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Jet Set Luxury Hotels

Twenty minutes from the airport at Saranac Lake, New York, an unmarked road runs through a 75-acre wooded peninsula to a gate with a sign that says NO VISITORS.

Beyond is the Point, a small lakeside retreat on a 10-acre spit of land that is touted—justifiably—as the ultimate getaway. Ever since the 1980's, when it became a hotel, this last and most lavish of the Adirondack Great Camps, built in 1933 by a great-nephew of John D. Rockefeller, has been a haven for the wealthy, the savviest travel connoisseurs, and celebrities like John F. Kennedy Jr., who took Daryl Hannah here.

The reason? The Point is perfect—particularly if you enjoy the exclusive company of people who don't faint at a four-figure-a-night hotel bill. Its four lodges are constructed of native timber and stone, and its interiors are as palatial as they are rustic : there are mounted game watching over Hudson River school paintings; cavernous fireplaces and walk-in closets; deep soaking tubs; overstuffed antique furnishings; zebra-and bearskin rugs; and custom-made beds so plush some guests never want to leave them.

But leave them they do, after they're served coffee in bed, since what's outside the huge picture windows is as awesome as what's within. Swimming, boating in a fleet of vintage wooden boats, and playing tennis in summer; cross-country skiing, skating, and snowshoeing in winter; and hiking through the majestic Adirondacks in any season are all included, along with the requisite equipment. So are drinks and meals, although meals hardly does them justice, for the resort's kitchen churns out three gourmet feasts a day, tailored to guests' dietary preferences and served house-party style, on twig place mats at communal tables. Guests dress for dinner, and are even encouraged to don black tie on Wednesday and Saturday nights.

Sometimes, the revelry goes on all night in the Great Hall, or the Pub, with its tree trunk–legged pool table, or a carpeted and pillowed lean-to by a roaring bonfire on the lake. So does the incomparable service: the kitchen will cheerfully make you a pizza, or anything else within reason, at any hour. Room fires are kept roaring in winter by invisible elves. Even canine guests are pampered to the ultimate degree.

And did I mention that tipping and children are forbidden, and that most cell phones, BlackBerries, and televisions don't work here?

So the question really isn't who stays in this most sophisticated retreat, but rather, who wouldn't, if they could?

Once, a destination like the Point was a rarity; there weren't many customers for hotels where rooms for two start at $1,565 a night. But times have changed, and the popularity of ultraluxe travel is booming. "Since 2002, we've had a fifty percent increase in people paying more than a thousand dollars a night," says Bob Boulogne, a vice president of Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, which charges that amount for top rooms at many of its properties, such as Jumby Bay on Antigua.

Many people, it seems, are trading up to more refined and expensive travel. "The general trend in the country is increasing affluence," says Madelyn Hochstein, president of DYG Inc., a luxury consumer research company. "Factor in credit, and more and more people can pay. So it becomes harder [for the super-rich] to differentiate themselves, and they need to go to greater lengths to make the statement that they are successful. They need some form of exclusivity to remind themselves that they are not you and me. The 'massification' of luxury drives them to consume even more."

Spending like there's no tomorrow has become the ultimate status symbol defining this tribe of travelers. Not so much individualistic explorers as cohorts in a new form of sybaritic narcissism, they hop (alone, yet together) from $1,000-a-night lodge to $40,000-a-night island, celebrating life and the riches and freedoms it offers as an antidote, a rebuke, to uncertainty. "A private paradise—a place where you can do what you want when you want—is worth it, despite the cost," says John Steinle, owner of the Connecticut-based Sanctuare, which markets exclusive hotels, ranches, game reserves, and private islands such as Musha Cay in the Bahamas.

So, on Frégate Island in the Seychelles you get meals and most drinks, along with a bed, for $2,807 a night. Compared with that, Dhoni Mighili, in the Maldives, and Turtle Island, in Fiji, are affordable: all-inclusive at about $2,000 a night. Then there are the game reserves of the African bush—Mombo Camp, in Botswana, and Royal Malewane and Sabi Sabi, in South Africa. At those natural yet lavish properties, wild-game excursions are part of the package, along with meals, drinks, and amenities, so aficionados consider the price—$1,000 to $2,000 per night—a bargain. And don't forget about Australia's Bedarra Island, on the Great Barrier Reef, or Longitude 131°, in the outback, or New Zealand's Lodge at Paratiho Farms: all three will take your breath away, as will their rates—more than $1,500 a night.

Who pays these prices?A few months ago, three Americans and a Brit were having dinner at Le Gaïac, one of the most expensive restaurants on St. Bart's and part of Le Toiny, a cliffside hotel where rooms (little villas, actually, with private pools and flat-screen TV's) start at $1,992 a night. Between nibbles of foie gras and amuse-bouches topped with truffles, the quartet cast glances around the room, trying to figure out who else was there and what they all had in common.

"They're rich," said an American.

"But it's not so simple anymore," replied Marc Arnall, a restaurateur recently relocated from England to St. Bart's. "If you're super-rich, you come here on your superyacht, or your Gulfstream V, and go straight to your private villa, where your staff has lunch laid out for you. If you're just really rich, skip the yacht, unless you're renting, but you'll still have a jet share and a villa and a chef."

"And if you're merely rich?" the American asked.

"You stay and eat here," said Arnall, gesturing at the new low end of the new high-end vacation. "Not bad!"

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