For resorts, these luxe mini-hotels were originally an attempt to lure upscale travelers willing to pay more and splurge on extras like spa treatments and gourmet meals. But a funny thing happened on the way to the grand opening: The economy tanked. So, many hoteliers have been forced to drop the nosebleed rates and dole out these posh rooms for less than $100 extra. At the Occidental Grand Papagayo, Royal Club rooms start at just $69 more than a comparable room at the main resort. And free upgrades are common at these properties, says Mark Lunt, hospitality industry specialist for Ernst & Young. "If resorts run out of rooms in the regular wing, are they going to let the high-end rooms stay empty? I doubt it," he says.

This isn't the travel industry's first brush with the hotel within a hotel. The concept first appeared in the form of "club floors," one or two stories of a hotel tower where reward-program members and higher-paying guests score plum rooms and exclusive access to a lounge stocked with snacks and other goodies. Adding these floors hasn't cost hotels much, but the move typically pays off big, boosting both revenue and customer loyalty. Hoping to emulate their success, resort properties have used a similarly affordable model.

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