Daily Pampering: The only way to do the World Cup

True fanaticism isn’t cheap. Cars, cigars and treats from bars – you can spend an absolute fortune satisfying your itch for a particular vice. Though the fans are few but fierce in the United States, soccer draws addicts around the world, and the upcoming World Cup in South Africa is sure to attract a committed crowd. If you want to put yourself in the middle of the action, don’t settle for a second-class experience. Envelope your World Cup experience in luxury, and it will be the sort of trip that you’ll use to judge the others you take for the rest of your life.

Cox & Kings has put together some itineraries that fuse exclusivity and high luxury. “Follow Team USA” includes both soccer and safari components and can be booked through late March. You’ll pick up guaranteed tickets for U.S. matches and also be able to roam through world-renowned safari camps. If you’re going to head all the way out to South Africa, you’ll want to make the most of your trip.

Each of the three “Follow Team USA” all-inclusive World Cup VIP packages runs between June 9 and June 24, 2010. All three include tickets to all three Team USA matches and bonus matches, including opener between South Africa and Mexico. You’ll enjoy the action from VIP business seats as a guest of the Los Angeles Futbol Club Foundation. Additionally, safaris are available, ranging from three nights to five. Prices range from $24,355 to $29,060 per person, depending on safari options and how late into the World Cup you plan to stay around (you can get tickets to the finals, if you can handle the tab).

Want more? Get your daily dose of pampering right here.

Dream Escape: the name says it all

The problem with most vacation packages is that they’re … well … packaged. You may have some room for a little tweaking, but you aren’t going to stray far from the menu. As an alternative, you could reach out to an upscale travel agent or concierge, but you’ll probably wind up with an experience centered on destinations rendered inaccessible only by price – which, for a particular demographic, isn’t inaccessible at all. For those with the means to clear all but the most absurd of financial hurdles, the real challenge becomes getting into the places that are designed to keep you out – or which at least aren’t intended to accommodate.

This is where David Tobin’s Dream Escape excels.

Dream Escape is Scotland’s most exclusive travel planning company, constructing careful and extensive vacation experiences that you won’t find anywhere else … and may not even dream up on your own. Whether you want to inhabit a castle for a few weeks, taste the latest single malt before the rest of the world learns of its existence or zip around the Scottish countryside (there’s lots of it) in the sports car of your fantasies and toss your head onto a different pillow each night, Tobin can probably put together an itinerary that will turn you on.

The process begins well before you hit the road, with Tobin’s team getting a sense for what you like and what you don’t, soliciting any specifics you’ve already chosen and providing ideas that may not occur to you on your own – if you don’t know what can be done, you won’t know to ask. Groups of all sizes can be handled, including celebrations involving hundreds of your closest friends … all of whom expect to be carted around on private jets.

By the time you land in Scotland, everything is ready (well, the details are actually nailed down long before the wheels on your Gulstream drop). You’ll be accompanied throughout your escape by an expert on the details of your trip, though you can certainly choose to have some elbow room if you like. In my mind, this concierge is like an easily accessible itinerary: I don’t print them, and I don’t read them … but I want someone to let me know where I should be someplace, when and how to get there. This is just one of the ways in which the annoyances of travel are stripped out of your trip, and you are truly free to enjoy yourself fully.

The “everything’s taken care of” mentality can manifest itself in unusual ways, underscoring how closely Dream Escape watches even the smallest of moving parts. One party, for example, wanted to drive – a collection of sports cars (such as Lamborghinis) was the backbone of the getaway. Obviously, these rides were waiting for the guests when they landed; that’s just common sense. Each one had a GPS device with directions for the entire trip already planned into it – now, that’s thinking! And since people like me exist (i.e., navigationally impaired), the cars were stocked with prepaid cell phones that had the relevant digits already added to speed dial. The only thing missing was an imaginary friend to whisper words of wisdom into the guests’ ears. As soon as there’s a way to pull that off, I’m sure Tobin will find a way to work it into somebody’s vacation.

Doubtless, you’ve figured out by now that working with Dream Escape can be pretty costly. And, you’re right. These trips are not for the weak of wallet. Specific prices vary with the nature of your plans, especially if they involve private residences (such as castles), luxury jets or rare automobiles. Tobin did tell me that it’s possible to pull a trip together toward the lower end of the five-figure range, but it’s pretty clear to me that it takes a bit more than that to unleash the full power of his talent and connections. There are plenty of experiences out there in the $30,000 to $50,000 neighborhood – but if you’re ready to drop more than $100,000, I have a feeling Tobin’s imagination is the only limit.

Now, if you’re looking to roll at this level, you’re probably concerned about discretion. The last thing you’d want is a guy like me hearing – and writing – about your tastes, means and experiences. Well, you’ll be comforted to know there’s plenty Tobin wouldn’t tell me, and names were just the tip of this confidential iceberg. Your secrets will be safe.

Conspicuous luxury is a bit taboo during a recession – nothing makes peasants revolt quite like seeing the haves living the good life. So, skip the new house, watch or car, and call Tobin. Dream Escape will deliver the experience of your life, and nobody needs to know about it – except the like-minded folks you want to see drooling over what Tobin pulled off for you.

Flexjet cards moving, as even the rich feel the sting

The days of the private jet may be over – or at least put off for a while – but those with means are still doing all they can to avoid commercial flights. Fuel prices have come down over the past year, but it still costs a bundle to put a private jet in the sky, especially when much of that “extra cash” has disappeared.

So, it looks like uncooperative financial markets are making private jet alternatives, such as the Flexjet 25 Jet Card, pretty attractive. In fact, sales for this particular solution are up this year … pretty surprising in this market. The company had a record-setting month in January and is about to double its sales team. When you look a little deeper, though, you can see why the wealthy are going with a “debit card” for flying.

In addition to the sheer cost of owning, managing and operating a private jet, this group of travelers is looking to the future. The effective price per flight increases when you consider the expenses that come with keeping a jet on the ground – from crew to storage. Even if the worst of the financial crisis is behind us, the absence of recovery means that jet owners are worse off than they were 12 months ago. Without a distinct change for the better, this population needs to reconsider its commitment to private flying.

With fewer flight hours logged, the ground costs become proportionately higher, leading many to question the sense of having a jet at all. The Flexjet 25 Jet Card is among the solutions that can help the truly upscale traveler cut personal expenses without luxury. Since it offers the best of both worlds – conspicuous luxury at a lower price – it’s hardly surprising that the card is gaining traction right now.

Flexjet’s good news may be indicative of a broader trend in the travel industry, particularly among high net worth travelers. Doubtless, financial pressures lead people to make cuts, and the rich are no exception. But, it would be hasty to conclude that a dip in the Dow means total abstinence from the good life. Gradual change, when possible, is the likely course of action. As the recession runs its course, it may give life to a new breed of luxury travel companies that make comfort, convenience and style more affordable … but hardly cheap.