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Hey Santa, show some imagination!
Tired of the same old stuff, more people are giving experiences as holiday gifts.
November 21, 2005: 10:32 AM EST
By Jessica Seid, CNN/Money staff writer
For $1.5 million you can buy an hour-and-a-half private performance by Sir Elton John, his red baby grand piano, will also be yours to keep.
For $1.5 million you can buy an hour-and-a-half private performance by Sir Elton John, his red baby grand piano, will also be yours to keep.

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) For Christmas this year, throw your husband from a plane.

Buying experiences is the new trend in luxury gifts, allowing consumers to live out fantasies such as sky diving, driving a race car, sailing a yacht, or surfing in Santa Monica.

And more people are opting to give their loved ones memories instead of magazine subscriptions.

Consumers have "the opportunity to do something meaningful and unforgettable with their precious time, something that is not subject to whims, trends, fashion or the wear and tear of time," said Michelle Geib, founder and president of Xperience Days.

Geib's company, founded in 2004, offers gift packages that range from $50 to $110,000.

Customers can spend time behind the wheel of a Formula 2000 race car, cruise above New York City in a helicopter or see the Northern California Winelands from a hot air balloon.

The most popular gifts are the things that people can do together, Geib said, including romantic dinner cruises; scenic biplane flights, dancing in San Francisco, racing fast cars -- even air-to-air combat.

"It's definitely been an emerging trend," said Scott Krugman, spokesman for the National Retail Federation. "You can give someone a flight into space now if you wanted to it'll cost you 5 million bucks but the opportunity is there."

The trend in experience gifts is "really going to escalate over time," said Lois Huff, senior vice president of Retail Forward, a consulting and market research firm.

Huff explained that the trend is driven by "zoomers," or aging baby boomers, folks with a lot of experience and discretionary income who are more interested in creating memories than in acquiring more possessions.

"Anybody can get anything, anytime, anywhere," Huff said. Now, what people want is something "unique and inspirational."

Even Sam's Club is offering experience gifts this year. The "Once-In-A-Lifetime Dream Packages" range from a $40,000 trip for four to the Dayton 500 including pit and garage credentials and a meet and greet with an endorsed driver to a $48,000 New Zealand wine adventure for two.

Neiman Marcus has been ahead of the trend for years and recently unveiled the 79th version of its 2005 Christmas catalog of "fantasy gifts," which include an hour-and-a-half private performance by Sir Elton John for up to 500 guests for $1.5 million.

Other experiences available for the holidays through the retailer include an IndyCar Series Simulator with a flat-screen monitor that lets you compete with as many as 32 other "drivers" at the Indianapolis 500 for $65,000 and a $3.5 million "personal vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft" called a Skycar, which can travel up to 350 miles per hour.

The average consumer will spend $738.11 this holiday season, the National Retail Federation (NRF) said. While that may not get you a spa weekend in Tuscany, finding unique gifts is more of a concern this year than last year for more than 27 percent of all shoppers, according to Retail Forward.


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