Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Are We Earmarked?

Are you an earmarked agency? We, as professional travel planners, get that question a lot from potential Disney-bound vacationers.  New clients, who are out perusing the internet for "sound advice" when it comes to their future WDW getaway, get all sorts of recommendations when it comes to what to do or what not to do.  But one of the bits of advice we witness a lot is, "only work with an authorized Disney vacation planner."  When an agent or agency touts that they are an "authorized Disney vacation planner," they are saying that they are also a "Disney earmarked" agency.

Disney gives that status to agencies that produce over a certain amount of dollar volume in a given period of time.  Disney does not announce what that volume is, but once you hit it, Disney may then reach out to that agency and invite them to be earmarked.  For some agencies, it is their goal to become earmarked because it then gives them the right to officially claim themselves to be "authorized" by Disney to sell Disney vacations.  But therein lies the confusion to the general public.

An agency that is not earmarked is NOT selling Disney illegally etc., yet the term "authorized" carries with it a certain connotation that anyone not earmarked should not be selling "official Disney vacations."  As it is with most of my posts, I try to cut through the double-talk, fluffy, mamajahambo and speak clearly and honest.  And just so you don't think this is some self-serving post, I want you to know that I am speaking on behalf of a lot of travel agencies that are great at what they do and who sell Disney vacations frequently, yet are not "earmarked."  A good travel consultant who sells Disney vacations will have done two or more of the following:

1) They will have taken and passed Disney's specialist training that every earmarked AND non-earmarked agency has access to.  I and a lot of other agents and agency owners have multiple certificates showing completion of that course from year to year hanging somewhere in our offices. 
2) They will have visited one or more of the Disney destinations (i.e. WDW and DL) personally on their own vacation time.
3) They will have taken a Disney cruise at some point along the way
4) They will have stayed at every level of resort that there is at WDW and/or DL (Value, Moderate, Deluxe etc).

What I mentioned above is what any travel professional can do in order to properly equip themselves to plan and sell Disney vacations to their clients, regardless of being earmarked or not.

So let me repeat again, assuming someone does two or more of the above, the difference between an "authorized" (earmarked) Disney vacation planning agency and any other professional agency is the volume of sales that agency produces for Disney.

My agency is an earmarked agency.  But we focus our expertise on a broader range of destinations than just Disney.  I like it that way and will keep it that way.  I like to be able to help clients with destinations such as Universal Orlando, Mexico, the Caymans, Japan, Hawaii etc in addition to helping plan Disney-related vacations.  But I am also proud of the fact that I have a team of agents who rival any agency's Disney experience and knowledge. We collectively have stayed at every onsite resort.  we have collectively ate at every onsite restaurant.  We have sailed on the Disney Dream, Fantasy, Wonder and Magic.  I don't care how many conferences someone attends, nothing replaces first hand experience when it comes to Disney vacation planning.  Are we experts at planning Disney vacations? Yep.  And so are a lot more agencies out there who may or may not be "earmarked."

So when choosing a professional vacation planner for your next Disney vacation, don't let fluff and titles make up your mind of whom you should use.  Simply ask if they know a lot about Disney and if they have personally been before and then go with the person that you know, like and trust.

Questions?  Comments?

Friday, October 28, 2016

When To Buy Your Airfare

This article may NOT contain the answer you are looking for, but I do hope it clears up some of the confusion and misinformation that is floating out in cyberspace when it comes to the best days and times to buy airfare for your upcoming dream vacation.

First, here is a fact about airfare prices,  they fluctuate on almost a minute by minute basis.  The fluctuation is due to computer algorithms that set prices based on the number of seats still available on a certain flight.  As seats sell, prices change.  Its good ole supply and demand, plain and simple.  There are a lot of detailed articles out there trying to give more detail into why prices are so different for the same flight on any given day, but it all boils down to economics.  If a flight is a popular route, you can count on the fact that prices will reflect it (i.e. supply and demand) and that won't matter if it is on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday etc.

Second, we get asked all the time whether it is cheaper to fly on a Tuesday vs a Friday etc.  The answer still goes back to supply and demand.  It very well may be cheaper because a lot of business travelers leave out on Sundays and Mondays and come back on Fridays or Saturdays.  But keep in mind that airlines know this and the number of flights reflect the busier days and routes which brings up the issue of availability and the number of connections.

Third, what you see when it comes to the published fare may not be the real cost of flight.  For example, you bought a ticket on "ABC Airlines."  Then when you went to choose your seat, the only available seat for the price was a middle seat near the back bathroom.  So you see that the seat is in an awful location but you also see there are other seats that you can upgrade to for the everyday low price of $60.   So you waited until Tuesday to buy that airfare that was $30 lower but ended up paying $60 more for a seat you actually want to sit in.

So with all of this said, here are the factors that should play into your decision of when you want to buy your airfare:

1) How committed are you to the trip?  If your trip dates are set due to vacation schedules and you are set to a certain departure and return date, you should consider buying your airfare as soon as you can. I say that because if your vacation destination is a popular one, the good flights (good times and connections) can sell out while you wait to see if the fare is going to drop $20 to $50.

2) Single vs multiple connection flights.  Let's assume there are no direct flights between where you are and your destination so you will have at least one connection.  You need to weigh the importance of the number of connections as well as the layover time.  Waiting to buy on a certain day of the week and at a certain number of days before your trip can put at risk losing the best connection and layover times. Was it worth the difference in airfare if you now have to stop at 2 different airports before reaching your final destination?  Each connection carries its own risks such as the chance for bags to get lost or issues with weather or airplane equipment.  The money you might save may seem insignificant if you spend the first two days of your vacation in the same clothes you started in.

3) Time of year.  if you are flying to a destination that is popular during a certain time of year (i.e flying to Europe in June or July), the prices will not only change rapidly, but again, flights can literally sell out.  The direct flight you wanted from Chicago to Rome not only could be sold out, but the longer connecting flight may also now cost more because you waited.

Let me summarize by telling you how we consult our clients when it comes to purchasing their airfare.  If we know that the client's dates are set and we know that destination is a popular one for that time of year, we always encourage them to buy as soon as possible with only a few exceptions.  We advise them to consider the single vs multiple connection.  We help them see that taking the last flight out may appear cheaper but it may not be worth it if that flight is canceled and there are no longer anymore options out that night.  We make sure sure our clients see that the cheaper flight may have a layover until the next morning which means there will be an overnight hotel stay which also now adds to the cost.  We make sure our clients know that if it is important that they are seated together, then we need to grab the flights and seats when we can to make sure that happens.

So do you see that waiting to buy airfare on a certain day or picking days of the week that you think will be cheaper may not be the best choice?  Its not a simple answer of "always buy on Tuesday because its cheaper."  Let professionals help you understand the pros and cons of waiting or not waiting.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Making the Right Travel Decision

Any consultant worth his or her salt, seeks to provide their clients with the best possible information so their clients can then take that information and make the best decision possible.  Making right decisions, for the most part, relies on having the correct information ahead of making that decision.  We rely on experts in certain fields to provide us with that correct info whether its health related, financially related etc.  We don't turn to friends who have not been to medical school to advise us on how to treat some health ailment. We don't rely on someone who has never worked on a car engine to help us determine how to fix our broken down car. We don't take advice from financially broke friends on how to better invest our money.  The same logic should apply when someone is wanting travel advice.  Turning to non-professionals can sometimes render bad decisions because the non-professional information was flawed and possibly even incorrect.

We see this a lot in the field of professional travel consulting.  We hear of travelers being encouraged to take a cruise solely because a passport is not currently needed for a lot of cruises.  But that information is only partially correct and may lead travelers to make the wrong decision for them and their family.  We have clients come to us and say they only want to visit 2 of the 4 parks at Walt Disney World because a friend said they didn't think the other parks had enough for small children.  Again, that is not a factual statement.  Similarly we have had clients say they don't want to visit a destination like Universal Orlando Parks and Resorts because too many of the rides have a height requirement of 50in or taller.  Clients were ready to not consider that option based on that one friend's comment.  The friend's comment was incorrect.   Many discount the idea of Mexico being a vacation destination based on friend's comments about safety in Mexico.  99% of the time, those friends are not stating facts but only passing on news stories that are also not stating facts. These are just small examples of how wrong information and opinion can alter a family's vacation plans.

It is our job to help clients sift through the gobs of opinions and counter some of those opinions with simple facts so our clients can make the best decision possible for what is right for them, not for their friends. We can help clients see that having a passport is still highly encouraged even when taking a cruise for a variety of reasons.  We can help clients see what is offered for all ages at every park that makes up Walt Disney World and then let the clients decide how they want to spend THEIR time.  We can provide actual ride heights showing that the majority of the attractions at Universal Orlando are under that 50in requirement.  We can even provide actual crime statistics that show Mexico is safer than places like the Bahamas, Jamaica. Punta Cana etc for tourists.

We have opinions too.  Clients come to us for our opinions.  But even our opinions are based one what we factually know about a destination or certain type of vacation. This is why we take the time and spend the money to travel to the places we sell.  We can then offer facts, personal experiences and opinion which gives our clients the best possible info so they can weed through the hoards of options and make the right vacation choice.

So the next time you get an opinion from someone who is NOT a professional travel consultant, reach out to us or find a professional who is a right fit and trust their skill and knowledge. It could make the difference between an ok vacation and a great vacation.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Taking a Bite Out of the Big Apple

As a first timer to New York City, I wasn’t sure what to expect…I mean sure I have heard plenty about it and my husband has been several times and LOVES it.  But this mountain loving open space seeking girl isn’t exactly super excited about all the tall buildings and city life.  So to say I was a bit worried I might not love it is an understatement.  BUT, it was truly fabulous!  There are so many fascinating things such as the sheer number of Starbucks in a 10 block radius, or the number foreign languages I heard…but what stood out the most is the number of people ALWAYS around…not matter what part of town you are in or what time of day…there are so many people.  In a good way – mostly.  ;-)

When starting to plan our trip I did what any good travel consultant does…research.

When it came to trying to figure out where to stay, there were so many great choices of course.  But we landed on a new hotel that has a totally different approach to hotel living.  We stayed at the EVEN Hotel near Penn Station.  The reason I wanted to check it out is because it has a unique opportunity for the hotel guests.  Each room has a workout space in it equipped with an exercise ball, yoga mat, exercise bands and loads of workout options from a booklet to multiple workout channels for you to  turn on.  From the catchy slogans on their signs to the water bottle for us (to be more green) this place impressed me the most by their outstanding service.  Some of the best service I have ever had at a hotel to be honest.  They have a healthy option restaurant, Cork and Kale, for breakfast, dinner and on the go meals.  Of course this type of hotel wouldn’t be complete with a 24 hour fitness center with more equipment for you to use to make certain you can stay healthy while traveling!

Since we chose to stay there, I made sure to get over to a couple other hotels so that I can see which room I will stay in next time I visit.  The first stop was the JW Marriott Essex House.  WOW.  What can I say?  Luxury feel, fabulous location, amazing views of Central Park and the city, great restaurant and bar, the list is long.  What stood out the most you might wonder?  The size of the rooms!   Even the standard room is quite big for New York hotels.  Plenty of space to move around, ample storage for your luggage - you don’t ever feel cramped.  The overall vibe of the hotel was really nice, not pretentious, but rather a pretty affordable luxury hotel.   The ballroom is remarkable for your next wedding or other event  - where you will always be the ONLY event going on in that space, not matter how big or small.  We dined in the restaurant and were impressed by the food and wine selection as well the ambiance.  If you want to buy a table for breakfast the morning of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, you can enjoy a fabulous meal while watching the parade cruise by your table.  You will even have street access if you prefer that.  It would definitely be great to go back there for that event.  To sum it up, you just can’t go wrong with this luxury hotel.  The JW Marriott Essex House – a must!

One other hotel I wanted to check out was the Lotte New York Palace Hotel – it is right across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  Another fabulous location with great city views as well as views of the famous historical St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  This luxury hotel is another gem of New York City.  The attention to detail and the thought behind each finish is truly amazing.  The standard rooms and suites are also quite large with several great options for families or multifamily travel.  There are a few options to have a cocktail at, a breakfast lunch/coffee place, and a restaurant that will be serving breakfast only soon with lunch and dinner to come in the months ahead.  The most interesting place to get a drink there is Rarities.  This place is essentially a drinkable museum.  You must have a reservation to get in, but once you are in, you can try liquors and wines that have some amazing story behind them and were likely purchased at an auction.  It truly is a “rare” find.  You do not have to stay at the hotel to have a drink there…just be sure you get your reservation made in advance!  My absolute favorite place in the hotel though is the Jewel Suite.  A 3 story room with your own personal elevator, outdoor patio with fireplace and hot tub as well as plenty of tables and chairs to sit around while enjoying the stunning view of the city.  Jewelry designer Martin Katz helped create this stunning room with his jewels showcased in the room for you to enjoy.  This room has multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, an office that is too pretty to work in really, and the most amazing gathering area with the 3 story windows for you to take it all in.  This suite is only matched by one other suite in town – and happens to be right next door in the Champagne Suite.  A much more masculine room, but the same amazing views and features, the completely different d├ęcor including much darker wood finishes.  This suite will not disappoint the Dom Perignon lover with the displays of Dom around the room and the glass chandelier that was made to look like champagne bubbles in your glass.  Yes, the attention to detail is unmatched.

So many things to do and see in NYC and too many to try to list here in this blog.  One of the most unexpectedly interesting things we did was the Rockefeller Center Tour.  I had no idea it was going to be mostly outside and all about the 19 buildings that make up Rockefeller Center.  Who knew?  Our tour guide was amazing and just the right amount funny!  We learned a ton and were in awe most of the 75-minute tour.  It is worth it if you haven’t done it.  Some must-do’s in my opinion would be to visit the 911 Memorial, walk the financial district, get to the Top of the Rock and for the romantics out there, take a carriage ride with your sweetheart through Central Park.  That is just the beginning of things to do over a long weekend in the city that never sleeps.

 New York is known for great food…and it did not disappoint.  We had dinner at Minetta Tavern – a great spot in Greenwhich Village that seemed filled will locals.  It’s been around since 1937 and for good reason.  They are known for their Black Label Burger, but have a wide range of options from Roasted Bone Marrow to King Salmon and so much more.  Great wine list, excellent Martini, and impeccable service.  If you decide to go, be sure to make reservations a few weeks in advance!

We also hit David Burke Kitchen in SoHo.  My husband has been there for dinner a few times so we had planned to have brunch there, but ended up doing breakfast, which was amazing!  Best French Toast I have ever had!  Most unique Bloody Mary we have come across – but the hubs says it was amazing!  You can’t go wrong with anything you order any time of day!  Reservations are ideal.

Of course we hit the random pizza joint on the street to grab a slice and it was great! 

One more place to note that we hadn’t planned on going to but SO glad we did is Patsy’s Italian Restaurant New York.  It is a family run restaurant that has been there since 1944 in the Theater District in Midtown Manhattan.  From the moment you walk in the door you are greeted with fabulous service and likely to see at least one of the family members.  They have only had 3 chefs – the late Patsy himself, his son Joe, or Joe’s son Sal (who has been running the kitchen for the past 29 years).  The best service we have ever had, some amazing Italian food and we even got to see Tony Danza dining at his regular table.  And yes, we made eye contact but I did not bother him.  ;-)  This restaurant is a must!  And you will want to have a reservation there also!     

If you have the opportunity to go to the Big Apple for the first time or your 10th time, there is always something new to see or a restaurant you haven’t hit.  Needless to say, his first time visitor will be back!
(Article contributed by Jamie Eldridge, H&K's adventure travel expert.  You can see her profile by clicking on this link H&K Luxury Travel)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Modern Travel Consultant

First let's make the statement that should be an obvious one since I am a travel consultant myself...we exist.  Yep.  Surprise surprise.  Travel consultants still exist and in fact, we are thriving.  We are thriving because we are not what so many travelers out there picture we are.  And when I say we, I am referring to the more modern travel consultant.  This is not an all-encompassing rule because there are still exceptions to what I am about to say.

We are not order takers.  We don't sit there and listen to what you want us to book and then simply type it all up, take your money and then book the trip.

We are not the same as the internet.  We are living, breathing, creative-thinking people who you can actually text, snapchat, call, see in person or video chat with.  The internet cannot give you personal recommendations.  We can.  The internet cannot act on your behalf when problems occasionally arise.  We can.

We are not the "cheapest" vacation planning option.  The internet has made people think that cheap is somehow always a good thing.

We are not a "Costco-type" travel agency.  Our motto is not "book a ton of business and give away the farm in the way of kickbacks so we can get more business."

We are not amateurs.  The internet is full of those who may have traveled once or twice and think their reviews and opinions are the same as those who do this for a living.  Sites like TripAdvisor make everyone think they are a travel professional.

So those are things that we are not.  And here is what we are.

We ARE consultants.  We use our knowledge and experience to help our clients find the best vacation options possible.  We consult when it comes to true budgets needed for destinations of interest.

We ARE value oriented.  We provide vacation options that are the best value for our clients.  Big difference between value and cheap. The best value may be the upgraded room category coupled with great flight times and connections.  The best value may be the resort that is known for better food and beverage.  The best value may be using a supplier that we have a great relationship with knowing that our clients will get special treatment upon arrival.

We ARE a small, service oriented agency dedicated to making sure every client of ours knows how important they are to the success of our business.  Our clients know that we are there to help when needed.

We ARE technology savvy.  We communicate with whatever the best method is for our clients and their schedules.  As previously mentioned, we text, snapchat, vid chat, and utilize the technology needed to stay in communication with our clients even while they are on vacation.

We ARE professionals.  We spend time and money on training to make sure we are current when it comes to up and coming destinations, hotel trends, travel alerts etc.  We have the experience needed to be able to provide real reviews of hotels and resorts.

That is a glimpse into the modern travel consultant.  We are real, tangible people with real professional travel experience. We are highly trained.  We are your advocate and advisor.  We don't hide behind a desk.  We get out and see the destinations and work hard at establishing key relationships with those staff members that can make your vacation even more special.  We will give you our professional opinions because it is our job as consultants to do so.  This is who we are.  Let a modern day travel consultant show you the real value in using a professional help you in planning your next dream getaway.

Want to see what real breathing travel consultants look like?  Click on this link to visit our "About Us" page.  H&K Luxury Travel

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Travel Trends for 2016

A new year is upon us. New years bring new beginnings and new opportunities.  Maybe you are one of those persons that like the newness of the new year.  Maybe you like to think about doing things you have never done or seeing places you have never seen.  Well the travel industry is well equipped this year to offer everyone something new and exciting.  Here are some examples of what is hot for 2016.

1) Cuba.  This destination has been making the news now for quite some time but it is still very misunderstood.  It is not "open" to tourism as some headlines make you think.  But it is accessible through the right tourism channels.  Now is the time to investigate those channels before it does become more open and more hotels and resorts descend upon the pristine beaches staking their claim for the future.

2) The "other side of Mexico."  Major hotels and luxury resorts are seeing the potential in places like Cabo San Lucas and Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa.  These are still destinations where you can escape the larger crowds that flock to the Caribbean side of Mexico.  Hotels to consider are the new The Cape in Cabo and Capella in Ixtapa.  Enjoy some of the most gorgeous sunsets and beautiful beaches found anywhere in the world.

3) Experiential Travel.  More and more travelers are weary of the same old same old when it comes to vacationing.  Sitting on a beach with an umbrella drink was fun the first 5 or so times, but thanks to social media, more travelers are seeing that there are exciting experiences awaiting them out in the big old world.  So travelers are now looking for their vacations to be one of a kind experiences that they can brag about to their friends via sites such as Instagram, Snapchat etc.  This makes destinations such as Costa Rica or Guatemala places that are seeing increases in tourism.

4) Year of the Dragon.  I am using that phrase generically to show that so many areas of Asia are on the radar now for 2016.  When large luxury hoteliers such as St Regis or the Four Seasons start building new properties in areas, you know that they are seeing trends that are making these destinations the next hot area.  Such is the case with Japan, China and Korea.  If you have been to Hawaii, you are already half way there.

5) River Cruising.  No longer are river cruises for those that carry certain cards to get certain benefits because of their birth dates falling before a certain year.  Get what I mean? Tour companies such as Tauck and Disney are seeing that river cruising is for all age groups within a family.  It is one of those vacations where grandma, grandpa, mom, dad and son and daughter can all go together and have something enjoyable to see and do during the vacation. This means that staterooms, menus and activities are all being designed to cater to all ages and families are seeing this as a great opportunity for the whole group to get together for a once in a lifetime vacation.