12.09.2019

what's the deal with boarding group 1?




What's the deal with United Airlines' [so-called] Boarding Group 1? It happened to me twice this past weekend.

We flew from SFO to DCA on Friday morning. After relaxing in the United Club, we left the lounge in time to reach the gate as boarding was scheduled to begin. Alas, boarding had already begun. We queued up at the back of an inexplicably long line of passengers in Boarding Group 1.

So when we flew back from IAD to SFO on Sunday afternoon, we made it a point to leave the Club to reach the gate early. The same long line was queued up behind the Boarding Group 1 sign, so we walked up closer to the podium to listen as the gate agent invited different groups to preboard... disabled passengers... families with children under 2... active members of the military... Global Services... 4K... and?

What about paid First Class passengers? Nope, the Gate Agent then invited the entire line of passengers queued up in the Boarding Group 1 line to board. It seemed that half the plane was in that line.

Why were they there? Was it by virtue of holding a United credit card? Explanation, please!

I consider this an inexplicable lapse of customer care, not to mention common sense. Does a company not want to extend recognition to those customers who paid the highest fare for their seats? (Many Global Services and 4K pax likely purchased coach tickets and were upgraded). Doesn't United think that its best customers deserve early boarding? Does the airline not care that they are also devaluing their United Club product, intended to provide customers a haven of seclusion before leisurely boarding their flights? Fly the friendly skies? Hah!

Now, once on the plane, First Class passengers do get what they've paid for. Plenty of space to stretch your legs. A wide arm rest rather than an all-too-close passenger wedged into a middle seat. Free and mostly decent meals. Complimentary alcoholic beverages and soft drinks. Freshly baked chocolate cookies near the end of the flight. Service and attention from the flight attendants.

Is anyone from United listening? I'd love to hear your response.

copyright (c) 2019 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

12.07.2019

the difference between 5* and 4*

lobby of the Grand Hyatt Washington (c) 2019 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

I'm in Washington, DC for a family wedding, and we're spending two nights at the Grand Hyatt, Washington, DC. Why the Grand Hyatt? Two reasons ... it's literally across the street from the reception venue, and transportation is being provided from the hotel to the church where the wedding is being held.

As you may be aware, my business is focused on five star, luxury hotels. This stay gives me an opportunity to explain the differences between five- and four-star hotels. Here are some thoughts:

(1) A great value, I booked the Hyatt Privé rate for myself. For the nightly rate of $189, I am also receiving daily breakfast for two and a $100 hotel credit (which entirely paid for last night's dinner in the hotel's restaurant, Cure Bar & Bistro).

(2) The hotel is much larger than the typical luxury hotel, 897 rooms and suites. Guests enter the stunning 12-story lobby seen above. By way of comparison, the Park Hyatt Washington (Grand Hyatt's boutique luxury sister) has just 220 rooms and the Michelin-starred Blue Duck Tavern.

(3) We were upgraded to a Guest Room on the 12th floor with Grand Club privileges. Our room is an efficiently organized 351 sq ft with an attractive contemporary design and, most important, a comfortable bed. The workspace is intelligently designed with easily accessible power plugs and ports, and the internet is free and fast enough to do serious work. The bathroom was small with a single vanity and shower-in-the-tub.



(4) What about the Grand Club? I'm writing this blog from the Club at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. Other Club guests are coming in to enjoy the breakfast
buffet which includes hot items such as scrambled eggs and quiches and a cold buffet spread including the fixings for lox and bagels, and an espresso machine. The selection thoughtfully includes such items as gluten-free muffins. While not pretending to offer the ambiance of a Ritz-Carlton Club Lounge, Grand Club provides a pleasant place to gather with a residential feeling. There is a presentation of snacks mid-day, hors d'ouevres and cocktails at the dinner hour, and a presentation of desserts after dinner.

(5) Who should choose the Grand Hyatt? Grand Hyatt is an obvious choice for business travelers or families with a budget of $200-$250 per night. Extremely well located for tourists, the hotel is just half a mile from the National Mall and the White House ... and atop Metro Center, the hub of Washington's metro system and the intersection of four subway lines. You can get quickly from the Grand Hyatt to most any place in the city

copyright (c) 2019 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

11.26.2019

don't put off making your travel decisions

beach at Four Seasons Maui (c) 2019 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

What should you do when you just can't decide which hotel to book? Procrastination can hurt you in two different ways: (1) prices can go up the longer you wait and (2) your preferred choice may no longer be available by the time you make your decision. I've seen this happen to two clients in the past few days.

True story # 1: A family was planning a Festive Season trip to Europe. They wanted to spend three nights in one European capital and another three nights in a second, still-to-be-decided city. They needed connecting rooms and hoped for a Family Plan (a promotion with the kids' room at half-price).

I reached out to my partner hotels and presented them with four different proposals in one city... but they held off on making a decision. They kept researching, checking out as many alternatives as they could find, looking for for an even better deal. As they procrastinated, their options began disappearing as scarce connecting rooms kept selling out.

True story # 2: A second client contacted me 15 days ago wanting connecting rooms in London over a busy period. I sent him rates for six different hotels. 10 days later, he finally wrote back, noting that the quotes were rather high and wondering whether prices had perhaps come down. I checked... and the answer, sadly, was "no." Some of the hotels had now sold out, others had only expensive Suites left, and rates had gone up, not down.

When he finally made a decision 5 days later, and rates were higher still. In just 15 days, the price had gone up £150 per night.

So what should you do when you're having trouble making a decision? My best advice: don't let the "perfect" be the enemy of the "good." If you have a good choice, grab it. Make the booking first, then keep looking to see if you can improve on it.

Is it "kosher" to make a reservation before 100% making up your mind? My two-part answer — (a) it's definitely not kosher to tie up multiple hotel rooms; that's unfair to our hotel partners. But (b) it's perfectly OK to go with one best option as long as you're outside the cancellation deadline. This will put a ceiling on your rate. If rates go up, you've locked in a lower rate, and if rates go down, we can always get them revised outside of cancellation. This advice would have saved client # 2 a rather significant amount of money, £1050.

Don't put off your travel decisions while you seek perfection. That strategy will often turn out quite badly.

copyright (c) 2019 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

11.24.2019

am I warming up to cruising?




I've always loved traveling on land. Nothing beats a comfortable hotel in the heart of a great city ... or relaxing at a gorgeous resort nestled alongside a white, sandy beach. I love walking out the front door before dawn to capture pictures of a sunrise ... or wandering through picturesque streets to explore a new destination. You really can't do these things while cruising. Ocean ports are not in the heart of a city, nor do ships dock next to beautiful, secluded beaches.

But I been on two cruises this past year with a third cruise planned for April. Could I be warming up to cruising?

My first cruise experience was aboard Seabourn Ovation last May. Along with some Brownell colleagues, we enjoyed the final four days of an eight-day Athens to Barcelona cruise. Boarding in Rome, our stops included ports in Corsica, the south of France, and the northeast of Spain before completing our experience in Barcelona. Seabourn is a pretty all-inclusive cruise line with a lot included in your fare including all beverages and Thomas Keller-inspired dining at your choice of restaurants. My cabin was large and comfortable with a bedroom, living room, and large walk-in closet.

My second cruise experience was aboard Windstar's Star Pride last August. We chose this cruise because of its fascinating itinerary around the Baltic Sea — Gdansk, Tallinn, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, and more... This was a small ship with just 200 guests, and we felt an instant connection with our fellow passengers.

And now I have a third cruise experience to look anticipate — a Tauck River Cruise aboard the Inspire. The map above shows the route we'll take. The cruise begins in Amsterdam in mid-April (an ideal time to see the tulips) and sailing up the Moselle and Rhine rivers toward Basel. We'll spend a couple of days in Amsterdam before we begin and explore the Interlaken area of Switzerland at the end.

Here are five cruising tips for hotel lovers.
  1. Look out for creative itineraries that you couldn't do any other way.
  2. Choose a ship whose size corresponds to your favorite hotels. For instance, a ship with 200 cabins is like a typical Four Seasons. Avoid the huge mega-ships unless you really enjoy large convention hotels with thousands of rooms.
  3. Do splurge for the extra space. Cabins are much more compact than hotel rooms. If you can book a Suite with 300 square feet or more (admittedly smaller than most hotel rooms), you'll be happy.
  4. Don't be fooled by low come-on pricing by premium cruise lines. It doesn't matter what you pay to get on the ship; it's what you pay to get off the ship that matters. Many guests booking a lower-end ships at a "bargain" fare are shocked when their bill at check-out exceeds the initial cost of the cruise. Look for the magic words "all-inclusive." A true luxury line may cost less than the bargain advertised price of a mere "premium" cruise line.
  5. Enjoy the pack-and-unpack once experience of an ocean or river cruise as your hotel room floats with you from port to port.
And here's a special value ... book a Tauck River Cruise before the end of the year and enjoy a complimentary pre- or post- hotel stay. Contact us for more details!

copyright (c) 2019 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

11.20.2019

Rosewood Little Dix Bay | 30% off


















This bedroom, part of a 2BR Suite at Rosewood Little Dix Bay, looks so incredibly inviting. Little Dix Bay is completing the final touches on its total multi-million renovation. A boutique Caribbean resort with just 80 cottages, suites, and villas — most are nestled along a half-mile crescent beach. The 4BR Hillside Villa features commanding ocean views. First opened in 1964 as an eco-resort by Laurance Rockefeller (Dorado Beach being another former Rockresort in the Caribbean), you'll enjoy space and relaxation during your vacation on Virgin Gorda.

And this exclusive Rosewood Elite offer that can save you 30% off the otherwise Best Available Rate. The rules are simple:

1. Make your booking by the end of 2019.
2. Stays must be completed from December 11th, 2019 to October 31, 2020.
3. That's it ... only two rules!

There is availability for Christmas to New Years, and the 30% Elite Exclusive Opening Offer even applies to Festive Season bookings. Rosewood Elite amenities are included...

  • Daily Breakfast for 2 (per bedroom)
  • $125 USD Food & Beverage Credit once during the stay
  • Upgrade subject to availability on arrival.
copyright (c) 2019 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

11.13.2019

$1000 resort credit on the Big Island




Mauna Lani is reopening in January after a thorough $200 million renovation of guest rooms, public areas, and the pool and beach areas. The resort's new owner wanted create a resort that is the equal of anything else on the Big Island, and he has definitely invested massively to bring that about.

Enjoy a $1,000 credit at the reimagined Mauna Lani Resort... so read the email blast I just received. I spoke today with my rep and learned that the deal is even better than that. Guests will receive a $250 daily resort credit when booking a 4+ night stay in an Ocean View room or above. So if you stay a full week, you'll get $1,750 in resort credits good towards lunches, dinners, and tropical drinks at the bar.

Virtuoso amenities combine with this promotion, and the deal is good from January 1 to November 20, 2020. So in addition to the $250 daily credit, guests who book with their Virtuoso travel advisor will also receive:
  • Daily buffet breakfast for up to two guests per bedroom, in HaLani Restaurant.
  • $100 USD Resort Credit for Dining, Spa or Golf per stay to be utilized during stay (not combinable, not valid on room rate, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
  • One Category Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability (upgrade is from room to room or suite to suite; upgrade does not apply to Bungalows).
  • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi already included in the resort fee

Guest rooms are a spacious 520 square feet, and the newly renovated marble bathrooms are a definite step up, now featuring great step-in showers. Suites are double that size, and the amazing 2BR Bungalows offer 4,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor living space with your own private pool.

copyright (c) 2019 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

11.12.2019

a Grand Tour of Europe with Belmond

Belmond La Residencia (c) 2019 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

If you're traveling to Europe in 2020, Belmond's Grand Tour is probably the best combination of luxury and value that you can find. Here are three reasons why this is the promotion to go for...


(1) A selection of the world's finest hotels ...

in Italy
Belmond Hotel Cipriani (Venice)
Belmond Villa San Michele (Florence)
Belmond Hotel Splendido and Splendido Mare (Portofino)
Belmond Castello di Casole (Tuscany)
Belmond Hotel Caruso (Ravello)
Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo and Villa Sant'Andrea (Sicily)
on Mallorca
Belmond La Residencia (Mallorca)
on Madeira
Belmond Reid's Palace (Madeira)

(2) Seven nights at a flat rate

Low Season (March & April; October to January)
7 nights in a room — 4774€
7 nights in a Junior Suite — 8008€
High Season (May to September)
7 nights in a room — 6699€
7 nights in a Junior Suite — 11,704€

Extra nights are available at a pro-rated price.


(3) Full American Breakfast included daily. You'll receive the Virtuoso amenities and be blocked in the best available room on arrival.


P.S. — I've stayed at La Residencia in Mallorca, an absolutely gorgeous resort (click to read my article) ... and at the iconic Cipriani in Venice where you can wander the winding streets of Venice by day, then escape the crowds to your own private island each night.


Fine print: At least two Belmond properties must be booked, but stays can be non-consecutive within 45 days of first arrival. No deposit required; payment made at check-out. Cancellations within 14 days incur a 50% penalty, within 7 days a 100% penalty; travel insurance is highly recommended. Blackout dates ... Splendido, Caruso, La Residencia - not available July and August. Cipriani - not available June and September. Reid's Palace and Timeo - not available 28DEC-1JAN.

copyright (c) 2019 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.