Minnesota firm puts new twist on wellness plans: vacation benefits

Payroll-deduction accounts allow employees and employers to contribute toward a relaxing vacation getaway.

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Adestinn’s CEO David-Elias Rachie talked in his Mahtomedi office about how encouraging employee vacations can be a wellness benefit that pays off for employers.

Photo: JOEL KOYAMA • jkoyama@startribune.com,

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Call it the 401(k) vacation.

A three-year-old Twin Cities company is getting national mileage with employers who are helping subsidize vacations for their employees by offering up to a 50 percent match for participating workers.

David-Elias Rachie, founder and CEO of Adestinn, had the idea years ago while working in the technology industry. If companies can offer 401(k) and other retirement-saving plans based on payroll deductions, why not travel-benefit savings as another tool to attract and reward employees?

But it wasn’t until Rachie spent a few years working in hotel real estate that he came to understand the opportunity that led him to launch Adestinn, his 15-person employee wellness program that’s “dedicated to improving the health of others by helping them save for vacations.’’

Unlike a 401(k), this is not a tax-advantaged account, and it uses direct deposit instead of payroll deductions. Employees and employers contribute and hotels, resorts and other vendors offer discounts that together can slice in half the retail price of accommodations.

Rachie, who projects $5 million in revenue this year, cites a host of studies that show American workers, many of whom skip vacations, need time away from work for health-enhancing relaxation from stressful lives and jobs.

“Most of the wellness programs out there are like your mother telling you to do it because it’s good for you,” Rachie said. “This is a wellness program that provides something you want. You save money and get a 50 percent match. There’s no better deal out there.”

Adestinn has best-available rate partnerships with hotels such as Starwood, Club Med, InterContinental, Hilton, Wyndham and others at 150 destinations, from luxury to economy.

Adestinn boasts 10,000 enrolled members who work at more than 200 companies. Participating employers include Starbucks, Chevron, the state of Iowa, Chipotle and Humana.

There are no blackout dates and no withdrawal penalties from employee vacation savings accounts, which also may carry over from year to year. Employees can set aside an amount, say $100 per month, which is kept in their names in a fiduciary account at U.S. Bank.

Adestinn then works with employers, some of whom provide several hundred bucks or more annually in matching funds. Adestinn also works with benefits brokers, insurance companies, hotels and hospitality-industry services firms to provide what it says amounts to a 50 percent match when it procures hotel space. Travel, meals and other expenses are not covered.

Roanne Calizo, a Kelly Services manager, said she booked a luxury room at the upscale Wyndham Hotel in Las Vegas for a family gathering over the Memorial Day weekend.

“It was a good deal because it ended up less than $90 a night and the average over that holiday weekend was $200 to $250,” Calizo said.

Calizo said she was doubly pleased because, after an arrival goof in which the hotel had lost her reservation, she eventually got a room. Adestinn customer service workers at headquarters in suburban St. Paul made it right by contributing additional “hotel dollars” to her savings account.

Adestinn makes its money by managing the program and from fees and commissions — equivalent to 10 percent of the hotel bookings — that it collects from hotels and related vendors.

“Any large seller of travel can get you a 20 percent [discount such as Expedia or Travelocity],” Rachie said.

“The magic comes with the other 30 percent that we get our members through participating employers … and everybody who makes money when somebody travels. And we’re working with a small health insurer to integrate Adestinn into their health insurance program.’’

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