Luxe on a Budget


Miami is known for many things, but being budget-friendly isn’t necessarily one of them. Still, being born and raised in this city within pretty modest means will undoubtedly make you a bit of a deal hunter, like it or not. And if you’re one of the tribe that believes nice things don’t necessarily always have to be out of reach, then it’s likely you’ve figured out some of these tips for yourself.

On a recent escape to the Biltmore for a spa day (not as expensive as it sounds), I started noting some of the deals and specials that could make some of these treats more accessible than they seem. There’s plenty of talent and quality to be had within any price range in Miami. But sometimes a girl’s Converse sneakers and top-knotted hair beg to be traded in for some Jimmy Choo’s and professionally styled locks, if only for a day.

Here are some of my favorite spots (around the city and some online) and tips for adding a little luxury to an otherwise very budget-conscious lifestyle. I’ve broken it down in the following categories: Spas & Hotels, Beauty, Shopping, and Dining. If you have any of your own tips to share, please leave me a note in the comments! This city is huge and has much to offer, even to those of us with toddlers pulling at our purse strings.


Biltmore Spa: As I mentioned before, I took a half day escape to the Biltmore Spa, courtesy of a gift card from my very generously understanding father. I took the $150 present and used it to try one of their monthly specials, listed here, at a reduced rate of $125 for an Abhayanga massage, along with the tip. However, if I’d waited until Miami Spa Month (coming up in July & August), I could have scored one of their various treatments (usually facials, massages, and mani/pedis) for around $99.

Mommy’s day off. #spaday #biltmorehotel #biltmorespa

A video posted by Alicia . Miami, FL (@alicia.palma) on

Of course, any savvy shopper knows to always check for deals on sites like Groupon or Travelzoo – the Biltmore spa currently has a special of $105 for a massage and a glass of bubbly, giving you access to all spa facilities and a day of relaxation for much less, well in advance of Spa Month.

Tip: If you decide you’d like to indulge in a glass of champagne during your day of relaxation at the Biltmore, the spa offers a special of a split of champagne for $15 (will yield about two glasses), which is much more affordable than an average of $18 per glass at the poolside bar.


On the Beach: Pool & Spa Day at the Fontainebleau: This is one of the best values for your money in terms of a full day experience because booking a spa day at the Fontainebleau also gives you beach and pool access, as well as admittance to their water rituals and coed spa facilities for the entire day. With Miami Spa Month coming up in July and August, you can score massages and facials for $99, including discounted valet parking for $7.

Of course, you can also check Travelzoo for specials on Miami spas like the Mondrian Spa & Pool Day Special, or the Shore Club, and Turnberry Isle, all of which have spa days specials with pool access and some even with bubbly or wine.  


High end salons: While it’s certainly possible to find quality talent and capable stylists at any budget, sometimes your sanity begs you for the kind of place that will put a glass of wine in your hand simply for being in their shampoo chair. Follow that by a mini aromatherapy session while you condition and you can almost forget the tantrum your toddler had this morning because she wanted Fruit Loops instead of Cheerios. Almost. 

In those cases, try a place like Portfolio Salon, nestled in the heart of Miracle Mile. A spa mani/pedi will run you about $55 but comes with a very sympathetic therapist (Miya, my nail expert for about 10  years now, was even at my wedding) and a massage chair with your choice of a glass of wine or tea and coffee, if you need it. Or, opt for the new talent, for which they offer hair and beauty services at a fragment of the cost of the veterans.

I have also tried Hair by Hisham in Coconut Grove and been very happy with the results (wrote about them here). The stylists are talented, but the unique draw is the mediterranean themed spa upstairs, complete with hanging glass lanterns and colored silks hung from the ceiling. 

Mommy maintenance. #keepitreal #productivelunchbreak #tamingthegreys #stressrelief #portfoliosalon #coralgables A photo posted by Alicia . Miami, FL (@alicia.palma) on


Finished product. #bathroomselfie #lame #morticiawannabe #darkhairdontcare #portfoliosalon #rebiscloset #lbd #blackdress A photo posted by Alicia . Miami, FL (@alicia.palma) on

Perfume: If you’re a perfume junkie, or just want to try a really luxe scent for less, check out Scentbird, which is very much like the Netflix of fragrance. Instead of paying full price for a high end perfume, get a full month’s supply in one of their purse-friendly atomizers. After answering a few questions about your favorite scents and preferences, you’ll receive personalized recommendations to try. Queue them up to get a different one each month for about $14.95. I’m currently trying the Lanvin scent (love how soft and unusual it is).


Mascara: While there are plenty of cultworthy mascaras at a budget-friendly price (Maybelline’s green & pink tube is always a classic) Mascara Madness at Nordstrom is a once-a-year opportunity to snag your favorite tubes of luxe lash formulas at a rate of buy two get one free, which can sometimes bring in savings of about $30. Get yourself on a list with a beauty rep at your favorite counter and they’ll call you in advance to let you know it’s coming up.

Beauty Samples: If you’re not ready to commit (or simply want to build a travel arsenal of beauty goodies) visit the Nordstrom beauty department and ask for samples of your favorites. From perfume to skincare and even many makeup items, a beauty rep will either find you a sample or create one of the product you’d like to take home.



Nordstrom Personal Shopper Program: This is probably one of the last things I’d ever imagined myself doing since I truly consider shopping a solo activity (I was an only child until I was 15, can’t you tell?). But when I met Rosi at Nordstrom she won me over with her no-nonsense advice and honest styling (she’s never let me walk out of the store with a questionable item, preferring to sacrifice her commission to letting me walk around looking ridiculous). If you can find someone you click with as well as I have with Rosie (9 years and counting!), you’ll learn to take advantage of the complimentary service that provides you with a shopper to custom tailor your shopping experience, make it faster because you can call ahead and have things waiting for you, and keep you in the know about sales and events. I highly recommend giving it a shot. Plus, it does feel pretty glam.

Nordstrom Rewards Program: If you’re not a member of the Nordstrom Rewards Program, gaining access via a Nordstrom Debit Card (linked to your bank, like a regular debit card) or Nordstrom Visa helps you earn points towards Nordstrom Notes, which you get every time you make a store purchase (Haute Look, Nordstrom Rack,, and Nordstrom stores) on your card.  If you’re already buying, it makes sense to sign up and earn points.

TheRealReal: This online consignment shop has a serious arsenal of high end designer items (think Valentino, Louboutin, Chanel) but at much more affordable prices. If you’re looking for authentic, this should be one of your spots for comparison shopping. I scored a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes (my first pair!) for about $200 in excellent condition.

Second Time Around: I first learned about Second Time Around when Lucy was first born and I felt the need to purge designer items (handbags, mostly) I didn’t think I’d use again in order to scrape together some extra cash (babies are expensive!). I’ve been consigning with them ever since and have used my store credits from selling my designer items to score some great finds, like the Rebecca Minkoff bag, below. If you follow them on Instagram @2tasouthmiami you can call in to purchase items you see on their feed.



Neiman Marcus: Cookie & Wine Break – Rumor has it that the Popovers with Strawberry Butter at Mariposa at Merrick Park merit a visit if your’e shopping in the area. At about $7, it provides a nice respite from the crowds, since this seems to  still be a nicely kept secret. Be sure to get your parking validated at Nordstrom to avoid paying for garage access, though.

The Forge Dinner for Two: Have I mentioned how much I love Travelzoo? My husband and I recently took advantage of their deal for a truly luxe dinner at The Forge, which includes two apps, two entrees, two desserts, and two glasses of wine per person for $99. The food is wonderful, but the location is also beautiful, offering a glam night out for parents who don’t often dress up.

The Forge - Bubble Wall

An Amazing Gastropub: I’ve written about this place a few times for MasterCard, highlighting the work Chef Ryan Martin (interview here) has been up to at 180 at The DRB on his mission to take creative and carefully crafted gastronomy to a higher level. It seems the effort has been paying off as his 50/50 Burger was just named Best Burger by the Miami New Times, proving great, elevated food doesn’t have to be out of reach. Stop by the Downtown Miami spot for elevated gastropub grub with a serious selection of craft brews.

Cooking Date: Granted, at $110 per person for cooking class, this isn’t necessarily easy on the wallet. But considering the location, personal attention from a professional chef, and quality meal, it makes a great experience gift or impressive date. The Biltmore Culinary Academy is a chance to learn from the best and step out of your comfort zone for a more memorable experience. To turn it into a parent + kid activity, check out their Cooking Buddies class, which covers a parent and child for $85.

Brunch with a View: Brunch is one of my favorite luxuries, and when you add a view like the one at Area 31, located on the 16th floor of the EPIC hotel, it takes everything to a whole new level. Try Area 31 during Miami Spice Month or look for online deals on Groupon or Travelzoo to sample this place without committing to the higher prices.


Of course, as most locals know, Miami Spice is the way to go if you want to sample some of the best cuisine this city has to offer without breaking the bank. Miami Spice kicks off August 1st through September 30th. Click here to explore participating restaurants.

Got any of your own tips to share? Leave me a comment so I can check them out!



Leave a Reply