12.14.2017

I was just about to give up on miles...



... when I hit the superfecta. It's getting harder and harder to actually use those tens of thousands of airline miles accruing in our accounts. Extremely few seats are made available for award tickets, and some routes never seem to have award availability. Of course, when those seats are released, they're snatched up right away.

It's not like the good old days. I had one of the first Continental OnePass accounts back in the 80's — my account number begins AB — and you could always upgrade from Coach to First for 5,000 miles — any seat booked in any fare bucket. Once I was armed with a Continental MasterCard, I never flew Coach on Continental. Though the ability to use miles slowly tightened, I was always successful using miles to sit up front and pay coach prices. I could call an airline's 800#, give them my dates, and ask how I could use miles to upgrade my desired city pair. If all else failed, my favorite fallback was a 50% discount off any US Airways fare for 30,000 miles.

These days, awards seem to be few and far between. I have seriously reconsidered my strategy of using airline-branded credit cards to collect miles. Would it be better, I wondered, to get a 2% cash-back credit card? And then, when I was about to switch directions, I hit the superfecta. Like a pusher aware that his customer was about to break free from an addiction, the mileage gods conspired to give me four pure hits of success cashing in miles.

#1 — United/SAS to Oslo. I was scheduled to fly to Oslo on SAS this past October - an award ticket for 1 pax, one-way, in business. The morning of my departure, I checked the inbound flight and learned it was over 4 hours late. No good! I would misconnect and miss the beginning of my tour of Norway. I called United's Mileage Plus desk — it was the morning of my flight — and for 15K additional miles, UA flew me to LHR in First, then onward to OSL in business.

#2 — British Airways to London. My wife and I are traveling to England next fall. I've been checking British Air, Virgin Atlantic, and United possibilities on a periodic basis but without much hope; award space on nonstops from SFO to London is extremely rare. Delta Vacations was a more realistic hope, but their great bulk fares still aren't showing up for my dates for non-stop Virgin America flights.

Then I hit success with BA and its poorly designed award booking engine. Oh to be able to search award flights between any San Francisco area airport (SFO, OAK, SJC) and any London airport (LHR, LGW) in one search, but alas you cannot. I hit pay dirt by doing a search by month for OAK-LGW. I found a pair of business award seats for a set of dates close enough to my preferred dates that they would work. I was even able to use a Companion Certificate for my wife. Of course, BA socks award customers with a crazy amount of taxes and fees — and then charges for seat selection — but at the end of the day, we're flying to London in lie-flat business class for about the cost of flying Premium Economy on Norwegian.

#3 — Paris to Vienna. I'm doing site inspections in Paris for four days in April, then joining the Brownell 1887 Club trip to Vienna and Budapest. With my over-the-pond flights already taken care of. I just had to get from Paris to Vienna. My desired AirFrance flight was $157 in coach, $547 in First. For a 2-hour flight (gate-to-gate), I was planning to pluck down the $157, but on a lark, I checked Delta's award booking engine. I could book a Coach flight for 15,000 miles + 40€ tax. Then I checked First ... and it cost 25,000 miles + 40€. After transferring a few AMEX points to Delta to top off my account, I was immediately able to make the booking in First. SOLD!!!

#4 — San Francisco to Baltimore. I'll be traveling to Baltimore next May for Ourisman Travel's annual meeting of our team of nine travel professionals. I was surprised to learn that Alaska Airlines now flies this route non-stop (yay!). Though the round-trip fare in First is extremely reasonable, award seats were available for 130,000 miles round trip. I had to transfer some Diners Club points to Alaska to top off my account (it took 3 days with expedited service for the miles to appear), but I made that award booking this morning. (With just two rows in First, looks like this flight will be on Virgin America metal).

What's the moral of this story? I frankly don't know, but I guess I'll be playing the mileage game again in 2018.

copyright (c) 2017 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.

12.13.2017

Tahiti non-stops from San Francisco

picture yourself in French Polynesia (c) 2017 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

Flying to Tahiti will get a lot easier beginning next October 30. United Airlines has announced nonstop Dreamliner flights from San Francisco to Papeete. Flying three times a week (Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday), United plans serve this route from October 30, 2018 through March 28, 2019.

Why I'm excited by this news: 

You can avoid LAX, a monstrously inconvenient place to connect. Domestic flights arrive at one of eight terminals, and you have to schlep yourself and your baggage to the international terminal, check in again with Air Tahiti Nui (which means leaving airside), and go through security again (plan for a long wait in line). If you plan to check bags, you'll have to see if your domestic airline has an interline agreement with Air Tahiti Nui.

Flying through SFO will be a dream by comparison. Being a United hub, you'll have easy connections from all over the US with your bags seamlessly checked all the way through to PPT. Passengers can walk between United's domestic and international gates without having to go through security again. And SFO offers a choice of lounge experiences — the American Express Centurion Lounge or United's Polaris Lounge.

The timing of the flights is bit disappointing. The outbound flight departs SFO at 2:45 p.m., arriving PPT at 9:25 p.m. Because this is too late for connecting Air Tahiti flights onto Bora Bora or Moorea, you'll have to overnight in Papeete; I recommend the InterContinental Tahiti. The return, departing PPT at 11:45 p.m. and arriving SFO 10:50 a.m. the next morning, is fine.

However, the "season" for which United is flying the route makes no sense — from October 30 until March 28. This is "summer" in French Polynesia, the rainiest and most humid time of the year. The best months to visit Tahiti begin in April when you'll enjoy the driest weather and most comfortable temperatures. Oops! Guess someone at United failed to check the "high season" for Bora Bora and Moorea.

I've been twice ... so please contact us to plan your dream trip to Bora Bora and ask about the value-added Virtuoso and Four Seasons Preferred Partner amenities. We can save you hundreds of dollars on your trip of a lifetime.

copyright (c) 2017 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.

12.10.2017

holiday ideas for Paris


If your holiday plans include Paris, here are some favorite Christmas season ideas shared by the concierges of Le Meurice and the Plaza Athenée Paris, just two of the fabulous palace hotels that tempt visitors to the city of light.

Visit Vaux-le-Vicomte. To quote the words of the chateau's own website, "visitors will be transported to a sugarplum world of confectionary in a château decked with thousands of holiday decorations." The You Tube video above will give you an idea what visitors will experience: crackling fires, thousands of strings of light, decorated trees, rides in a horse-drawn carriage, and mountains of sweet treats. Tickets and shuttle from the train station can be reserved online. The 34 minute train from Paris Gare de l'Est to Verneuil l'Etang runs hourly, and you can reserve a shuttle to/from the Chateau (about a 17 minute drive).

Champs de Mars Christmas Market. Enjoy a skating rink at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, as well as a Christmas village where wooden chalets sell crafts, Christmas decorations, and regional gourmet products.

Both Le Meurice and the Plaza Athenée are part of the Dorchester Collection. When you book through a Diamond Club agency, you'll benefit from:
  • guaranteed upgrade at booking (up to the Junior Suite category)
  • 100€ credit towards your hotel bill
  • full daily breakfasts for two that includes literally anything on the menu except caviar and alcohol
  • complimentary Premium internet for unlimited devices
You can't get these amenities online. Get in touch, and we'll help you plan your next trip to Paris while saving you hundreds of dollars.

copyright (c) 2017 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.

12.09.2017

holiday ideas for London

photo by Martinvl and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

Visiting London during Festive Season? Here are favorite Christmas season ideas shared by the concierges at two of the top hotels in London, The Dorchester and 45 Park Lane.

Royal Albert Hall Christmas Carol Singalong. Gather in the magnificent auditorium of Royal Albert Hall (pictured above) as Jonathan Cohen leads the audience through a two hour singalong of his most-loved carols and Christmas songs. You can obtain tickets through your hotel Concierge. The Royal Albert Hall website lists the following dates:
Saturday, December 16 - 12:30 p.m.
Thursday, December 21 - 2:30 p.m.
Friday, December 22 - 2:30 p.m.
Saturday, December 23 - 12:30 p.m.
Saturday, December 23, 4:15 p.m.
Ice skating at Somerset House. This large, 18th century Neoclassical building, situated on the south side of the Strand in central London, overlooks the Thames just east of Waterloo Bridge. Admission to Somerset House is free, although some exhibits have a charge. The charge for ice skating begins at 8.90£ per ticket.

Both The Dorchester and 45 Park Lane are part of the Dorchester Collection. As a Diamond Club agency, we can secure exclusive, money saving amenities for you including:

  • guaranteed upgrade at booking at The Dorchester
  • 100£ credit toward your hotel room at The Dorchester
  • daily 100£ credit toward your hotel room at 45 Park Lane
  • full daily English Breakfast for two at either hotel (literally everything on the menu except caviar and alcohol)
  • complimentary Premium internet throughout your stay for unlimited devices
Interested? Submit your travel request here, and we'll get you the full money-saving details.

copyright (c) 2017 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.

12.05.2017

choose a luxury beach resort in Mexico

pool at Four Seasons Punta Mita (c) 2017 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

Winter is upon us with short days and cold weather throughout the northern United States and Canada. If you're like many people, thinking about a luxurious winter vacation. consider sunny Mexico with its warm weather and blue skies.

Where to stay? Whether you have a family vacation or a romantic getaway in mind, Mexico is blessed with luxurious resorts at great prices. My advice: forget those cheezy all-inclusives. Though it may seem like you're getting a lot for your money, what will you do when the "free" meals (that you've already paid for) turn out to be mediocre and boring?

We work with two dozen truly luxurious resorts in Mexico, and we can get you outstanding values at each of them. At the same price you'd normally pay when you book through a hotel website, we provide value-added Virtuoso amenities — free breakfast for two each day, resort credits, upgrades when available, and often special promotions. Click this link to see the top 24 Mexican beach resorts in my collection. You can even book many of them through the Virtuoso website to score the Virtuoso perks.

Picture yourself in this serene pool at Four Seasons Punta Mita, enjoying the clear blue skies and relaxing in the warm sun ... while your kids are making friends on the beach. Then send us your request or make the booking yourself on Virtuoso.com — here's how! Either way, we will follow up directly with the resort to VIP your stay.

copyright (c) 2017 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.

12.01.2017

weather in Southeast Asia

clouds in Bhutan (c) 2017 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

When's the best time to travel to Southeast Asia? These are the best months to visit the following South East Asia destinations, according to Abercrombie & Kent, Inc. I'm creating this blog post so I can easily find this information in the future!
Cambodia: OCT-MAR
China: APR-JUN, SEP-NOV
Hong Kong: APR-JUN, SEP-DEC
Indonesia: JUN-OCT
Japan: MAR-JUN, SEP-NOV
Laos: OCT-MAR
Malaysia: OCT-MAR
Mongolia: JUN-SEP
Myanmar: NOV-MAR
Singapore: NOV-MAR
South Korea: APR-JUN, SEP-OCT
Tibet: MAY-SEP
Thailand: OCT-MAR
Phuket - cool and dry season is November - February, hot season is March-mid May, rainy seasons is mid-May-October 
Koh Samui - dry season is December-February, hot season is March-August, rainy season is September-November 
Vietnam: OCT-MAR

copyright (c) 2017 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.

11.28.2017

photographic journeys

If you're passionate about both travel and photography, consider these brand-new Photographic Journeys to India and Mongolia in 2018.



India: Land of the Tiger — 24APR-6MAY.  Join Lewis Kemper on a photo safari to India's Bandavgarh National Park, one of the best wildlife sanctuaries in India that houses the Royal Bengal Tiger. Expect to see brightly colored birds, intriguing monkeys, and of course the big cat on this trip where award-winning Kemper will provide guidance for capturing the best images.


Mongolia: A Photocultural Journey — 22AUG-3SEP. Alison Wright will be leading a photography journey to Mongolia for us this summer. From the wilds of the Altai, home of the Kazakh eagle hunters, to mystical Kharakhorum, the ancient capital of the Mongol Empire, and on to the stunning Gobi, see the best of Mongolia on this photocultural journey. 


India: Pushkar Festival — 4NOV-17NOV. See India's highlights with photographer Lewis Kemper, including the Taj Mahal at sunrise and sunset, the holy city of Varanasi, and the pink city of Jaipur, before a visit to the Pushkar Festival where you'll discover thousands of camels amidst the festivities.



Wild Namibia Photo Safari — 11 days. Namibia is one of Africa’s best-kept secrets for photographers. Less well known and less visited than the game parks of East and South Africa, Namibia’s treasures remain more hidden, revealed to those in search of a truly distinctive safari adventure.

Drop us an email more information on any of these photographic journeys.

copyright (c) 2017 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. Nomadic Expeditions and Natural Habitat are Virtuoso tour companies.