Monday, January 11, 2010

What Is Luxury? Is Luxury What "They" Say It Is?

You know I question the cruise lines on what they call "luxury" and, in fact, if the simply say their product is luxury without specifying why.  Over time this sort of discussion becomes hard to follow as cruise lines blur the differences...even though there are real differences. 

The point is that just because a cruise line such as Silversea calls a hunk of near raw meat on a stone a luxury Stone Grill experience doesn't make it so. And charging $80 a couple to have a Japanese meal (without sake) does not make it luxury. And having a 50% smaller unisex spa with 50% more passengers doesn't make it luxury. On the other hand, if you love the service and that is what is important to you, then consider that value...and whether that level of service is actually "luxury" or just "pretty darn good"...and if that same service level is available at a lower price...or without the extra charges.

I recently had similar experience but in a totally different arena and it actually helped enlighten me and sharpen my focus.  Let me share it with you.

I have for many frustrating, yet enjoyable, years been a season ticket holder for the New York Jets football team.  I enjoyed assigned parking...and then watched it turn into a pre-paid free-for-all where if you don't get to the stadium early you can be walking for a mile or parking on the side of a roadway.  I enjoyed the Stadium Club for a reasonably priced, high quality pre-game buffet with waitservice for drinks...which now costs over $50 a person.  And I have enjoyed a stadium which is just OK; nothing special, but it is where the Jets play.

A new, better, stadium with more amenities was marketed to us.  It sounded great.  It would have private clubs where you can see the game and have great food, better sight-lines, huge television screens, better seats and, believe it or not...yes, its true...cupholders!  There was a big catch, however:  Higher Prices and Personal Seat Licenses (where you are required to buy the right to buy your tickets).  Oh, the cost of "luxury"...or is it?????

So the other week I had a somewhat private tour of the new stadium (which is about 80% complete).  My impression was "Nice place" but not "WOW".  (For me the Jets convincingly beating the Bengals in the first round of the playoffs is a WOW.)  Now I must confess I was offered the tour because the Jets wanted me to "upgrade" my seats to one of the luxury private clubs (being that I have for years been a Stadium Club member...which allowed me to have seats anywhere in the stadium and pay a relatively small annual fee for access to the Club).  However, my interest was really to see exactly where my chosen seats (not in a club) would be in the new stadium.  (Note:  The "upgraded" seats would cost me about $100 per game more...per seat!)

So with some excitement (and my hardhat in place) I found my chosen seats...fourth row, on the goal line, right where the Jets come onto the field and (importantly for my son...but, of course, of little interest to me ;-) ) where the Flight Crew cheerleaders will be located.  I was pleased.





Then I was ushered to the East-West Club to see how much better these luxury seats were.  First I am shown the seats:  They are wider.  They are cushioned.  They have more leg room.  And, of course, they have direct access to the Club.  But they are not on the field...or even the lower level.  They are on the Mezzanine Level halfway up the stadium.  (Am I going on a cruise to enjoy the cruise?...I mean, err, Am I going to the game to watch a football game?)

Then I ask a question:  "How many people are there that have access to the Club?"  The answer is 3,500 for the East Club and 3,500 for the West Club.  So with that I look over the Club space (still under construction) and ask if there is waitstaff.  I am told that there is not; it is buffet service only.  Immediately rushing to my head is my experience on Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas the day I boarded and went to the buffet for lunch before our suite was ready:  3,500 people all wanting lunch at the same time.  It was not a pleasant experience and one I promised myself I would never repeat.

And then I looked out to the field and realized that once inside the Club you wouldn't be able to see the game at all.  Outside were seats blocking the view...and that was before people were sitting in them.  And then it was confirmed that all the food and drinks were at additional cost. 

I shuddered and thought to myself:  "You have got to be kidding.  This is supposed to be 'Luxury'?  Just because I am required to pay more does not make it a luxury experience.  I want great seats and a great game day experience.  I don't want to pay $200 a game more to "enjoy" 3,500 people fighting for a table to eat food that is at additional cost (bringing my additional expense to over $300 per game)...for seats that are not nearly as good as the ones I already have.  And, for the cost of $300 I can have a really nice tailgating grill, chairs, portable tv and cooler...for seasons to come."

Unless, that is, the cache of the label is what matters to you.  And to many, even in this economy, it still does...and there is nothing wrong with that.  It does have its place and purpose.  Just be sure you don't just "drink the Kool-Aid" and believe it is "luxury" because they say so.

So, football fans:  Which seats give you the luxury experience?  Fourth row on the field or second tier with a buffet  and with 50-75% more expense?