Have no fear, Lucky the luxury travel advisor is here!

Yes, please pardon the cheesy title as I’m lacking originality this week.

As many of you may know, I graduated from college back in April. At the time I made a fairly risky decision to pursue miles/points/travel full time. It’s my passion, though social norms suggest you graduate from college and work for a large faceless corporation till you retire, assuming your pension isn’t stolen/taken away.

So while my decision at the time was perhaps risky, I couldn’t be happier with it since I’ve been able to do what I love every day. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all fun and games. I probably “work” 16 hours per day, seven days a week, though my “work” comes in the form of doing what I love. If I weren’t “working” I’d be doing the same exact thing except not getting paid for it, so I really couldn’t be any luckier.

As I continue my career in the travel industry my goal is to be as well rounded as possible, not only so I can offer a variety of services to clients, but also so I can write about my experiences here and hopefully help y’all out more to give you an additional perspective on the industry.

To that end, I’m now a luxury travel advisor with Brownell Travel, one of the oldest luxury travel agencies in the country based in Birmingham, Alabama. While I’ll get more into the actual process of how it all came about in another post (especially since they have one of the most innovative mentoring programs in the country), I figured I’d explain what exactly that means.

The first question is always why do you say advisor and not agent? Simply put, most believe that the concept of a travel “agent” is dead, which is largely true. This is because the “traditional” travel agent took orders and fulfilled them without any creative input or additional services, so ever since the internet started allowing “self service” travel there’s really no need for them anymore. But the industry that’s still seeing growth is that of a travel advisor, one that doesn’t just take orders for a trip, but provides their expertise and leverages their contacts and relationships to help clients build a dream vacation, or at the very least offer them an experience they couldn’t create on their own.

Anyway, I’m still hashing out a lot of details as far as branding, specialties, etc. go, but in the meantime I’m “open” for business. For the time being I’m just publicly taking on hotel bookings, as I’m working on perfecting my skills in other areas before I want to get into tours, airfare, etc.


Burj Al Arab

So the next logical question is what kind of hotels can you book, and what value can you add?

Well, I can book any hotels, though the hotels where I can add the most value are luxury hotels, given their participation in a variety of programs that Brownell has access to thanks to their position in the industry.

For example, Brownell belongs to Virtuoso, which is a group of about 800 luxury hotels around the world that can deliver unique benefits to those booking through their agents. This includes hotels like the Four Seasons Paris, Peninsula Hong Kong, Burj Al Arab, and Ritz Carlton Moscow, just to name a few. The standard amenities include free continental breakfast for two, a room upgrade upon availability, 4PM check-out, and a property specific amenity (like a free lunch, dinner, $100 resort credit, etc.). Best of all, the rates are typically no higher than what you’d pay directly with the hotels for a room without those benefits!


Aman-i-Khas

And while I listed the extremely expensive hotels above, there are deals for non-high rollers. For example, on many nights the US Grant is available for $229 plus tax for a one-night stay, and as your amenities you get a $100 food and beverage credit, free breakfast for two, late check-out, and a room upgrade. That’s an amazing steal, especially since you can still earn Starwood points. Another example is the Four Seasons Seattle, which is often $285 per night with the same benefits — a $100 food and beverage credit, free breakfast, a room upgrade, and 4PM check-out. And there are plenty of hotels in similar price ranges.

The logical question from there is what’s the difference between American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts and Virtuoso? And you wouldn’t be alone, because that’s the first thing I asked when my training started on Monday morning, since I was still a bit skeptical.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with Fine Hotels & Resorts, it’s a program by American Express for Platinum and Centurion cardmembers whereby you get similar benefits at similar hotels, at least on paper. There’s one major difference — the experience you’re actually going to have at the hotel will be utterly different. You can make your Fine Hotels & Resorts booking either through a website or by calling someone at Fine Hotels & Resorts who will simply enter your information into a computer. There’s no human interaction, and the agent does nothing to contact the hotel.

That’s the difference. Brownell agents have direct contacts at the hotels, and actually will follow up directly with them to make sure your stay goes well, from being sure that you get an upgrade (upon availability), to providing personalized touches. But Virtuoso is only a small part of that. Several hotel chains have “secret societies,” if you will, that Brownell belongs to. I don’t think I’m actually supposed to get into the benefits, though let’s just say that the level of personalization and additional benefits we can provide at some hotels will be unreal. I never thought I’d be so excited to make a hotel booking for someone, though I really am. I heard so many stories this week from Brownell advisors about things they’ve done to make their clients’ trips truly spectacular, and I can’t wait to work towards delivering that.

So hopefully you can see how I can add a lot of value at high end hotels like Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, Aman, etc., at no additional cost to you. That being said, there’s one thing I really can’t do, and that’s get you lower rates than what the hotels publish directly. Virtuoso and the other “secret societies” aren’t discount clubs, but rather VIP recognition clubs meant to recognize their best clients. The treatment you get really is the equivalent of having top tier status with a hotel chain.

And even if you’re the type that wants to use points for your hotel stays, I’d appreciate if you’d keep me in mind for friends, colleagues, or family that are into luxury hotels. I promise to go all out to make their trip special. Lastly, even if you already have an existing booking at a luxury hotel, in most cases I can “take over” the booking and still get you those benefits.

I’ll have a LOT more information coming soon, though if you have any questions in the meantime, please let me know either in the comments section or by email.


Park Hyatt Melbourne

Comments

  1. Quick question before I start using/recommending you to friends and family. As I’m unfamiliar with the exact differences between a travel agent and advisor,is the pay structure any different? For instance, if I go to a typical travel agent, I don’t have to pay any more than I would to book everything myself. Is it the same for you whereby you get paid by commission and not from your customers?

  2. @ Bryce — Thanks for the question. First of all, agent vs. advisor is purely semantics. My point with it is simply that we’re not just making a reservation online and that’s the end of it, but rather following up about your stay, making sure it goes well, etc.

    As far as fees go, the general trend in the industry is that commissions have been cut greatly as a result of the internet given that this is the age of “do it yourself” travel.

    All that being said, as of now I’m only booking hotels and not charging any service fees, so the rate would be the same (or sometimes lower if there’s a promotion) than you’d get directly with the hotel.

  3. Very cool, congrats on pursuing a life doing what you love. It takes real cojones to do that when what you love is not a traditional job.

  4. Will you be working from home – or is there an office you will go to?

    Will you be part of a small team sharing clients and production – or will you be on your own (within their network)?

  5. @ Peter — Absolutely, though I have several people working with me there. I’ll be hiring people for both businesses shortly, so stay tuned for that announcement, because I want to be sure I have time for both ventures.

  6. @Lucky: First of all, congratulations on the new job! I’m sure you’ll have a blast and be incredibly successful at it, too.

    As an IATA-accredited travel agent, though, I must disagree with you on a minor point. Yes, the typical travel agent is dead, but it’s not because they didn’t do much. On the contrary, travel agents used to be able to do MUCH, MUCH more on clients’ behalf (including even negotiating special fares on a case-by-case basis with airlines — something that is unthinkable today!). Rather, the travel agent is dead because airlines, hotels, and car rentals no longer give commissions like they used to. Some suppliers still do, though practically none in the airline business (mostly just hotels and on “Best Available” rates only). So, a) it is no longer financially viable for the typical travel agent to do much (since he isn’t making any money) and b) nor does the airline (or hotel, etc.) want him to get involved since they believe that the direct-to-customer approach is cheaper (by cutting the middleman and his commission). And since by IATA regulations travel agents are barred from adding a profit to published fares, they had to get creative. Hence, like you said, they created this term “advisor” (which, like you said, is just semantics) in order to be able to charge for the consulting part of the transaction.

    But no, travel agents used to do plenty for their clients: they would be the ones tracking lost luggage, ticket refunds, making seat assignments, etc.. Today, the airline wants you to go to their website for all of that — or you can hire Ben! 😉

  7. Well done Ben!

    BTW – when can I get these locations on 5k points break or Point Stretcher Reward Dates? … and can I still get the $100 credit when I pay with my 5-7k in points?

    (I think I am in the wrong league maybe!)

    😉

  8. Congrats Ben, good luck with this new and complementary service! Does Virtuoso have a loyalty program? Seems that is one big obstacle for many to staying at one of their properties.

  9. Congrats! We have an upcoming stay in Zermatt at Hotel Matthiol in two weeks if that’s something that you’d like to take over….

  10. Ben, Your knowledge of luxury travel is extraordinary and, unlike most others in the travel profession, you’ve actually experienced many of the suppliers you’ll be booking, not as a member of some promotional travel agent fam trip, but as a consumer. That combined with the resources of Virtuoso and Brownell, will facilitate your ability to provide a high level of service that should assure your success.

    Congratulations and great success!

    Stu

  11. Thanks for the kind words, folks!

    @ David — That’s a REAL toughie. I have no clue. On one hand expect to do a lot of travel, on the other hand have a ton of work. So I guess we’ll see…

    @ The Weekly Flyer — bens@brownelltravel.com is the best place to reach me.

    @ chontzy — Virtuoso itself doesn’t have a loyalty program, though it does deliver some amazing benefits. Keep in mind that many of their hotels DO belong to loyalty programs, especially Hyatt, SPG, Ritz Carlton (and by extension Marriott), Waldorf (Hilton), etc., and you can still earn points.

    @ Ted — There’s only one Ben “S.”

  12. @ chontzy The hotels Virtuoso works with on the very high end do not typically have elite programs of their own… (Four Seasons, Aman). So Virtuoso gets you a nice variety of benefits, and the recognition at the resorts that you are a Virtuoso client, which means something. All for no additional cost. From my perspective, it’s a no brainer.

    Just don’t ask them (Virtuoso agents) to try and book something where they can not add value – low to mid range hotels, etc. They are really focused on the higher end vacations / destinations / properties.

    Ben – Are you also a FSPP advisor due to your Brownell affiliation? I wish you the best of luck with this endevour!

  13. Congrats and best of luck on this new endeavor. How ironic you had to fly Southwest to Birmingham for your “luxury” travel training.

  14. Congrats, Ben. You truly are the next Randy Petersen. Your skills, personality and knowledge will take you so much further than even this. Well earned and well done.

  15. Congrats on the gig, and best of luck! Are you the only airline miles junkie at Brownell, or are there others? 🙂

  16. @Reader – Clearly, from this and other comments of yours, you have a huge broom stuck up your arse. Why don’t YOU grow up and get a clue!

  17. Congrats, Ben!

    Love seeing the photo of the Park Hyatt Melbourne at the end of the post, too. I just finished a night there (points transferred from Chase) and LOVED it. Honestly, I wish I could stay there and commute out to suburban Melbourne for the conference I’m at this week, but it’d be 60-90 minutes each way via transport. Thus, I’ve gone from the PH Melbourne to a dorm room (single with shared bathroom) where my room is smaller than the bathroom complex in my Park King at the PH. 🙁

  18. Congratulation and best of luck with the new job! I hope you’ll enjoy it!

    I’m looking forward to reading about some Virtuoso customer experiences. I’ve not booked any trips through Virtuoso agents so far, just because I could get better deals directly. In other cases I chose chain hotels where my loyalty card guaranteed me lounge or room upgrade.

    I do value better rooms, so if the overall package is more valuable, I’m definitely sending my hotel spend your way.

  19. Congrats Ben,
    I met you at the Sheraton LGA seminar in April and was very impressed. Working for a Virtuoso luxury supplier I can tell you the virtuoso advisors are magicians. Meg at Brownell is fantastic and you are with a great team. I love their magazine, Virtuoso Life. You will be a great addition. As Matthew Upchurch says, the future of the industry is with people like you. My prediction you will be named Rising Star at the Virtuoso Travelmart in LAS in August.
    Cheers
    Cruisr

  20. Congratulations! I was born in “glamorous” BHM and Brownell was my Grandparents’ agent for tons of trips. All the best! Elsie

  21. Ben — Congrats on the new job! (I think you need to make those Brownell fellas give you some health care, though. I’m guessing as an “independent contractor” you get screwed out of that). In any case, sounds like a perfect gig for you.

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