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.
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!
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.