Travel: Luxe Hotels Better Than Ever

Hotels are getting more fabulous. With even mid-tier rooms sporting Egyptian cotton linens, granite baths and Wi-Fi, the bar is being raised for upscale spots worldwide. U.S. luxe hotels have higher occupancy rates and are raising prices more rapidly (7.3 percent this year) than any other category, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. Developers are responding with new hotels offering top amenities, says Steve Joyce of Marriott International.

Starwood Capital Group, which already owns the vaunted Hotel de Crillon in Paris and is building a Crillon chain, recently announced it's developing Baccarat Hotels and Resorts, named after the crystal company it owns. The first will be in Hawaii. Marriott is putting up Ritz-Carltons and JW Marriotts in China and elsewhere. It has also partnered with Ian Schrager, a boutique hotelier who developed Studio 54 in the 1970s, to come up with an international chain of 100 small hotels it describes as "luxury redefined."

Not all new luxe hotels are boutiques. Manhattan's Shangri-La Hotel, scheduled to open in 2010, will have 600 rooms, four times the maximum for the typical luxury hotel. Many properties are also including residences. The most luxurious, in expensive urban markets, tend to spend upwards of $270,000 per room, nearly double the average for full-service hotels. What do guests get in return? The best plasma screens, bathrooms that deserve their own gift shop, occasionally even a butler. Says Joyce: "It represents what those consumers have in their homes." Or, for some business travelers, better.

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