2.13.2019

succumbing to the credit card "point" game?



I read with some bemusement the miles and credit card blogs reporting on all the sign-up bonuses and benefits offered by credit cards. For the most part, I have avoided playing that game. Yes, I have chosen my credit cards based on the benefits — admission to airline lounges and travel credits. I once applied for a pair of British Airways cards — one for my wife and one for me — because they were offering 100,000 miles per card; I've held onto that card for the annual 2-for-1 award travel opportunity. In other words, I choose credit cards based on their perceived usefulness to me.

I'm going to Australia this September and recently purchased tickets for that trip. I could find no award availability on the SFO-SYD non-stops; I was unwilling to fly United economy to Houston for business class flights to Sydney. How to pay for those tickets? I contemplated the possibility of cashing in (most of) 42 years of accrued American Express points for one of the tickets but wrestled with the suspicion that getting 1¢ of value per point was not my best use of those points.

Posting a question on FlyerTalk for advice, I was surprised by the answer. While my American Express Platinum personal card yields 1¢ for a redemption, the American Express Platinum business card yields 1.5¢ per point. By procuring a business card (which I did on the last day before its annual fee increased), I increased the value of my stash of points by several thousand dollars. I reason this transaction was well worth the annual fee.

Moreover, Amex offers a signing bonus of 75,000 points when spending $20,000 within 90 days. My tickets on Qantas would get me most of the way there with one purchase, but... herein lies the wrinkle. The Platinum business card yields 5x the points only when purchasing airfare through American Express Travel Service. However, I didn't want to book through Amex, meaning point yield would be only 1.5x the spend (for a purchase over $5000). My personal Platinum card, on the other hand, yields 5x the points on any air booking, even one made through the air desk at Brownell Travel. Because I will receive a substantial commission on that booking, it made sense to use my personal card for this transaction. (Because commission percentage information is proprietary, so I can't publish that.)

So I bought the tickets with my personal Platinum Card. This yielded me an extra 3.5x points per dollar and a four-figure commission in cash. The personal Platinum purchase will net a return roughly equivalent to the 75,000 point sign-up bonus, but leaving me in the position of still having to make that 20K spend by the end of April. Decisions still to be made: canceling the personal card in May, canceling the business card after one year (and spending my points), or keeping both.

Have I succumbed to the credit card game? I'd be interested in your thoughts.

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.

2.09.2019

Australia | bucket list trip

Sydney Bridge & Opera House (c) 2019 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

Australia is a bucket list destination for me. I've been once already, traveling with a group of travel advisors. I enjoyed amazing experiences — viewing hundreds of marsupials at Wolgan Valley, a koala in a tree on Kangaroo Island, sailing under the Sydney Bridge during a private cruise of the harbour. While my travel colleagues were all busy drinking wine, I was in the stern of the boat snapping photos, including the one above, one of my favourite travel photos ever.

But the Great Barrier Reef was not on my previous itinerary. As it's a place my wife has always wanted to see ... when I was presented with the opportunity to spend three nights at Lizard Island, I grabbed the chance! Here's the trip I've put together:


Cairns, the Pullman Reef Hotel — We fly from SFO to SYD, then continue on to Cairns. We're spending a night at the Pullman Reef in a Junior Suite, hopefully the one with the view down Trinity Inlet toward The Pyramid and Bellenden Ker Range.

Lizard Island — One of two Virtuoso resorts on the Great Barrier Reef (the other being qualiaLizard Island is an adults-only 40-villa resort. Guests have access to 24 private beaches with a motorised dingy provided for complimentary use, or book diving trips to nearby Cod Hole.

Silky Oaks Lodge — a luxury eco lodge high above the Mossman River set within the Daintree Rainforest. Guests enjoy one complimentary Rainforest hike during their stay, and there are opportunities to explore the Great Barrier Reef from Silky Oaks.

Longitude 131 — I've heard amazing things about this tented camp in the Australian outback. With just 15 luxury tents, guests at Longitude 131 enjoy seclusion as well as direct views of Uluru (Ayers Rock) from their tents. I'm looking forward to photography at dawn and sunset.

Bamarru Plains — Finishing up our "wilderness" time with a safari, Bamarru Plains is found near Darwin on the northern coast of Australia. This will be my first time in the Bush. Bamarru Plains has one of the largest crocodile populations in the world, and the annual migration of over one hundred thousand magpie geese is supposed to be amazing.

Park Hyatt Sydney — Last time in Australia, I stayed at the Four Seasons Sydney in a wonderful Premier room facing the Opera House. This time, I'm looking forward to ending our trip at the Park Hyatt Sydney. Practically under the Sydney Bridge, Opera rooms at the Park Hyatt directly face the famous Sydney Opera House. Nothing is better than a room with an iconic view!

Though my trip is more than 7 months away, much of the pleasure of travel is the anticipation that builds when looking forward to a trip.

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

2.01.2019

Kona Beach Village | reopening in 2022

beachfront cottage at Kona Beach Village (c) 2019 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

Kona Beach Village, a quick walk down the beach from Four Seasons Hualalai, has been closed since the tsunami of 2011. During my last visit to the Big Island, I walked through the 81-acre property, even venturing into some of the old cottages. Though not luxurious by contemporary standards, it's easy to see why KBV guests so loved the resort. They were very casual, and that was the charm. The bungalows offered a true sand-between-your-toes beach experience. Some cottages, like the one pictured above, were set directly adjacent to the beach.

Kona Village, a Rosewood Resort is set to re-open in 2022. It will feature 150 completely new standalone hales, each with private lanai and outdoor shower. Shipwreck Bar will be resurrected, and guests will enjoy multiple dining venues, spa, fitness center, multiple pools, and tennis courts.

I expect the new KBV to be fully five-star and can't wait to see what Rosewood will bring to the Big Island of Hawaii. I'm certain that Rosewood Elite amenities will be offered, and the resort will presumably join Virtuoso.

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.

1.24.2019

postcard from London | Picadilly Circus

Picadilly Circus in 1969 (c) David Ourisman, all rights reserved

The photograph above was taken in the summer of 1969. I had just graduated from high school, the summer before beginning college. For a graduation gift, I asked for a trip to Europe, and my parents arranged an experience that included stays in London, Amsterdam, and Paris followed by several weeks at the University of Grenoble (with day trips on the weekends) where I studied French, adding to five years of French in secondary school. It was a memorable trip, one that helped nurture a lifelong passion for travel.

I brought my film camera along, a Minolta SRT 101 with several different lenses. Photography had been my avocation even as a teenager. My 1969 photo shows Picadilly Circus with the billboards as they appeared behind the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain fifty years ago.

Picadilly Circus in 2019 (c) 2019 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

Skip forward fifty years, and you can see the changes. There's now a LOT more traffic, and it would be impossible to capture the scene with no vehicles in the foreground. The static billboards have been replaced with ever-changing advertisements shown on LED screens. (Coca Cola is still the most prominent advertiser.) The displays move across the screen, and video snippets including an effervescent glass of Coke, a Turkish Airline plane landing in Istanbul, and advertisements from companies ranging from Samsung to Audemars Piguet, from Hyundai to Alexander McQueen. My suite at Hotel Café Royal (#422) looks right out onto the display, and I asked the housekeepers to keep open the curtains of my living room so that I could enjoy the 24-hour show.

Travel creates the milestones of our lives. Each return visit brings back memories of experiences past and the hope for new memories to come.

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 our website.

1.23.2019

postcard from London | something old and new

building reflected in building (c) 2019 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

Prince Charles might disapprove, but some modern architecture does complement traditional architecture quite well. I submit this example of a contemporary glass-and-steel office building whose windows reflect a traditional waterfront building against a clear blue sky.

We were on our way to a tour of the HMS Belfast, now a permanent museum docked in the Thames. We enjoyed a 45 minute tour of the ship which participated in World War II's D-Day invasion. Our tour guide was informative but succinct, and Noteworthy Events planned a hands-on discovery for us — from hoisting signal flags that spelled "BROWNELL" to a chance to fire the ship's cannons.

The Belfast is docked in a prime location with a head-on view of Tower Bridge. I especially recommend this tour for families with children.

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 our website.

1.22.2019

postcard from London | Hidden London

train from above (c) 2019 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

The simplest things often offer life's most exclusive experiences. I never knew there was a "secret" tube station in London, but one in fact exists. Charing Cross is one of London's busiest subway stops, multiple lines converging at this one point near Trafalgar Square.

Not available to the general public, connected travel advisors can arrange private tours for their clients through the London Transport Museum. Our guide unlocked doors and gates visible in plain sight, affording us entry to the hidden platforms, escalators, and tunnels of Charing Cross.

You've likely seen Hidden London many times, as it has been a setting in a number of major movies. In one of the most interesting moments in the tour, we viewed a short film showing scenes in which the secret station served as a set. Most famously, Roger Craig — playing James Bond in the film Skyfall — slid down a station escalator while in hot pursuit of an antagonist. Take a look at this film clip from Skyfall for glimpses of other sights from our tour of Hidden London.


The photograph atop this article was short through a ventilation grill. We were in a hidden ventilation shaft above an active subway platform, peering down at the station. As this train came through the station, I photographed it from above ... capturing as well the "Mind the Gap" warning by its doors.

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 our website.

1.20.2019

postcard from Windsor Castle | the Long Walk

The Long Walk (c) 2019 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

Today's travels took us from Paris to London. After an early morning ride on the Eurostar, a coach transported us to Windsor Castle, the Queen's favourite weekend residence. We first had coffee and tea with the Governor of the Military Knights of Windsor. A very entertaining man, he explained the role of these retired members of the British military. One of the twelve Knights then took us on a quite interesting private tour of St. George's Chapel (where the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle took place). Our tour ended with a viewing of the stunning Albert Memorial Chapel. Photography is forbidden inside either chapel, frustrating because the afternoon sun streaming through Albert Chapel's stained glass windows was absolutely glorious. How I wish I could have captured that light in a photograph!

So instead, I am posting my photograph of The Long Walk. Considered an iconic image of Windsor Castle, this path runs from the gateway of Windsor Castle to an immense statue of King George III atop a copper horse 2.65 miles to the south. (This is the same King George named in the American Declaration of Independence.) The January day was cold and sunny, but hundreds of visitors were enjoying the walk.

Well worth a day trip from London, a visit to Windsor Castle can be combined with a tour of Hampton Court Palace.

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 our website.