Monday, September 9, 2013

How to Travel Like A Travel Professional:

I travel often, it is a requirement of my job.  If I don't travel and see places, experience things- how credible am I to my clients?   Not very.  Now I can't travel every place , see every hotel or dine at every restaurant, nobody can - but  I have to keep experiencing different places and things to keep my travel blood flowing.  I know that many people probably assume that I get to travel for free or for great discounts and I'm here to tell you that it is a myth.   Travel Professionals usually pay and often times pay just as much as you do for their trips.   Yes, there are some freebies here or there, but they are few and far between.  Often times if we want to go someplace for a week, if we want free hotel rooms that may mean changing hotels 3-4 times in that week- which is not ideal because you end up spending more time checking in and out of hotels.

I have been fortunate to travel First Class on many of my recent trips in the past couple of years, but that is in large part due to knowing how to play the mileage and upgrade game with the airlines.  Each airline has their own quirk and program, so I am here to give you some insights that I've learned along the way.

Virgin America- my favorite airline domestically - I fly them whenever I can- they offer very affordable upgrades within 6 hours of flight departure time- you can secure the upgrade online or in person or over the phone.  Online is fastest and easiest.  I have been known to get up at 2am to secure my upgrade or better yet not go to bed until 2am after I've secured my upgrade.  Cost varies depending upon length of the flights- but a cross country flight is approximately $140 one way.  For less, you can upgrade to Main Cabin Select which are seats that offer more legroom in the Coach section.  With both upgrades you can order anything on board for free and with Main Cabin Select you get one free checked bag with First class you get two free checked bags.  So the cost of the extra comfort is really quite a bit less when you consider these other things you'd be paying for on board.

Alaska Airlines- who I just recently flew to Hawaii offers upgrades within 24 hours of departure when you check-in online.   The cost of the upgrade varies depending upon how far you are flying, but for Hawaii it was $100 each way - a very good value!  Again, you get the free checked bags, the free food/drink/movies, etc. so that actual seat doesn't cost you that much more for the comfort.

United airlines has a huge following of flyers because of their mileage program and they have made some changes in the recent years- I'm not a huge fan of their program but they do fly to just about anywhere and can help to save money when you need to.  What I don't like is when you use mileage to upgrade, they also charge you a co-payment fee which is pretty equivalent to the cost of the upgrade charges that carriers like Virgin or Alaska charge you to upgrade flat out (using no mileage).    But I use them when I have to.  I tend to use mileage for a free coach ticket and then pay for economy plus seats- but this also gets expensive to do.  We recently booked flights to New Orleans and used mileage for free coach and then spent about $300 for economy plus seats and all you really get is more legroom.  We will still end up paying for checked bags, on board food/drink, etc.

So overall, we don't travel for free- each trip costs us something- we may pay a real person price on a cruise, but then use mileage/points to fly for free.   We may get a few free hotel nights, but then pay for additional nights to extend the stay to avoid having to move hotel to hotel.  We may get invited to a Travel Agent 2 day cruise to nowhere that is completely free, I've had the pleasure of attending several of these and I've traveled two times to enjoy these experiences- but then I've paid for my flights to get there.  In the end it all balances out, but it's never all free.  I have to work the system just like everyone else and it is my job to help you work the system and get the best value for your vacation dollar as well.

I have a variety of credit cards that earn points with United & Virgin America.  I have the Alaska Airline credit card that gifts you a companion certificate every year.  I use these to the best advantage that I can. I also belong to hotel reward programs and earn points mostly with Starwood, Marriott and Hilton.   I have redeemed points with Starwood to secure hotel reservations in places that would cost a large sum of money at times when I would never get a Travel Agent rate (think New Orleans over Mardi Gras)- using points for our trip next year to New Orleans saved close to $900 for 2 nights hotel!

Travel is a fun business, I would not have just celebrated 23 years in this business if I didn't love it and I have to say that the past 9 years have been the best.  Being the owner of my agency & traveling a lot more than I did the first two-thirds of my career!  It's been awesome and I can't wait to see what the future of this career has in store for me!  I love helping clients make their travel dreams come true! 

Friday, May 31, 2013

Benefits of Going Offline when Traveling

To have a true vacation, you need to completely escape. Yet that’s getting harder and harder to do when you’re virtually tethered to your online life. It’s difficult to recharge your own batteries when you’re constantly charging your tablet or smartphone.

When your mind relaxes without interruptions, it’s easier to focus on whatever is right in front of you, allowing you to experience it in a richer, more satisfying way. A vacation—whether it’s a relaxing retreat to the Caribbean or an engaging journey through China—is filled with moments that deserve your full attention, so we suggest you do the following to get off the internet and on with making memories.

Make it Clear – Tell all your friends and co-workers that you will not, under any circumstances, be checking email. You can be reached for emergencies, but you cannot be reached to review the final draft or decide where to take mom out for dinner on her birthday.

Eliminate the Temptation – Out of sight is out of mind, so hide your phone or put it in the hotel safe. It will feel strange to walk around without that electronic brick in your pocket or purse, but your body will readjust quickly.  

Back to Basics – You can still read fascinating stories and discover new information without being online. All you need are books. Bring several, because when Facebook and Pinterest aren’t hijacking your attention, you suddenly have the time and mental energy to read quickly.

Accept Not Knowing – Don’t Google anything. There will be times when you want to know something—like the name of that actor from that movie who is a dead ringer for your waiter—but on this vacation, you need to adopt a Zen-like appreciation for not getting the answer.

Once you’ve made the decision to digitally disconnect, connect with us. We know plenty of places around the globe that will make it easy for you to leave the internet far, far behind.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

To Insure or Not to Insure ....that is the question.

The answer- always insure!    I have for years explained to clients the importance of Travel Insurance and have seen many instances over the years when clients would not take my advice and ended up losing a great amount of their money on trips that they had to cancel for things that they never though would happen to them, therefore they didn't take out Trip Insurance.

I will say that for years, I have not listened to my own advice.  Call it stupidity or thinking that I could probably use my clout with vendors to get penalties waived - who knows.  But what I do know is that last year before we took our trip to Paris, for some reason I just didn't feel as though my mom was in the best of health and I FINALLY researched and purchased a Travel Agent annual policy with Travel Guard.  Now granted, Travel Guard has some pretty nice annual products for Travel Industry Professionals, but they have very affordable policies that I sell for clients.   Now that I have this annual policy, they remind me when I need to renew it and I've now had it for two years.

This past October, Bill & I traveled to the East Coast for my cousin's wedding in Connecticut.  We booked a decent airfare with Virgin America, I had some free car rental certificates that covered us for the long weekend.  We were staying with family.  When we landed into JFK and picked up our car, I wasn't thrilled with what we had (in the past with my Hertz Gold, usually there are some pretty sweet upgrade offers for free, so I take my chances with that)- well I ended up negotiating a deal with the sales guy to get my SUV upgrade for $25/day- this 4 day rental would have cost us $100 plus tax.

Then Sunday night came and Hurricane Sandy arrived on the East Coast, fortunately after my cousin's wedding and after we were safely back at the house.  Soon came the calls that my cousin's kids would not have school on Monday, my cousin who drives a school bus would not have work and we were buttoning down the hatches in preparation for possible loss of power, which also means loss of running water in this neck of the woods, then came the text message from Virgin America that our Monday flight was canceled.

We were rebooked for a Tuesday flight, not too bad until we received a text on Monday saying that our flight was canceled again.  I spent 3 hours on hold for Virgin America and once I got in touch with them, the best they could do was rebook us on a Friday flight home from JFK.  My husband needed to be back to work, big projects that needed his attention and that was critical.  I had my laptop, so I was able to work from my cousin's house (fortunately we didn't lose power), but he was stuck.  I had to resort to other options and then the light bulb went off- WE HAVE TRAVEL INSURANCE!   I made a quick call to Travel Guard to confirm what I believed to be true and then made arrangements on another airline to get us home on Wednesday.

We had to fly from Boston to get home, which means we had to change our rental car return.  This meant that my "free day" certificates were no longer applicable and we were stuck with a rental bill of over $700, plus new airline tickets that were almost $1100, and our unused return tickets on Virgin American for $200 - OUCH!   But I knew that the insurance would cover these expenses because our trip was interrupted/canceled due to a covered reason and her name was Sandy, Hurricane Sandy!

Today I received my check in the mail for payment- just about 6 weeks after filing the paperwork.  Usually, claims take about  weeks to process, but given the number of Sandy claims they would have had, plus all of the holidays in between, I thought payment in 6 weeks was perfectly acceptable.

My advice- always insure your trip!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Disneyland 2012

I just returned from a 2 night, 3 day trip to Disneyland.  Hard to believe my last trip was December 2009! Of course, I have plenty of Disneyland reviews on my website: Disneyland Reviews; but there is always something new or different to note from each visit.  So I will go over those points here.

We checked in around 11am and were very surprised and happy to learn that our room was ready.  We stayed at the Disneyland Hotel since it has recently been completely renovated.  Our room was in the Fantasy Tower, which is the Tower with the Main Lobby.  I had never stayed in that tower either!  We had a great view of the renovated pool area with the Monorail Water slide!
The rooms are very nice and are decorated very tastefully with the Mickey Mouse subtleties throughout, I personally loved the Mickey Mouse hand sconces in the bathroom & the Mickey Mouse faucet handles!  The beds were very comfortable, although I'm not used to sleeping with a 9 year old and not only kicks in her sleep, but is also a bed hog!   I managed. Nothing to complain about with the room at all.

As for the park visits.  I was able to experience the new Little Mermaid ride in California Adventure, it was cute and true to Disney story-telling form.  I also got to watch "World of Color" for the first time.  We made reservations in advance for the pre-fixed dinner at the Wine Country Trattoria which also gave us reserved section viewing.  It was well worth doing.  The dinner was very good and we ended up with water side viewing (a.k.a. the "wet zone")- but all in all, we didn't get too terribly wet, it all depends on which way the wind blows!   I am really looking forward to my next visit when I can see the new CARS land that will be opening up this summer!  From the pictures and what I could see from the ferris wheel's areal view, it is going to be pretty awesome!

In Disneyland Park, there really wasn't anything new to experience since my last visit with the exception of the revitalized STAR TOURS ride.  It is no longer the Endor Express.  It sill has some Star Wars references & characters, but it is much more high tech and also in 3D.   The "ride" resembles a bit of the Soaring over California feel, all in all- I think they did a fantastic job of revitalizing this ride.

We had decent weather considering it was February, of course anything goes in Southern California- we had sunshine, a tiny bit of rain and some pretty cold nights- so layered clothing was the way to go! All in all a fun visit!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Disney's Aulani Resort

Just returned from a wonderful 4 night getaway to Oahu to check out the new Disney Aulani Resort.  It's a pretty amazing place.  I have written a full review of the resort, available through this link:

Now that review is the official "resort review" - but as far as my personal vacation goes.  I traveled to Oahu with my husband, best friend Diane, her husband and two older kids- ages 9 and 6.   Overall, we had a pretty laid back couple of days enjoying the warmth of the Hawaiian sun and ending each day with a beautiful sunset viewing before heading off to dinner.   We played in the water park, floating along the lazy river on inner tubes and went down the water slides over and over and over again.  True bliss!   We spent hours lounging and just staring out at the beautiful ocean with the sunshine beaming and warming our bodies.  Heaven.

Ko'Olina Resort area has a wonderful path along the ocean front which equals close to a 3 mile walk and it was very nice to take a few power walks with Diane.  We should have been doing that daily, but didn't get motivated until half way through our stay.

We enjoyed great "family time".  It was actually quite nice to not have to be anyplace or on a schedule other than to figure out where to go for dinner each night.   It was a lot of fun for Bill & I to have some quality one-on-one time with Brynn & Nolan.  So often we are with them with other families and they have their playmates, but for this trip they had Mom, Dad & us!  They had so much fun that when we left (3 days before they were going home), Nolan cried saying he didn't want us to go home and Brynn pouted asking "who is going to go down the water slide with me now?"  We even received double kisses & hugs when we were leaving!  Warms my heart!

Aulani is a great place to go and just "be"- you really don't have to do anything but enjoy the beauty found naturally in Hawaii!

Monday, March 21, 2011

It's not "Au Revoir", it's "jusqu'à ce que nous nous reverrons"

So it is not "Good-bye Paris", it is "Until we meet again" and meet again, I am sure we will.  I have been in love with this city since I was in High School, probably earlier than that, but it was in High School during three years of High School French class that I really learned about the City of Lights.  The passion seed was planted and has grown over the years.  It taken has 30 years for this city and I to meet one another and boy what a meeting it has been.  It's been short and sweet and I can't wait to come back again.

I found myself to be very emotional during this trip and I think a huge part of that is the fact that I have yearned to visit this city for so long, the fact that I won this trip by speaking from the heart about me and where my life has taken me, by the fact that I was able to share and experience this Beautiful city with the love of my life - just makes me absolutely speechless.  I remember just 4 days ago upon our arrival, walking through the courtyard of Les Jardins du Marais and having tears in my eyes because the thought, "I am in PARIS" was starting to sink in.  There have been multiple times this week that I have had tears in my eyes just for the disbelief that I am here- finally! 

The Louvre was our first stop on this trip and I now need to re-read the  book and watch the movie "Davinci Code" again- I loved that movie and book and it was because of all the Parisian references.  I have to watch "As good as it Gets" with Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson again because I love that movie with their scene in Paris.  I also love that movie because they both kick one leg out of the covers shortly after getting into bed for the night and guess what?  So do my husband and I.  

After the Louvre and a walk through the Tuileries, I couldn't walk the Champs Elysee's fast enough to get to the Arc du Triomphe.  My feet were killing me by now, but I just had to get there.  I was singing the chorus to the song "Aux Champs Elysee's" the entire time I was walking there (in my head)- I'm still amazed that I know those lyrics 30 years later!   Walking up 284 stairs to get to the top of the Arc- amazing- to see those views from up there, just spectacular.  I had chills.  A quick metro ride to the Eiffel Tower was next and I just stood still when I turned the corner from the metro and saw her for the first time.  This was another teary moment and I stood there in awe.  The excitement of the moment still makes my eyes swell up with tears now as I type this.  It's a moment in time that I will always have with me, one that I will never forget.  It's just too amazing.
And as if the day wasn't already wonderful, we then took a ride along the River Seine that cruised down past Cathedral de Notre Dame and pointed out highlights along the way. 

Day two, seeing the Palace of Versailles and the expansive grounds with the gardens, Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon- how does something so spectacular exist?  Just perfectly beautiful.   We spent a long time at the Palace grounds and I did enjoy our time spent.  I will say that I can only take so much history and antique furniture, but I could view the architecture and grounds over and over again!   Notre Dame in person (not via boat) was next and viewing the indoors of the Cathedral was breathtaking.  It was also nice that we were there at the same time a mass was in progress.  We walked around the Latin Quarter and near by and around the Saint Michel fountain.  Spontaneously found ourselves sitting outside at a cafe having Crepes and wine and just watching Notre Dame, now lit up at night.  We decided to then do our own tour of Paris to see all of the lights.  Back to the Eiffel Tower and just when you think something cannot be anymore amazing or beautiful- put lights on it!  We bought tickets to ride to the top and what a spectacular experience that was...wonderful city views, it was a clear night- you could see forever!  We also got to see the towers "blink" twice while we were there, they have blinking lights that sparkle on the hour!  Magical!  

We then took a quick metro ride to Arc du Triomphe, took some night pictures and then headed on our way in the hopes of getting pictures of the Louvre at night, but it was getting late and the train station we would take closes for the Louvre exit when the museum closes- so we didn't get that one.

Our last day was spent visiting Sacre-Coeur, Sainte Chappelle and my favorite part of today- Montmartre.  I loved this artsy district with roaming artistes wanting to sketch your resemblance.   Such a cute area and watching the artistes at work was a lot of fun! 

I am delighted that my husband has also fallen in love with this city as today while we were walking through Montmartre wishing we could spend more time he says, "well next time, we know we want to spend more time here".   YAY, we get to come back here!!  This trip has also served as the gateway to many more trips to Europe- the seed has once again been planted and we want to see so much more of Europe! 

I truly do believe that "Life is like a book, and those who do not travel, only read one page"    Travel enhances anyone's life, it opens the doors to communication between nationalities, countries, people.  I know that for years France always had this bad reputation for being snobs and unfriendly to the American people.  I never ONCE encountered that during this trip.  Nearly perfect English almost everywhere we went and the few exceptions to that we were still able to communicate.  So many friendly French people, I was amazed.

The metro system is very simple and user friendly- takes some studying in order to see how to get from point A to point B when a connection is required, but it really is simple.  I asked our hotel front desk staff several times for directions and they gave us perfect instructions.  I was also amazed at how safe I felt- even traveling late at night, we never felt like the metro was creeping with bums, homeless or derelicts.  Because the metro is so user friendly, you really can stay anywhere in the city and have easy access to everything.  We were in the Marais and honestly- other than a few meals within two blocks of our hotel, we didn't do anything in the Marais.  We were all over the city and it was super easy!

Even though I had taken French in High School and do remember quite a bit, I was shy and timid to speak the language and because everyone spoke good English, I wasn't pressured to try to speak, but would do a little here and there.  Our last day, the artistes who were sketching us asked us if we spoke any French and they even knew I was being shy, but encouraged me to speak to them in French and they made is so simple and comfortable and complimented me on my French.

I just have to say that it was an experience of a lifetime and I am so fortunate to have won this trip.  I thank Stacy Small for posting on Facebook about this contest.  I thank Europe Express for having this contest and for picking my entry.   It is a trip that will always stay in the forefront of my mind for....ever!

Last Day in sad!

Today was a late start..of course I was up until 3am last night with our 1am return to the hotel after a marathon day- we woke up at 9am with just enough time to get ready and make the 10am breakfast cut off at the hotel.  We finally got going on the road around 1130am, we were just not moving as quickly as planned.  We had 4 stops on our agenda today and we made 3 of them.

First stop today was hit the metro and make our way to Sacre Coeur- what a beautiful structure, lots of stairs to get to the entrance, but wow- this amazing structure is at the highest point of Paris and is just beautiful.  I think I still prefer the inner beauty of Notre Dame more, but it's all about personal opinion and preference.  My favorite part of today immediately followed Sacre-Couer and that was our walk through Montmatre- what a charming little area of Paris.  This is where you'll find plenty of tiny cobblestone streets, not a lot of car traffic and the streets are filled with local artists who are ready to sketch or paint your portraits.  We did some souvenir shopping and then did get approached by two artistes who waned to sketch us- it was fun and was an experience that actually brought tears to my eyes and put a smile on my face.  My husband was a bit apprehensive about having his sketch done- but he obliged and it was fun!  We could have spent the rest of the day here enjoying the people watching and checking out all the artwork.  But it was time to head to our next stop on the daily agenda...

We then took the metro to the Ile de la Cite and visited Sainte Chappelle- which had quite the long wait- I think we waited somewhere between 60-90 minutes and probably only spent about 20 minutes inside.  But the stained glass was beautiful and mesmerizing, and I am glad that we did wait for it.  We were definitely ready for lunch afterwards and tried out the cafe located across the street and had a lovely lunch.

Our plan was to next visit the Ile de St. Louis, but given that it was already 530pm, we figured we needed to get to the Pompidou Centre- which is where the Museum of Modern Art is located.  We didn't spend a lot of time here, neither of us are bit art work experts and our attention span at a museum just isn't very long- add to that very tired feet!  So we left and came back to our hotel for a little R & R before our last dinner in Paris!

As much as we would have liked to have gone to restaurants that had been recommended to us by friends, we didn't feel like making it a big production - so we ventured down the street from our hotel and tried the Bistrot Amelot and it was very good- we both enjoyed our meals and the live music that they had in the restaurant.  We are now settled back in our hotel room and not looking forward to the long trek back home tomorrow with a 645am pick up time....but wow what a fantastic trip this has been.

I will blog one more time on this trip tomorrow with some overall reflections.