The Ultimate Escape

In these altered economic times, the term luxury, and what constitutes an authentic luxury lifestyle, has been rapidly redefined. We have graduated from the philosophy that more, in terms of quantity, automatically equates to the good life. We now understand that when it comes to luxury, a logo plastered across a product doesn’t necessarily indicate that the wearer has achieved a certain level of success; rather, we now appreciate the service plans, quality materials, and precise craftsmanship that the logo represents.

It is this type of strict adherence to service and quality that is the cornerstone for Paul Ruffino at M-Escapes, a travel program for A-list clients who expect nothing short of six-star service. As the newest member of John McMonigle’s luxury real estate empire, The McMonigle Group, M-Escapes caters to the needs of travelers who will never compromise their standards for luxury service when spending time on holiday. “M-Escapes is like a full, white-glove service, resort hotel,” explains Ruffino. “But unlike a hotel that has tall, monolithic buildings and all their rooms in one place, or a resort that has 500 acres and all their rooms spread across the property, M-Escapes is a resort with estates all over the world. And because of the extensive database of quality contacts that John and I have built up through the years, our resort inventory consists of only the crème de la crème of luxury residences.”

With a career catalog that includes entries at Irvine Company and The Resort at Pelican Hill, Ruffino first teamed up with McMonigle in an effort to market The Villas at The Resort at Pelican Hill. After forming a friendship and swapping stories over lunches, dinners, and assorted Orange County soirees, the idea for M-Escapes was born. Their brainchild actually came to fruition in late spring of this year, and there are already more than 30 homes in the inventory, spanning the globe from Orange County to Saint-Tropez, even including the Beaver Creek ski resort in Colorado formerly belonging to President and Mrs. Gerald Ford.

“People are tempted to use vernacular like home rental or vacation rental and lump us together with people who do that kind of work. But we avoid all of those words and differentiate ourselves, because the services that we provide to all of our guests are something you’d find in a six-star resort, which is what we are,” says Ruffino.

With an average daily rate that is one of the highest in North America (generally around $2,250 per night), M-Escapes can afford to splurge on every luxury service available. Housekeeping comes twice a day, and a butler is on call 24 hours to unpack suitcases, iron clothes, prepare lavender baths, serve drinks, or accompany the kids at the pool. Ruffino also explains that there is a dedicated concierge with a 24-hour hotline where guests can pick up the phone at any time and get tickets to Disneyland or The Met, or a helicopter for the day to buzz to Santa Barbara or out to an island. “If you can dream it, M-Escapes will make it happen,” says Ruffino, who goes on to share how he just secured VIP tickets for a client to the upcoming U2 show at the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles. “I’ve had clients call us and say, ‘I called Stonehill Tavern and I wanted to get in on Friday night with 10 people and they laughed at me.’ Not only can we accommodate them, but we get them the best table in Michael Mina’s O.C. eatery, with guaranteed VIP treatment,” says Ruffino.

In addition to the level of service that M-Escapes delivers, Ruffino believes that the quality of their inventory is so unmatched by any other similar program that it catapults them into a category all their own. “Our homes are multimillion-dollar properties adorned with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of art and décor,” says Ruffino. “The kind of real estate we represent and the kind of clients we have at M-Escapes are the power players of their industries. They are the kind of demographic catered to by the top luxury brands throughout the world. These are the people that fly private, buy $100,000 watches, and collect high art and fine cars,” he says.

The benefit for the owners of the properties who join the M-Escapes program is round-the-clock maintenance of their estate, along with a lot of TLC. There is a private branded housecleaning and butler service that owners can subscribe to, and complimentary care details are tended to as well. “Owners let us know when they’re coming in and we have their kitchen stocked, fresh sheets and soaps, and other little things that you would do if your mom and dad were coming for a visit,” explains Ruffino. “They might even tell us, ‘It’s my husband’s birthday and he loves Led Zeppelin, so have Led Zeppelin playing on the stereo when we walk in.’”

The short-term goal is to have 80 total worldwide residences in the inventory by May 2010, and the long-term plan is to sign hundreds of residences into the M-Escapes program. “Our ultimate goal is to be a 500-room resort hotel, and our 500 rooms are going to be all over the world,” says Ruffino. Armed with a list of quality contacts in the luxury realm, and backed by the brilliance of John McMonigle, there is no doubt they will achieve their goal.