How Much Are You Willing to Pay for a Great Massage?

It was a special occasion, a rare holiday weekend getaway at a spa several hours from the constant buzz of my laptop, phone and calendar alarms. My boyfriend and I decided to set our busy lives aside and just be as much as we could for three days. That meant a few nice dinners, a great bottle of wine, workouts without the rush, sitting in the steam room, taking slow walks around the lake and through little shops. It also meant a massage.

My boyfriend chose an 80-minute session for each of us, with time enough beforehand to languish in the sauna and whirlpool. We both believe in the benefits of regular massage but we both have trouble making it a part of our monthly schedules. Just settling in for nearly an hour-and-a-half of near-silence and essential oils felt like enough. 

My massage therapist was strong and diligently worked at knots in my shoulders that never seem to unwind. She used elbows and forearms and wiggled the tips of her fingers firmly around my spine. I never wanted it to end.

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I have had great massages before, and have also had many mediocre massages. I've left happily sore from an hour of deep-tissue work and I've hopped off the table feeling pretty much the same as I did went I entered the room. The spa where I go every few months has a sold roster of massage therapists, and the staff can scan my chart and, with pretty spot-on accuracy, find someone to get at my muscles who works well with me. Maybe I am spoiled by this, but not enough to remember that there's always a chance a massage will disappoint.

And after all those weary and charged up muscles and the anticipation of being at least temporarily relaxed and pain-free, it stings to shell out a hundred dollars (or more, or maybe less) for a massage that doesn't work enough wonders.

This is why I tried to temper my expectations as I entered the new spa and met the new therapist. It's why I tried not to be swayed by the silver tray that held an orchid, a dish for my jewelry and a card calligraphied with my name. It's why I hesitated at the choice of what scents I'd like my oil to be, which music I liked best. And it is why I held back the gasp at the heavenly soft sheets, the cool cucumber-doused cloth on my eyes and (oh!) the heated massage table. I just did not want to be let down when the rub-down began.

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Luckily, I wasn't. But at this spa, on this resort, on this holiday weekend, that came at a price. A steep price.

The massage was $200. The added gratuity rang up to almost $40. 

I was blissed out, stressless and weary-eyed by the end, so only my credit card felt the tension of that charge.

In the big city where I live, the price for a 90-minute massage is $120, plus tip. I've paid $80 for the same amount of time on the table elsewhere. Before this, I maxed out at $160.

This cost-compilation site says the average price of a massage is $80 an hour, making $160 just about right for 90 minutes. Add in another 15-20% for tip or any extras like hot stone therapies. But I didn't want average. I wanted fabulous. Two bills worth of fabulous? I guess so, for that lady in that spa at that time.

Yes, it was a lot. Too much? Perhaps. But don't tell my shoulders that. They still believe it was well worth the cost.

How much would you pay for a really good massage? What's your max? What feels like a deal?

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