My travel magazine grumpiness: An example

Some of you may remember that somewhere (apparently not here) I wrote a brief elegy mourning the death of the Conde Nast Traveler I’d read and loved for years–the new editorial team increasing page size, making it mostly Pretty Photos for Beautiful People, and–most of all–abandoning prices when discussing hotels and restaurants. I didn’t renew what had once been a first-rate travel magazine; I don’t miss it. I believe it’s become a magazine for the eight-digit crowd: those with $10 million or more net worth who can go along with “If you have to ask…” price irrelevance.

More recently, it appears that National Geographic Traveler has been redesigned: still more text, but, well, there go the prices.

Meanwhile, Travel + Leisure has become more substantive since Time Inc. acquired it–with, wonder of wonders, price notes in most hotel/restaurant discussions. What a concept!

I’m reading the March 2017 issue (I’m usually two months behind on magazines) and hit a little item about chefs who have opened up restaurants with a few hotel rooms attached. Consider:

  • Restaurant Alma in Minneapolis wants $58 and up for a three-course meal…and $166 and up for a double room. So that’s $282 plus tax and tips and wine for two people. Not bad.
  • Coombeshead Farm in Cornwall wants $61 and up for a farm-to-table dinner and $215 and up for a double room. Figure $327 plus tax and tips and wine. Also plausible.

And then there’s the nearby one:

  • SingleThread in Healdsburg wants $294 and up for a fancy tasting menu…and $700 and up for a double room. Figure $1,288 plus tax and tips and wine.

See, without prices, I might either believe that all three are “If you have to ask…” situations or ponder whether the Healdsburg place–just a couple of hours away–might be worth a try.

But with prices: well. $961 (the smallest differential) would pay for a pretty decent two-night Monterey vacation. We live in Livermore, only “reasonably priced” by the Bay Area’s odd standards, but at one of our favorite restaurants a good three-course meal (salad, entree with starch and vegetables, bread, and dessert) goes for $23. At another good local restaurant I see the bill for dinner for three, including wine and tip, as $136.

We’re not poverty-stricken, but in planning possible vacations and visits the difference between $327 and $1,288 is decidedly worth noting…and knowing about. A travel magazine that deliberately¬†hides that difference–and the decision at Conde Nast to get rid of prices can’t have been accidental–is doing a disservice to all but the wealthiest readers.

Oh, and if SingleThread is actually a life-changing experience well worth the fee, well, I guess my life just won’t be changed.

Sad.

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