feel-good Trips

The upstart wellness website and app MyLifeWell (from $10 per month) went live last year with virtual fitness classes and a selection of workout gear. Now it connects subscribers with travel advisors who specialize in booking wellness retreats at Canyon Ranch and Six Senses properties, among others.

For the Commitment-phobic

The high cost of clubs has historically been a barrier to signing up. But this spring, Prior lowered its $2,500-a-year price tag to $249, in an effort to draw together a more diverse group of adventurers. “I don’t want a club in the sense of shutting people out,” founder David Prior says. This summer, Travel + Leisure Group (from $10 per month) plans to launch its own affordable subscription club, promising preferential rates and insider experiences around the world.

A version of this story first appeared in the June 2020 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline Join the Club.

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