Travelling at the pointy end in 2024 is about much more than gold-plated taps and doormen in top hats. Here’s what the big bucks get you now. 


I walk out of passport control in Bali’s Denpasar International Airport and raise my eyes towards the electronic boards that list the luggage carousels to find out where to collect my suitcase. But before I can focus, a voice says my name. “Ms Carlton? Welcome to Bali.”

It’s Raja, the concierge arranged by Raffles Bali who is there to greet me, even before I clear customs. With brisk efficiency he fills in my electronic customs form, collects my luggage and whisks me past every other passenger to my private transport, which is equipped with wi-fi, a vibrant herbal tonic and even an iPad, on which I can choose the music for my journey to the resort. Carousel to car in 10 minutes flat.

Once upon a time, luxury travel was all about opulent marble bathrooms, magnums of chilled Champagne and hermetically sealed limousines. It can still be all those things, but today’s luxury-seekers value less-tangible jewels – things like effortlessness, space, privacy and time. “For me, luxury is about ease,” Katya Herting, Raffles Bali’s general manager, tells me later. “Life can be so complicated. For our guests, everything is taken care of.”


What does luxury look like in 2024?

The basic touchpoints have not changed. A high-end hotel or cruise will have top-quality sheets, exquisitely comfortable beds, showstopping food (with ingredients like caviar and foie gras almost always somewhere on the menu) and plush amenities. But big-picture details are just as important.

At Como The Treasury in Perth, for example, the impersonal check-in desk queue is replaced with a welcome salon that feels like a friend’s beautifully designed living room where guests sink into plush lounges with a cocktail as they complete the arrivals process. A top-level cruise ship will have a high staff-to-guest ratio so that every traveller’s needs are instantly accommodated. And then there is the luxury of access.

True luxury is about money-can’t-buy experiences such as a customised fragrance for your suite, an art gallery opened at night for a one-on-one-tour, or a personalised drawing of your likeness.


Luxury Travel Escape
COMO The Treasury Perth Western Australia


Does luxe mean less?

Certainly luxury should mean that you need to worry less; a true luxury experience means that someone else is taking care of the details. All-inclusive products may look pricey at first look, but you’re paying for everything to be completely carefree.

“We find ‘all-inclusive’ to be luxurious as it takes the pressure and pain away from having to make decisions,” says Anthony Laver, general manager sales and marketing Australasia of Scenic Group, whose river and ocean cruises are all-inclusive, all the time. “The only decision you have to make is what cocktail to have before dinner.”

But all-inclusive can also mean you pay less in the end, as you’re not adding on – and perhaps losing track of – expenses on the go.


Luxury Travel Escape
Luxury discovery yacht Scenic Eclipse.


Is affordable luxury a thing?

Here’s the good news. Increasingly, little bits of luxury are finding their way into the travel landscape at all price points.

At the Quincy Hotel in Melbourne, where rooms start at a moderate $223 a night, guests can order their own fragrance service, where a concierge will arrive with a spritz of Bulgari, Jean Paul Gaultier, Balenciaga or Valentino to make a night out that little bit more special, while the Swell Hotel in Byron Bay has its own high-end ice bath and sauna worthy of a top-level hotel spa.

Overseas, an upgrade to plush Gran Class on a Japanese shinkansen (bullet train) could be worth the splurge of an extra $100 or so, especially if it’s a route where beautiful bento boxes are included.


Luxury Travel Escape
Swell Hotel Byron Bay.


Luxury dining

Top-tier dining is about much more than just food. It’s a multisensory hospitality experience. Attentive service is a given; someone will take your coat, bring a stool for your handbag and explain every dish in detail.

But there’ll also be drama and theatre, such as when New York’s Eleven Madison Park recreated a tropical island in the private dining room for a couple whose vacation had been cancelled.

At Melbourne’s Vue de Monde, guests participate in making their own luxe jam doughnuts, while at the three-hatted Amisfield near Queenstown in New Zealand, guests are led into a beautiful greenhouse full of ferns and rich forest scents to eat dessert.


Luxury Travel Escape
Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok at Chao Phraya River.


Best luxury travel experiences of 2024

Five-star hotels and resorts $$$$-$$$$$

What to Expect: Chances are you know the basics of luxury hotels: the never-want-to-get-up beds, the “sirs” and “ma’ams”. But it’s actually the thoughtful touches and unmatched experiences that get that final star over the line.

At the Four Seasons in Bangkok, for example, you’ll find a charming digital likeness of your face on the welcome dessert plate in your suite on arrival. The Hotel Belles Rives in the South of France has a waterskiing butler who will teach you how to look like a 1960s film star in a striped swimsuit, flying across the Mediterranean. While at the Six Senses in Rome you can arrange a private peek at a priceless artwork inside the church next door, one that’s otherwise entirely hidden from the public. But luxury is also about having space to breathe and reflect. Most of the 23ha of the Raffles Bali is lush jungle, so guests have extraordinary views from every angle, while the new Soneva Secret in the Maldives has only 14 entirely secluded multi-space bungalows on a completely private island.

River cruises $$$

What to expect: A luxury river cruise somewhere such as France, Germany or Portugal should be a seamless blend of on-board comfort and immersive shore experiences. Plenty of vessels will punt you from port to port but a Scenic cruise goes significantly further on the luxe scale, with an all-suite offering and a maximum of 163 guests. But it’s the exclusive Scenic Enrich shore program that takes your trip far beyond ordinary travel, with experiences such as the thrill of a Mozart concerto at the Palais Liechtenstein in Vienna or after-hours access to the Fabrique des Lumières art centre in Amsterdam.

Ocean cruises $$$$

What to expect: A luxury cruise should feel effortless from the moment you board. Your minibar should be stocked with the requests you arranged pre-cruise, and your personal butler on hand for whatever you need (caviar delivery as soon as you put down your handbag? Certainly, ma’am). Even the lowest-tier suite should have high-end amenities such as full-size baths and private balconies. On an expedition ship such as Silversea’s Silver Origin, which operates in the Galápagos Islands, part of the luxury is the expertise of the crew itself; if you travel to these places to learn about the landscape and wildlife, having the best-trained guides on board to point out hidden curiosities is priceless.

Private yacht $$$$$

What to expect: Private yachts can be hired almost anywhere there’s water, and if you’re willing to pay for it the crew should move mountains to get you whatever you want on board. A charter company like Cecil Wright will find the vessel and arrange an itinerary that suits your needs (Greek islands but only the smaller, lesser-known ones? Can do) and then stock it with any food, drinks and entertainment you desire. But expect to pay for it. The cheapest motor yacht in their fleet starts at around $470,000 for a week’s charter.


Luxury Travel Escape
Qantas International First Class Lounge in Sydney.


Business and first class flights $$$-$$$$$

What to expect: Flying business class is already pretty perk-heavy: dedicated lounges, priority boarding, drink service upon boarding and of course the holy grail, the flat bed, which is available on most airlines and routes. But first class takes things to a whole new level. Qantas’s first-class lounge at Sydney Airport is like all your favourite restaurants in one: Korean fried chicken, Neil Perry’s famous salt and pepper squid and pavlova, and limitless Champagne. On board, you’re not in a seat but a suite, one that includes a table for two so you can dine with your companion, as well as a roomy bed fitted with Sheridan sheets.

Private jet $$$$

What to expect: Airport queues and lost luggage? Forget it. The most luxurious aspect of a private jet tour is that it whisks you in or out of a destination in the time it takes most people to haul their luggage on to the conveyor belt. Most private jet companies have dedicated hangars or even whole airports so you arrive and step straight on board, with no waiting in line. Prices for private jet tours can be virtually unlimited depending on the route and comfort levels. APT runs air tours that aren’t cheap but considering the inclusions, are incredible value for money. Their 16-day Icons of Australia Air Tour touches down in Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, Cairns, Margaret River, Uluru, Darwin, the Great Barrier Reef and more, with signature experiences at every destination, starting from under $25,000. An investment in the trip of a lifetime.

Rail class upgrades $$

What to expect: Depending on your priorities, upgrading on a train trip might be one of those semi-affordable luxuries worth the splurge. If you’re travelling overnight on one of Trenitalia’s Intercity Notte trains in Italy, upgrading to a sleeper berth rather than sitting upright is a solid investment for your back if nothing else, and will still generally cost under 100 euros ($165), depending on the route. Canada’s Via Rail upgrades aren’t quite so economical – an upgrade from Vancouver to Toronto might cost $C2000 ($2265) rather than $C600 for economy but the private beds and meal service turn a simple mode of transportation into an experience.


Luxury Travel Escape
Eastern & Oriental Express train.


Luxury rail journeys $$$$

What to expect: Romance and heady adventure are the spirit of a luxury rail journey. On the Eastern & Oriental Express in Southeast Asia, the decor of each suite is rich and jewel-toned, reflecting a sumptuous bygone era. Food at the two restaurants is curated by a Michelin-starred chef, and you can even customise your sleeping quarters with a choice of fragrances and playlists.


Read More:

10 luxury hotels that belong on your bucket list

The ‘wildest’ luxury hotel we’ve ever seen

6 cheap luxury experiences around the world


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