You, too, can stay at the Ritz |

You, too, can stay at the Ritz

Brent Gardner-Smith

The new Ritz-Carlton Club at Aspen Highlands has been heavily promoted as an exclusive retreat for club members only, but many of the luxury condos are available for rent by anyone willing to pay the price.

While the front desk at the club will not rent you a condo for the night or the week, it’s easy to rent one either by calling Aspen Central Reservations, Frias Properties in Aspen or, somewhat surprisingly, the Ritz-Carlton Club’s central reservations number.

The Ritz is selling fractional ownerships in 73 condos at the base of Highlands, and to date, the market response has been strong. Almost half of the shares in the first 47 units built have been sold. Owners can buy 28 days in a unit for between $160,000 and $475,000 and use some of their time at other Ritz-Carlton Clubs in the Virgin Islands, Beaver Creek or Florida.

“The attraction for the people who come here is the exclusivity of it,” said David Short, regional vice president of sales and marketing for the Ritz-Carlton Club.

And to keep the exclusivity level high, the club is downplaying any rental options.

“It’s part of our brand positioning not to be in the rental business,” said Short. “It has never been a position of the club that it is open to the public from a walk-up rental standpoint.”

So if someone pulls up and wants to rent a room at the Ritz-Carlton Club, he will be gently rebuffed by the staff, who will explain the difference between a Ritz hotel and a Ritz club.

But before wandering off in a snit toward the Little Nell hotel, the high-end traveler might be wise to pick up a lobby phone and book a room without the help of the Highlands-based staff.

A Ritz-Carlton Club reservationist reached at 1-888-220-2084 was more than happy to rent a two-bedroom condo to a caller for the last week of the ski season at $450 a night. The condo comes with all the amenities and services that would be extended to a member who has purchased an interest at the club.

When asked how someone could simply stay at the Ritz-Carlton Club at Aspen Highlands without being a member, the reservationist cheerily replied that “we would like you to experience the club.”

So while the club won’t help an owner rent their units, it won’t, and can’t, stand in the way.

“We do nothing to restrict the ability of a member who, for whatever reason, has run into the inability to use what they own,” Short said. “They may sponsor a guest through a third party.”

That third party for some Ritz owners is Frias Properties in Aspen, which is circulating a glossy brochure marketing “Aspen’s newest rental properties, The Ritz-Carlton Club.”

The brochure boasts a top price of $2,400 a night for a three-bedroom condo during the Christmas holidays. A two-bedroom condo in April, without a mountain view, goes for the less princely sum of $750 a night.

As many high-end condos in Aspen have been taken off the rental market, there is a growing demand for luxury rental units, especially ski-in, ski-out units like at the Ritz, according to Chuck Frias, a managing partner with the real estate and property management firm that bears his name.

And the Ritz offers much higher service levels than a stand-alone condo.

“It’s really no different than staying at the Little Nell or the St. Regis,” said Frias.

But there is a technical difference. When someone calls Frias Properties and books a stay at the Ritz-Carlton Club, they are technically a guest of the member who owns the time. As such, they have all the privileges of a member and are treated with the care and respect the Ritz is famous for. But in turn, the member is ultimately responsible for what his “guests” do at the club, even though he may not even know them.

Last month, Frias Properties made available some of the condos in its inventory to Aspen Central Reservations. So now, if someone calls Aspen’s main 800 number and wants to stay at the Ritz-Carlton Club, it’s really no problem.

“We are selling it just like any other property in town that is managed by a property management company,” said Bill Tomcich, president of Aspen Central Reservations.

Tomcich said he was aware that the three timeshare properties that have begun selling in Aspen/Snowmass – the Ritz, the Timbers Club and the Snowmass Club – have been downplaying public rentals.

“They always said they would not be in the business of nightly rentals,” he said. “But I have predicted from day one that this would happen. If you have vacant units that you can rent, and there is demand, someone is going to find a way.”

Will that hurt the Ritz-Carlton’s Club exclusive positioning? Well, money is usually an effective screen. And given the rates published in the Frias Property brochure, the great unwashed are unlikely to overwhelm the club.

“The rates published in the brochure are fairly indicative that the people who are going to come here are going to be comfortable here,” said Short.

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