We get quite a few questions about booking hotels through Virtuoso and/or the Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts program. Both offer the opportunity to get extra perks on hotel stays while enjoying the benefits of elite status in your hotel program of choice. Ben and Mike have both written about their experiences with FHR bookings, which can result in some amazing upgrades at unique properties.
The Virtuoso program actually has quite a bit more to it than just hotel bookings, so our friend (and fellow miles geek) Katie — who is also a travel advisor through Virtuoso — offered to go through the details and benefits of the program for those who have been wondering.
Although we all love “free” travel, sometimes, we just can’t make it work out that way. ☺ Ben often refers to Fine Hotels and Resorts (FHR) and Virtuoso in his posts. I can’t speak for FHR, but I know Virtuoso quite well and it is very possible to work with a travel advisor to compliment this fun game we play.
What is Virtuoso, anyways?
Virtuoso is an invitation only partnership between professional advisors and travel partners (hotels, cruises, ground operators, etc) who collaborate together and develop relationships to provide travelers with exclusive benefits and access. Virtuoso is the best in luxury travel. And yes, I am biased, but I did do my research quite well when picking a new career!
We all know about the benefits added to a property stay in the network, which typically include complimentary breakfast, some sort of resort credit of around $100 USD, and chances at room upgrades. We usually get to include and in-room gift, but that isn’t one of the “official” benefits listed.
No status with IHG? No problem! Club Intercontinental Lounge access is common as a Virtuoso amenity, such as here at the IC Park Lane
By itself, these are great and a lovely way to use an advisor, but one of the areas I feel most people don’t know about and where we really shine lies in custom itineraries.
What else can a travel advisor do?
The really fun part of my job is creating a custom itinerary for a traveler. The industry term for this type of a trip is an “FIT” or fully individualized travel.
It is our job to know the ins and outs of visiting places like Neuschwanstein
When a request like this comes through, I essentially interview the traveler and find out how the like to travel (what types of accommodation), activity level, what they like to do, what research have they done and what they know they want to see, budget, etc. I try to find out as much as I can and then create the itinerary. The traveler has input all the time and can change components out or add something in.
Depending on the traveler, I might schedule/pre-book all or some of their activities, the lodging, transfers of all kinds, and special requests/excursions.
What about my miles?
Okay, so now getting to the point of the post – how does an advisor work with miles and points? Honestly, in a perfect world, we do not do air. Surprising, right! I love when a client comes to me and has used miles to book their international airfare.
The “land portion” is our real love. For a custom itinerary, I am typically required to have at least one hotel component, meaning a hotel stay somewhere in the itinerary. A traveler can use an advisor for a two week stay somewhere with half of the properties booked on points and the other half paid for with cash.
Rice paddies in Bali – many great places to stay with points and popular to get to using miles
An example of this is Australia: you have wisely used your miles to fly in J or F to Sydney round trip. You have Hyatt points and reserve a four night stay in Sydney at the infamous Park Hyatt.
From there, an advisor could then book the rest of your property stays for your itinerary in destinations like Melbourne or Tasmania; recommend and book experiences like the Sydney Bridge Climb or behind the scenes private tour of the Sydney Opera house; or create a self-drive itinerary to include seeing the Twelve Apostles.
But wait, I like to research! I hear this sometimes when talking to others about what I do. I love people who like the research – working with an advisor should be collaboration. The advisor should validate, verify and supplement the research done by the traveler.
Won’t it cost me more?
It shouldn’t. Our role is to increase the value of your travels, spend your budget wisely, and show you how to maximize where you can. Yes, some advisors (myself included) charge fees based on services and this information should come up very, very quickly in a conversation. The fee is modest and usually only applies for custom itineraries. If a traveler wants to book a Virtuoso property and gives the name and dates of travel, then the fee is waived.
If you are interested in a Virtuoso rate and are in the “just looking” stage, pull up the property website and view the rates online. In most situations, the rate online is the same as the Virtuoso rate. I will say if someone comes to me more than once to “just look at rates” and not book, they will be charged a fee.
Annandale’s Seascape – not bookable by points, but an incredible place for a romantic stay
To know what the Virtuoso benefits for a property are, each property with quite a bit of information including the amenities, are on virtuoso.com. It is a pretty great website for looking at the properties in network. The site was completely redone a couple years ago – before that, it was really awful to use.
Finding a travel advisor
Probably the most important part of working with an advisor is to find the one you trust and work with well. Advisors usually have a niche, such as cruise only, property only, or FIT/custom itinerary.
This is important to know because if you pick an advisor who only matches properties to your preferences and you really want someone to help recommend restaurants and activities, you are not matched well. The advisor does not have to live in your area for a traveler to work with them. As much as we like meeting people in person, it isn’t realistic to do on a regular basis and most of our relationship is over the phone or email.
The easiest way to find an advisor is to ask others who use them for recommendations or look up options on virtuoso.com.
A few last parting words – there are many things miles and points can’t arrange but a travel advisor can access.
Life experiences like private tours after hours of the Sistine Chapel, a picnic lunch and champagne toast after a heli tour of the Milford Sound, or even stay with an actual African tribe are within our range of what we can do.
Tour the Remarkables and Milford Sound by helicopter for a true once-in-a-lifetime experience
Have you used a travel advisor in conjunction with your points? What was your experience?
Katie is a miles and points aficionado and long time reader of OMAAT. She used to be a Mechanical Engineer before making the obvious career change to a luxury travel advisor affliated with Virtuoso. You can find her at travelbykatie.com.