3.23.2019

Galerie Michael | a must-see in Beverly Hills



Many visitors come to Beverly Hills for the shopping. Walking down Rodeo Drive, you’ll see a store for virtually every luxury brand — Gucci, Prada, Chanel, Louis Vuitton — as well as small, independent boutiques. If you’re in the mood for some serious retail therapy, Beverly Hills awaits...

But if you want to shop somewhere totally unique, drop into Galerie Michael, a small, privately owned art gallery at 224 North Rodeo Drive. The owner possesses an extensive collection of 20th century art, just a small fraction of which is on display You’ll be able to view original works by Picasso, Chagall, Dali, and Miro — as well as some pre-Impressionistic paintings and even some older works by Rembrandt. If shopping ‘till you drop appeals, you’ll find price tags as high as $1 million. I wasn’t tempted, although several works by Chagall, priced below $3000, seemed reasonable.

Part of the short cobblestoned pedestrian walk at 2 Rodeo Drive, I encourage you to visit. John Welch, the gallery’s curator took pleasure in showing us around. Galerie Michael was easily the highlight of our walk around Beverly Hills.

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.

3.18.2019

now that Southwest flies to Hawaii...




... where are you going to stay?

Today, Southwest Airlines launched its long-awaited service to Hawaii with the departure of Flight 6808 from Oakland, California (my home airport) to Honolulu. Passengers were greeted with leis both on boarding and upon their arrival into HNL. Service will continue to expand with a second OAK-HNL flight on March 24th, flights to Maui on April 7th, and service to Kona on May 12th.

These will be no-frills flights with nothing but Coach seats to be had for the long 5 1/2 hour flights. Neither will full meals be available. By adding seats to the Oakland-Hawaii market, the price of coach seats will likely come down. On the other hand, I highly recommend flying First Class on Alaska or Hawaiian. Pricing is surprisingly affordable, and both airlines offer comfortable First Class service and full meals. Some Hawaiian Airlines planes even have lie-flat sleeper seats.

Where to stay in Hawaii? I've listed my favorite hotels, and Ourisman Travel offers you added value by providing free breakfasts, $100 hotel credits, upgrades, and more — all at the same regular prices you're seeing online.

Honolulu
The Kahala Resort
Halekulani
The Royal Hawaiian
Four Seasons Oahu at Ko Olina

Maui
Four Seasons Maui
Andaz Maui
Fairmont Kea Lani
Ritz-Carlton Kapalua Bay
Montage Kapalua

Kona
Four Seasons Hualalai
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
Fairmont Orchid
Mauna Lani, an Auberge Resort

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.

3.07.2019

six travel mistakes to avoid

Cliffs of Moher (c) 2019 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

Inexperienced travelers frequently make foolish travel mistakes when planning a trip. I am highlighting six of the worst travel mistakes mentioned in a recent article in USA Today.

(1) Declining travel insurance for expensive international trips. Even if you have NOT made any non-refundable deposits, purchasing $500 of trip cancellation per person is inexpensive and offers important protections. Top of the list: primary medical coverage while out of the country. If you're a US-based senior citizen, Medicare does NOT cover you outside the U.S., but Travelex Basic or Select offers primary medical insurance. Because the coverage is primary, you won't have to bother getting your claim rejected by Medicare before the insurance company will pay you (which is the case if your policy provides only secondary medical coverage). Note: rely only on the insurance carrier's own employees for authoritative and detailed explanations of a policy's coverage.

(2) Taking selfies in hazardous places. For instance, there's a rope to keep you safe when visiting Ireland's Cliffs of Moher (pictured above), but that doesn't stop some foolhardy tourists from venturing to the very edge of the cliff, risking injury or death. Risking your life is not worth 5 minutes of YouTube fame.

(3) Failing to check passport and visa requirements well in advance of the trip. Ensure that your passport has empty pages and is valid for at least six months beyond the end of the trip (as countries typically require). Check whether the country to which you are traveling requires acquiring a visa before you travel. Not all countries offer visa on entry.

(4) Arriving the day your cruise (or tour) departs. It simply makes no sense to risk being left behind at the port, scrambling to figure out how to catch up with the rest of the cruise or tour (at your own expense). Plan to arrive the day before your cruise or tour begins.

(5) Overscheduling your days. While many tourists have the idea that "doing Paris" means checking off a dozen items on a to-do list, I'm a firm believer in "less is more." Don't plan on six museums in one day; you can't possibly enjoy all of them, and you'll be exhausted. There's no reason to visit Versailles and Giverny on the same day; you'll be short-changing both. And don't waste a full day in Paris visiting Disney, of all things. Don't "do" Paris. "Experience" Paris by doing what Parisians do. Spend a leisurely hour sitting at a sidewalk cafe on a picturesque street just watching the life of the city unfold before you.

(6) Booking tight flight connections. Think you can make that 50-minute connection in Paris, London, or Frankfurt? Think again. Navigating an unfamiliar airport in a jet-lagged condition, waiting in passport lines, possibly going through security a second time, and generally not knowing where to go is NOT the way you want to begin your trip. I would want at least a 2-hour connection in all of these international airports. Consider a VIP meet-at-the-gate escort where available to fast-track you through immigration and get you to your next gate stress-free.

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.

3.01.2019

packaged group tours | good or bad thing?

example of a expertly designed tour offered on the Tauck Tours website

Who cannot relate to the impassioned question posed by a confused traveler on fodors.com.
First, I booked a cruise to Italy. then dumped it. Then I booked a group tour to Italy. Still have that one, but the time for losing my deposit is almost up. 
But through it all I have a friend who keeps telling me it's ridiculous. She says I should get on travelocity and book a flight and some hotels and just go on my own. She says Italy is the easiest place to visit; you can see everything and move around easily with trains.  
That friend speaks fluent Italian, was raised in Italy, and goes back every year with her husband, and they have a lot of money. I am exactly the opposite. I've never been out of the country except to England, speak only English, and going with another woman who has never traveled in her life. Money is an issue. I'm also not sure of all the sites I'd want to see. 
Do you have any advice about which way to travel? I'm already lost and I haven't even left yet!
She probably chose the wrong forum to ask for advice. Fodors is an exceptional resource for travelers who revel in planning every element of their own trip. Go to booking.com, they told her. It's so easy to book your hotels. It's so easy to travel by train. It's so easy to find the best prices this way, they claimed.

But it's also so easy for inexperienced travelers to make expensive mistakes. All of us have made and learned from our travel mistakes, especially professional travel advisors. In fact, the wisdom we've learned the hard way is the very best resource we can offer our clients. We will think about neighborhoods that are safe, attractive, with an easy walk to where you want to be. We will research days on which favorite attractions may be closed to tourists. We will advise when you should buy tickets in advance, avoiding wasting hours needlessly spent in queues.

The most basic travel question is the task of creating an itinerary that makes sense. And that's why, for this particular traveler, a packaged group tour is probably her wisest choice. She'll buy an itinerary that makes sense with knowledgeable tour guides everywhere. She'll probably enjoy better pricing than if she booked everything on her own. Best of all, she will awaken each day anticipating a ready-made experience ... instead of trying to figure out what to do and how to do it.

Can a travel advisor help if you want a packaged group tour? Definitely, yes! Tour companies are not created equal, and the quality of group tours differs markedly. A travel advisor can point you to vetted tour companies whose group tours offer exceptional experiences, companies like Tauck Tours, Backroads, and Abercrombie & Kent. And, yes, we'll get a commission from the tour company ... but it won't cost you an extra penny to book that tour through us.

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.

2.26.2019

a blast from the past | TWA




East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse is a wonderful junk shop at the corner of 47th & Telegraph Ave. in Oakland, CA. I arrived a bit early for dinner at Pyeong Chang Tofu House, literally next door, so I wandered through the store and looked around. A wonderful collection of lots of useful but discarded electronics, art items, books, jewelry, I came across a page from an old magazine.

TWA caught my eye. In years long past, I remember flights on TWA from Rome to Philadelphia, from San Francisco to Newark, and ultimate from San Francisco to St. Louis. The latter flight was one of TWA's very last flights before it was rebranded as American Airlines. The flight attendants even served a sheet cake to the (very small) collection of passengers onboard.

Forget what flying used to be like? Take a look at this TWA commercial from 1976...


... look at how wide those seats were
... notice the legroom in coach
... complimentary hot meals (with steak on the menu)
... the ad actually mentions "comfort"

Those truly were the good old days. No sleeper seats in international business class, but flying economy could actually be a pleasurable experience.


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.

2.23.2019

Downton Abbey without the crowds

Downton Abbey without the crowds (c) 2016 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

On a normal day, Highclere Castle admits 1,200 visitors. The actual site of the PBS television show Downton Abbey, the castle is about 90 minutes west of London. Contending with crowds is precisely the downside of visiting popular tourist attractions. Read, for instance, two trip reports posted on TripAdvisor.

One visitor was disappointed at the crowded conditions.
Although we booked our tickets last February, with a timed slot, I was disappointed at the amount of people trying to view the house at the same time.... The bedroom corridor was narrow and there was nobody in control to monitor the amount of people trying to look at the bedrooms or the pictures. Lots of mumbling complaints about the number of people stuck in a queue to view the rooms.
Another describes the "achingly slow" progress one makes through the house.
As soon as we were through the door, it was single file, step by achingly slow step around the house. It wasn't a pleasant experience, people behind were trying to get ahead, those in front wanted to stand and discuss. Children were becoming bored, all adding to the frustration of the visit.
But there are alternatives... 

Totally private visits outside of opening hours... The cost for such an experience is about 10,000£, but this offers a most exclusive experience for a small group, each of whom will have bragging rights for a lifetime.

Limited admission days... While Highclere Castle is closed to general admission on those select days, it will offer admission to just 60 guests at a time. You'll have a three hour private tour during your choice of a 10:30 am - 1:30 pm or a 1:30 pm to 4:30 pm. time slot. Each group of 60 is is further split into more manageable sets of 20 visitors. I recently arranged this for a client. With one "semi-private" admission ticket and round-trip private transfer from her hotel in London, her cost was around 1400£.

Tickets do sell out, even at 1400£, as this is an unforgettable experience for all lovers of Downton Abbey. It's critically important to plan well in advance. Even three months out, most of these few limited-admission dates had no availability.

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.

2.13.2019

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.