It should come as no surprise that the world’s richest man, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, has been to two of the world’s most expensive hotels-Fr-gate Island Private in the Seychelles and Fiji’s The Wakaya Club. It helps to be a billionaire (or at least a millionaire) to be able to afford a stay there.
For the past two years, Forbes.com has been tracking the most expensive hotel suites in the world, but this year we decided to do something slightly different. Instead of looking at the most expensive penthouses and presidential suites at a hotel-because they will always be the priciest-we looked at the most expensive hotels in the world, where rates start at $1,395, our benchmark. Our list ranges from the $1,395-a-night Little Palm Island in the Florida Keys to the most expensive hotel in the world, The Mansion at the MGM Grand (nyse: MGM – news – people ) in Las Vegas.
The hotels on our list have quite a few things in common, apart from the number of zeroes trailing on the price tag and Gates as a guest. The list is dominated by African game lodges and private island resorts in far flung locations, such as The Wakaya Club and Turtle Island in Fiji, and Fr-gate Island Private. The resorts’ remote locations drive up the sticker price of a room, since all supplies must be flown in and many of the hotels have to generate their own electricity and water.
While jacking up prices is always a way to ensure exclusivity and create buzz, the formula works with the hotels on our list. The majority of these hotels continue to raise their prices each year, and seasonally as well. Turtle Island’s high season rates start at $1,975 while low season rates start at (a mere) $1,646, which proves that values (and bargains) are in the eye of the beholder.
To put these prices in perspective, the worldwide average rate for a deluxe room in 2003-booked through American Express Corporate Travel-was $182. So what exactly are guests getting for $1,400, $2,000 or even $5,000 a night? Most of the resorts on the list are all inclusive, covering everything from food, expensive French wines, scuba diving and game drives to laundry service, which (when broken down) makes the room rate less outrageous. Guests are also paying a premium for privacy and location; many of the world’s most expensive hotels, such as The Wakaya Club, have only a handful of villas and chances are rare guests will see another soul.
But at the world’s most expensive hotel, The Mansion at the MGM Grand, the $5,000 price tag is simply for the room. Meals and alcohol are charged separately. What guests are getting for their money is plenty of space-the villas range from 2,400 to 12,000 square feet-as well as original Picassos on the walls, and the prestige that comes with being able to afford a room there.
The second most expensive hotel in the United States, Little Palm Island in the Florida Keys, has a similar pricing strategy. High season rates start at $1,395, and meals and activities are not included. But for San Diego resident Lynn Mercurio, 53, price is no object when it comes to luxury. Mercurio and her husband have been coming to Little Palm Island for ten years, and regularly spend about eight days there.
“We just want to go someplace where we can relax and shut down,” she says. “I can’t put a price on the value and the pleasure I get from returning there, and knowing that everything will be taken care of. The cost doesn’t mean anything.”
Mercurio says a main reason she returns to Little Palm each year is to “fall in love all over again” with her husband. While it’s entirely possible to reconnect in a Sheraton, it’s obviously much nicer (and more romantic) to be in a secluded resort with private beaches, 24-hour room service and oodles of space-as well as to be surrounded by a staff that never says no. Put another way, it’s the difference between a vintage French champagne and a sparkling cider; they are both drinks but there’s no comparison.
While the Little Palm is certainly expensive, it only ranks last on our list of most expensive hotels in the world. To compile the list, we looked at high season double room rates for each of these hotels, and indicated how the pricing system works (per person or per room). We did not include private island resorts such as Musha Cay in the Bahamas or Richard Branson’s Necker Island, which can be rented in their entirety.