I blame the bean counters at Marriott

view from the Club Lounge at Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay

Ritz Carlton is truly one of my favorite hotel brands. It is for this very reason that I want to push back against the new cancellation policy being instituted by Marriott, its corporate parent. A few Ritz Carlton hotels still have a one day cancel deadline (Buckhead!), but most Ritz Carlton hotels now adhere to the 2-3 day cancelation deadline that is the new Marriott standard.

I blame the bean counters. This self-inflicted corporate unfriendliness is bad news for guests and bad news for Marriott Luxury Brands. I have nothing but the highest admiration for the ladies and gentlemen of Ritz Carlton, among the warmest and most gracious hosts in the entire luxury hotel industry. This unfortunate policy makes life harder for everyone, especially their business guests who need flexibility when they travel for business. What the Marriott bean counters may not appreciate is that this also makes life harder both for their travel partners (luxury travel advisors like myself) and for our Ritz Carlton Guardian Angels. I'm thinking of all the time I'll waste requesting waivers of cancellation penalties ... and the time my Guardian Angels will waste working on exceptions for my clients.

I acknowledge that cancellation penalties can serve a valid function. Once a room has been sold, it's "off the market" and cannot be resold. Last-minute cancellations do not leave enough time to re-sell that room. It's reasonable for the guest to compensate the hotel in the form of a one-night penalty if the cancellation prevents the hotel from selling the room to someone else. But unless a hotel is nearing a sell-out, nothing is really lost.

My appeal to the bean counters... read the Mission Statement of Ritz Carlton, and realize how this policy contradicts that mission:
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission.  
We pledge to provide the finest personal service and facilities for our guests who will always enjoy a warm, relaxed, yet refined ambience.  
The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests. 
My appeal to my clients and fans of Ritz Carlton: vote with your dollars. You don't have to tolerate minimum 3-day cancel deadlines at city hotels. The only way the bean counters will get the message is for us to send our business to their worthy competitors. Just checked a random day in New York City, and the cancel deadline is just one day at Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, Fairmont (The Plaza), Peninsula, Park Hyatt, and Rosewood (The Carlyle). 

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.


eight tips for making airline reservations

Shopping for flights for your next trip? Internet booking portals have an inherent logic. I bet you've spent hours researching flights, comparing prices, wanting to be convinced you've found the very best deal, even if it's only $5 less. I think that's a foolish approach. Here are my top tips for making airline reservations.

1. Non-stops are always better than connections, even if they cost more. Why?

a) You'll save hours. You can fly San Francisco to New York in five-and-a-half hours, gate to gate. Stopping en route will add at least two hours to your trip, likely three or more hours. Time is our most precious resource, so make the most of yours!

b) You won't miss your connection. So many things can go wrong, and if they do, you'll be massively inconvenienced. Anything from bad weather to mechanical problems can delay your flight. Do you really want to spend the first night of your vacation at an airport hotel in Chicago, Salt Lake, or Detroit?

c) Your bags won't miss your connection. While checked bags usually make it onto your next flight, they don't always.

2. If you must connect, pay attention to connection times. Are you comfortable with a 40 minute connection in Dallas, a 75 minute connection at Paris Charles de Gaulle, or a 90 minute connection time at London Heathrow? I'm not. Though they're legal connections, you could find yourself running through an unfamiliar airport to make your flight.

3. Make sure all your flight reservations are on one PNR (passenger name record). If something should go wrong and you misconnect (miss your connecting flight), the airline owns the problem and will get you on the next flight to your destination without making you pay more. If you have two separate tickets, you're out of luck.

4. Keep all flights on the same airline or alliance. If you're ticketed on two separate airlines, you may not be able to check your bags all the way through. Connections are usually much easier on the same airline. For instance, if you're flying Delta out of LAX, fly Delta into LAX. Flying in on Southwest would require you to change terminals and go through security again.

5. Size does matter. Is flying painful because your knees are pressed into the seat in front of you? Pay attention to seat pitch. That's the distance between your seat and the seat in front of you. There are planes with as little as 28" of space for your legs (yes, I'm talking about you, Frontier and Spirit). Some airlines offer as much as 39" of pitch, even in coach. Here's a chart.

6. Look at the final price, not the come-on fare. I'm not a fan of (so-called) low cost airlines or the "basic economy" fare on major airlines, as you'll end up paying for everything — checked bags, putting bags in the overhead compartment, reserving assigned seats, printing boarding passes at the airport, checking in at the airport, in-flight meals, in-flight drinks, etc. I've heard of passengers who ended up paying more for their bags to fly than for their own tickets.

7. What price loyalty? Frequent flyer programs used to be a great deal, but now they're a good deal for the airline ... but not for you. When's the last time you were able to use miles to upgrade into First Class or to get a free business class seat on the specific flight you want on the day you want at a decent redemption rate? I remember the good old days when I could upgrade any seat on Continental for 5,000 miles. No more!!!

Think your status will get you an upgrade? Think again. Elite upgrades are becoming less frequent. The airlines would rather sell their comfortable business class seats at a discount rather than give them away for free to their best customers.

8. You don't have to be your own travel agent, and the good news is that there many experienced air agents out there. Did you know that if you book through Expedia, Orbitz, or CheapoAir, you've hired a travel agent? Only trouble is, you're booking through a robot. A robot can tell you the lowest come-on price ... but a robot cannot advise. A live human travel advisor knows the questions to ask and can tell you, for instance, whether an open-jaw flight makes sense. "You're starting your trip in Paris and ending it in Nice. Did you know you can fly back from Nice and still get a round-trip price?" Your OTA doesn't know anything about you or your trip. A professional can help you avoid pitfalls that amateurs don't even know about.

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.


home rentals in San Francisco

One Fine Stay, a member of Virtuoso, is now offering homes and apartments in its newest city, San Francisco. This is great news for families traveling to one of the most popular destinations in the United States. San Francisco has so much to offer — some of the finest restaurants in the world, great art museums, iconic views of the Golden Gate, Giants baseball at AT&T Park, and temperate year-round temperatures (sweatshirt weather practically year round). Did I mention all the Michelin-starred restaurants?

The home pictured above is located in the Mission Dolores neighborhood of San Francisco. This four bedroom, four bath home is an example of the upscale accommodations you can expect from One Fine Stay. Approximately $1000 per night (or $250 per bedroom per night), guests will enjoy all the comforts of home including washer, dryer, and full kitchen ... and views. Prices from the San Francisco collection range from approx. $380 to $1370 per night, so we can definitely find you something that matches your budget.

Why One Fine Stay instead of Airbnb or VRBO? Six top reasons:
(1) Every home is vetted.
(2) Your home will professionally cleaned before and after your stay - and mid-week as well.
(3) Beds are made with hotel quality linens.
(4) The One Fine Stay support team is available 24/7 to deal with the unexpected and provide concierge services.
(5) You'll get the use of an iPhone with a one-touch button to reach One Fine Stay, as well as free local calls and data during your stay.
(6) By booking with your Virtuoso travel advisor, each guest will receive a special amenity — a pair of cashmere slippers.
Get 10% off if you book before July 1, 2017. The 10% guest discount applies to San Francisco bookings made through a Virtuoso travel advisor for stays of 4 nights or more. Your stay must be booked before July 1 for stays starting before August 31, 2017.

If you are going to San Francisco, contact us for the best value for luxury homes, apartments, and hotels ... and be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.


one of the world's two most beautiful places

black sand beach near Auckland (c) 2017 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

Travel writing is a funny thing... I typically lose interest in most articles a few paragraphs in, this perhaps being the reason these blog articles of mine are just a few paragraphs long. But I just read one of the best-written travel pieces I've ever come across. Alton Brown's account of his trip to New Zealand was so wonderfully told that it makes me want to go back. Incidentally, AFAR magazine has far more than its share of great travel writing, so if you're looking for a magazine to inspire some life-changing travel, you won't have to look afar (bad pun intended).

New Zealand is one of the two most beautiful places on earth. It is home to some of the most wonderful luxury lodges anywhere — Otahuna, Kauri Cliffs, Huka, and so many more. I'd go back in a second! Just the experience flying into Queenstown, down a mountain valley surrounded by ice-capped peaks, makes the entire trip worth it. (Be sure to select window seats, even if it means not sitting together).

Alton Brown's experiment was this: he would only eat at establishments recommended to him by total strangers. This forced him to interact with local New Zealanders (whom he found incredibly outgoing) and eat at some places you'd be unlikely to find in the usual tourist guide. Read the article for the full scoop.

If New Zealand is on your bucket list, we can help you plan a bespoke trip with our travel partners who truly know New Zealand and can take care of everything. Definitely visit both the north and south islands, and plan to see the mountains and fjords near Queenstown. Helicopter, anyone?

So what is the other most beautiful place? Be watching for an article, soon!

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.


what to do in Dublin | hire the Popemobile!

When in Dublin, you can hire the Popemobile. The vehicle in question was built for Pope John Paul II's 1979 visit to Dublin. The Dublin Wax Museum acquired the Popemobile and restored it with a Mercedes engine and seating for 12, including a papal throne. It's available for hire at 300€ per hour + VAT.

How in the world did I learn about this? Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, NPR's weekly news quiz, featured this story on today's "bluff the listener" segment. The most popular use for the Popemobile? Planners of Stag and Hen parties have booked the Popemobile to chauffeur guests around Dublin (which apparently has a pub or two to visit).

Does Dublin's Popemobile pose serious competition for Las Vegas? They just need an Elvis lookalike to drive it...

Dublin is one of Europe's best destinations, and even if you don't want to ride in the Popemobile, there are plenty of great reasons to visit Dublin and the rest of beautiful Ireland and its 40 shades of green.

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.


top five London restaurants near the Goring

Guard leaving the Wellington Barracks (c) 2017 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

Rebecca Recommends, one of our valued travel partners, has shared some of her favorite London restaurants. Each is in the vicinity of The Goring, one of my favorite boutique hotels anywhere. In this case, "anywhere" happens to be around the block from Buckingham Palace. The hotel has a Royal warrant, hosted the Middleton family the night before The Wedding, and possesses one of the most delightful managing directors you'll ever find anywhere.

1. Thomas Cubitt Gastro Pub — a British menu focusing on seasonal produce. Her favorite: Trecorras Farm kid goat with hickory smoked belly and white asparagus, followed by orange almond cake.

2. Daylesford Organic — an all-day cafe/deli for seasonal organic plates and salads

3. The Wolseley — Rebecca's favorite is the veal Holstein and chicken soup with dumplings.

4. Park Chinois — dim sum lunches and dinner in the Club Chinois with cabaret entertainment

5. The Goring — at the hotel's own Michelin-starred restaurant, you can order a perfectly roasted rib of beef, carved and served at your table from a silver trolly

If you should be interested in Indian cuisine, here are Rebecca's recommended restaurants near the Goring — Gymkhana, Amaya, Quilon, Tamarind, Benares, Saloos, Cinnamon Club, Chutney Mary, and Rasoi.

... and a word about the Changing of the Guard (pictured above). Most visitors to London make their way to Buckingham Palace and stand in the midst of thousands of other tourists to catch a glimpse of the pomp and ceremony. Ask me how you can watch from within the Wellington Barracks (where the Guard lives), hear the entire concert before their short march down to the Palace with literally no one between you and the Guard. 

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.


the ultimate road trip

Florence to Milan to Cap Ferrat by vintage car... choices include a 1961 Guilietta Spider, a Mercedes-Benz 190 SL Cabrio, and a Porsche 356 Speedster. This exclusive driving package is offered by FS Florence, FS Milan, and Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat, a Four Seasons Hotel.

Driving between Cap Ferrat and Milan (or between Florence and Milan) is quite do-able. I'd definitely forgo the highways. Let the top down, and enjoy the sights from the slower country roads that wind through Tuscany and along the Cote d'Azur. The hotel concierges will assist in personalizing your itinerary, guiding you to all the best vistas, local sightseeing, and activities. You might stop for lunch in Portofino, visit the medieval village of Finalborgo, or taste the ham in Parma along the way.

You'll receive support every kilometer of the way with a second car following to provide any assistance needed and transport your luggage. Want to stop at a museum, visit an old church, or explore a small village? Your support car will provide the valet parking. Simply hand them the keys and wander off!

We can handle all the details for you, as well as providing Four Seasons Preferred Partner amenities at all three of these hotels. While we are not contractually permitted to disclose the exact amenities on a public website, rest assured you'll receive the richest amenity program available for Four Seasons hotels including daily breakfast for two and a hotel credit. Please email for a complete list of Preferred Partner amenities at any FS hotel in the world.

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.