March 11, 2008 -- The rich and ultrarich are used to getting extra service for their extra dollars -- and that holds when it comes to prostitutes.
Allegations that New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer met with a high-priced prostitute have shined a fresh light on the most expensive side of the world's oldest profession. Spitzer has been linked to the Emperor's Club, an alleged prostitution operation that charged up to $5,500 an hour for one of its prostitutes. Spitzer allegedly spent $4,300 for the services of a prostitute who met the governor in a Washington D.C., hotel room the night before he was scheduled to testify before Congress on the state of the bond industry.
What do high-end prostitution operations offer that a street-corner working girl might not?
Former Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss told ABC News that for rich, busy men, the convenience and predictability of using expensive prostitution rings are worth the price.
"The world's a lonely place -- it's hard to meet people, especially someone you like," said Fleiss, who was convicted in 1995 of tax evasion and money laundering in connection with a prostitution ring she ran. "It's so much easier to come home at night, to call an escort service and you know what you're going to get."
Fleiss' now-defunct service charged a flat rate of $1,500 per hour for each woman. Prostitution is legal in some parts of Nevada, and Susan Austin, the madam of two Nevada brothels -- including the "world famous" Mustang Ranch -- said that some women there charge between $10,000 and $15,000 for a night or two days.
Though Austin said there is a huge distinction between legal brothels and illegal operations, the Emperor's Club's alleged rates didn't strike her as unusual.
"I know that ladies will charge that much or more, depending on what the gentleman wants," she said. "Everything's just according to what the gentleman wants."
Fleiss said that while the prices may seem exhorbitant to some, it's all relative, especially when a client's income is taken into account. Fleiss said that her affluent patrons often paid more than the flat rate, partly because their ultradeep pockets wouldn't feel the pinch.
If a wealthy man "sees a girl and has a great time and he gives her ten grand, who cares?" Fleiss said. "It doesn't change his life, but it is a lot of money, and it makes a big difference in her life."
Fleiss said that for her customers, she honored requests that men had for different kinds of women. She once, for instance, found "gigantic, gigantic girls" for a client who preferred heavy-set women.
"It's just like when you go to a restaurant," she said. "You're paying -- you can order what you want."
Austin said that at her brothels, it's often older, more experienced women who command the higher rates.
"A woman with a little age under her belt has a lot more patience," Austin said. "She's more versed in the business. The young girl a lot of times just starting out doesn't have all the necessary tools. That comes with age, and it comes with practice. It's like taking a rookie baseball player versus a seasoned baseball player, if you know what I mean."
What else are patrons paying for? Though Spitzer's very public outing and other high-profile cases may indicate otherwise, discretion is also considered a key benefit of high-priced prostitution operations.
Fleiss, who served time in jail following her 1995 convictions, refused to release her clients' names during court proceedings. Austin said she would go to jail before disclosing her clients' identities.
At Austin's businesses and other legal Nevada brothels, customers benefit from a state law requiring prostitutes to undergo weekly health screenings.
Fleiss said that even at illegal operations, high-earning prostitutes tend to be healthy because they can afford to eat right and have regular medical checkups. For call girls, staying healthy is also important to maintaining their looks and their earning prowess, she said.
"You're going to do your best to look your best and make the most money," she said.
But the glamorous side of high-end prostitution operations and escort services -- beautiful women and big bucks -- pale when compared with the risks, said Tracy Quan, a former prostitute and author whose experiences inspired her novel "Diary of a Married Call Girl."
"Escort agencies aren't that glamorous," Quan said. "It's very dangerous for an escort, and one reason they charge so much is that everyone's taking a big risk."
Quan said that when she worked for escort services in 1990, she lived in constant fear of getting caught.
The businesses, she said, "were always being hassled by the police; they were always being closed down or shaken down. … I was just so horrified."
Anti-prostitution activists argue that the distinctions between working for a high-priced ring or on the street are irrevelant.
"To me it's like saying is it better to be hit or stabbed. I don't want to be hit or stabbed," said Dr. Scott Hampton, the executive director of New Hampshire-based End the Violence Now.
"Prostitution, whether it's high-end or any other form, is really just an expression of men's beliefs that women are disposable sexual objects or men's property."
But in Fleiss' opinion, working for a high-end service still beats the street corner.
"I feel sorry for the poor girl on the corner," she said. "A guy picks her up in his car, he gives her $75 and he wants every dollar of it. That's a lot of work for the girl."