A massage is the most popular treatment at a spa, but there's been a lot of downward pressure due to the rise of bare bones massage clinics, the continuing growth of day spas (there are more than 17,000 in the U.S. alone), and more highly skilled independent practitioners setting up shop for themselves. The cost of a massage will vary, depending on several factors: where you live; whether it's a day spa, resort spa or destination spa and how luxurious the spa is; and the type of massage you're getting.
A Bare Bones Massage Costs Start At $40 an Hour
The cost of massage has dropped in large cities, where small Asian businesses offer massage for $40 an hour. The surrounding may be bare bones or even slightly grim -- I've seen places in basements with all the "rooms" divided by curtains. But at that price, lots of people are willing to put up with the lack of amenities.
Fast-growing chains like Massage Envy have made getting access to spa services cheaper and easier. (There are currently 1,150 locations in 49 states.) After a special introductory rate, you buy a monthly membership that gets you a massage per month, start around $65 all the way up to $90 depending on the market. Massage Envy's don't have amenities like robes and meditation lounges; you change in the room.
The Private Practitioner Option
Many highly experienced independent massage therapists have set up shop for themselves, with prices usually starting around $70 - $80. This is an attractive alternative for people who want to get massage regularly but don't need the robes, slippers and waiting rooms. As with Massage Envy, you usually change in the room.
One of the advantages of going to a private practitioner is that (although tips are always welcome), you aren't expected to tip the usual 15 to 20%. That can bring the price of a massage down quite a bit.
You are also likely to get their very best work as they want to retain clients and build their private practice. Sometimes when therapists are working for a spa, they have to do six to eight massages in a day, and they have to reserve their strength. Private practitioners can set the number of treatments in a day that they feel comfortable doing.
At day spas, the cost of a Swedish massage generally starts at $90 for an hour at a day spa in small cities. The cost is higher in larger cities, generally starting around $110 - $120 for a one-hour Swedish massage. It may be slightly less if you see a massage therapist in their home, or you're in a very small market.
Massage Costs More At Overnight Spas
A massage costs more at destination and resort spas. Lake Austin Spa Resort in Austin Texas, for instance, charges $150 for a fifty-minute Swedish massage. Prices are highest at a luxury hotel spa, like The Spa at Mandarin Oriental in New York City, where a 50-minute Swedish massage lasts costs $240 plus tax and tip. Remember, however, that part of what you are paying for is access to their luxurious facilities. Take your time and enjoy them!
Specialty Massage Costs More
Many spas now charge a premium for deep tissue massage, which requires more effort from the therapist, aromatherapy, which uses essential oils, and hot stone massage which requires the therapist has to prepare and sanitize all the stones she uses.
Tax is usually added on top of the price, and it's accepted practice to tip 15 to 20%. You sometimes can save a little money by going to a massage therapist at their home, where you aren't expected to tip. But you won't get to enjoy the spa experience, with robe, slippers, and steam rooms.