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may 03

Spa Bargains for Less Than $100

Exhausted mother Kyla Kelim learns how to find spa bargains.

(Suggested title: "Day-tripping on a budget")

My motto is, "if its free, its for me", but, my mission on this particular Saturday is to find out how well this motto fit in the upscale world of day spas.

The background: I had a particularly stressful week at work, punctuated by a certain amount of whining on my part to my soulmate (ok, alot of whining on my part), who was supportive, compassionate and caring for at least 30 seconds before launching into how stressed out he was. By the end of the week, my shoulders were near my ears. After receiving the news that my relaxing weekend was starting with him working part of Saturday and leaving me in this advanced state of stress with the children alone, I wondered whether my shoulders would soon require surgery, and whether it would hurt and if they would actually let me stay in the hospital for recovery....

Fortunately, dear husband was in fear of losing his tranquility and finished the "have to work" sentence with an offer for me to have a "mini-spa-day" for the rest of Saturday, and imparted me with a modest budget and instruction to make an appointment.

Wow.

I wasn't sure how to start. I was aware that in the civilized world, there are such places as spas, and that they generally come with inviting pictures of peaceful settings and luxury amenities. When I've cautiously clicked on the "services and rates" button in the past, I've suffered sticker shock that sent me reeling and recalled that the price was somewhere around what my current day care bill was -- for a month.

Although skeptical and a bit unused to frivolous spending, my wise husband had obviously recognized that sometimes even moms need a vacation, if only for a few hours and further, sometimes the budget should be bent a bit to take care of the rock of the family. Or, perhaps, he has a purchase of yet more stereo equipment in mind.

Whatever.

To work:

I only had a few hours to plan a trip to a spa, and a budget of $ 100.00. I took to this task like my life depended on it. I ended up booking a wonderful, hour-long massage and got a very trendy haircut to boot, and tipped nicely of course. This did take some negotiating, but I did learn some valuable tips along the way that would have saved me about two-thirds of that in advance. Oh well, at least my shoulders are safe from the knife for the moment...

1. Plan ahead. When you wait until the day you want to go, you have limited choices. Especially if that day is Saturday, the busiest day of the spa week. Many of the spas are booked ahead of time with regular clients, or have not booked enough staff to accommodate walk-ins. On the day I called, I was not able to get the pedicure I really craved as they were completely booked, and most of the other spas that had space for the pedicure did not have a slot for a massage as well. Many did not call me back at all.

2. Opt for a weekday. Most spas will be closed on Mondays as well as Sundays, but booking on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday (or Friday nights in some places) will give you an advantage as it is typically a much slower day.

3. Ask about packages. Some spas offer deep discounts with multiple visits or services. If there are no advertised packages, for example, ask if the spa will give a discount if multiple services are purchased in advance. Nearly all will give a good discount, sometimes approaching 50%.

4. Bring a friend...or several. Since we're planning in advance, ask some friends or relatives for some one-on-one time, or spring for a babysitter (see swap sitting below for a real bargain) and take your soulmate. Nearly all of the spas advertise a special for spouses or friends. Many offer free services for you if you bring three friends or more.

5. Swap sitting. While you're bargaining for the bulk discount, see if the spa will issue the discount in connection with gift certificates, and go in with your friends who have children, and offer to swap babysitting services during appointments.

6. Check the net. At the very least, you will find out what services in your area generally cost - critical for bargaining. I ran across a number of unbelievable specials. Some even on a Sunday! Mark your calendars! For example, one specialized New York City spa offered $ 30 for one of several treatments on one day a year. As spas become more plentiful, competition is driving the prices down, and making the packages more attractive. Several trendy boutiques offered a half day of services for less than the money that I paid for my unplanned Saturday treat, and allowed you to take advantage of those services on multiple visits! Which leads me to the next important tip:

7. Be Flexible! As I stated, I believed that life as I know it was about to end because I wasn't able to meet my vision of my perfect day which included a pedicure with my massage. Actually, I did a perfectly fine job on my own toes but not such a good job butchering my hair over the kitchen sink with perhaps the dullest kitchen scissors this side of the Mississippi. Thus, a massage and a trendy haircut didn't just work fine for me, but my benefactor at least appeared to be enthralled with my appearance (although it was probably the glow of picking out that new subwoofer) - a real ego boost and an added bonus that I hadn't even factored in! Shop wisely and you will likely find close to what you want and may find what you settle for is better than what you had envisioned. And lets face it, a day (or half day) at the spa, beats a good day at work any time! That being said, I would not have settled for eyebrow waxing...

8. Do your homework! Don't be afraid to plug all your valuable research into a homemade chart so that you can perform step number 9.

9. Don't be afraid to ask. The asking should sound something like this: "I would really love to come to your spa, and have heard wonderful things about you, and its really much more convenient to where I live, however, I am now booked into ABC spa for next Tuesday, who is offering me a mini-facial, hour long massage, mini-manicure, and pedicure for less than you are charging for the massage and facial. If you think you can match that, I'd prefer to come to you." If you haven't done your research, this approach will not work well. It also helps to say it with a great deal of charm. If you have the time, it helps more to say it in person (away from other customers). Dress well for this appearance. Remember, this is a business, one that wants customers who are potentially repeat customers who will potentially recruit their friends and family to come in. Alot. Which brings me to...

10. Enlist co-conspirators. The staff who is providing the services are working for a fee. Part of that fee comes from what you are paying for the service, as a commission, typically, and part is from your gratuity. Should you show interest in other services, especially from the same provider, you are likely to be able to develop perhaps your best source of discount, the employee, who will know what is possible in terms of discounts at that spa. Display your dilemna prior to treatment, perhaps by inquiring about a parrafin wax treatment prior to a manicure. They will be anxious to please you to increase the amount of tip they are likely to get and may be able to offer the service as a compliment. Develop a rapport and be sure to get -- and keep -- their card. Call and ask to speak with them personally and invite them to direct you to slower days, where they can spend more time with you. This will free up time for additional services - either greatly reduced or free. Remember, they also want you to come back.

11. And finally, for the true bargain hunter. Let me say that I was appalled to spend a cool c-note on myself in one fell swoop, with no regard to the babies-needing-shoes (they always do) or the ever growing grocery list (a killer and far more than the c-note) and on and on.. But I did learn that, had I been able to put the research into it that I now have performed, I could have had close to the same experience for....$31, or less. That's right, less than a third for several hours of good time. First, check in your area for schools of massage therapy. There were two here in Sunny, medium-sized Mobile, Alabama. Two! I found, without much difficulty, that at least one offers student massages at the rate of $ 25.00 per hour. And offers gift certificates for multiple visits! Second, check your local cosmetology schools. Only those close to graduation are staffing the clinics, and these people are learning the latest techniques and styles. And they are supervised. You might want to get there early and watch for a while, if you have that choice. Still, its better than my dull kitchen shears, for sure! Costs will be very low and in some areas, they may offer free styling to give the students the experience. For those who want more done to their hair, this is really a great bargain. I once had to get the red out of my hair, not an easy prospect nor particularly good for your wallet at your average salon. At the school, it took quite a while and involved supervisors, but 4 hours and $ 40.00 later, I had the red out, and a stylish cut, dry and style. It truly can pay to be a bargain shopper!

Well, I'm going to cut cucumbers for the babies and, while I'm at it, sneak a few pieces for my eyes and dream of my next 'mini-spa-day"...but, first, must investigate why stereo sounds much louder. Hmm.

Comment below. And then read what the other contestants submitted: A young man goes to Belgium on a quest for the world's most perfect beer. An American ex-pat offers advice to a first-time Vietnam visitor. And a gourmand offers her list of the best places for budget travelers to eat worldwide.

Get Inspired with more from BudgetTravel.com


Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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