Combining Virtuoso With Miles And Points

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Other considerations

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.

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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.

Comments

  1. @Tiffany

    “pull up the property website and view the rates online. In most situations, the rate online is the same as the Virtuoso rate”

    Are you talking about the cheapest rate(including promos) or the flexible rate?

  2. @Kevin – Both. For example, quite a few Four Seasons properties will have a stay 4 for 3 rate promotion. That promotion is available with the Virtuoso rate as well. In general, the best available rate is the rate for FHR and Virtuoso.

  3. Are Virtuoso rates different from FHR rates? FHR usually matches hotel’s flexible rates shown on hotel’s website. But if the is a special which is pre-paid and/or non-refundable, then FHR will not work with that. In the vast majority of cases FHR rate is significantly higher than the lowest rate found online. For example, I was looking for one weekend night in Fairmont Whistler in December, and Amex travel website showed both FHR ($650 – fully flexible) and non-FHR ($250 – prepaid non-refundable) rate. Would Visrtuoso have access to the lowest $250 rate in this case, or will it be similar to FHR?

  4. The other option to look at virtuoso rates is classictravel.com. You can book through them as well but I typically look there then book through my traveladvisor. The virtuoso rate is usually equal to the flexible rate but sometimes it can be better… I’ve never seen it worse than the flexible rate… in addition, some travel advisors are able to get virtuoso benefits extended to non-virtuoso rates… Finally, I’ve been told that in terms of upgrades, the hotel specific programs (FSPP, FAN, STARS etc) have higher priority than the other programs (Virtuoso, FHR, Signature, Ensemble etc)… One nice thing about the virtuoso website is the ability to see the room upgrade paths….

    FDW

  5. @Katie

    Thanks for this post. I am interested to book you as my travel advisor for my upcoming trip. I already have flight and hotels booked though. Would you please email me your rate? Thank you.

  6. As to “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 a for profit consortium of travel providers, which, while focusing on premium and luxury travel, tries to negotiate the best commissions for its affiliated travel agents (like Vacations.com , for the broader general market, or Signature).

    One can’r expect to always receive non biased, objective recommendations from commission based travel agents and Virtuoso members are equally influenced by differences in commission rates from competitive providers. Recently, for example, Virtuoso decided, after many years, to downgrade Disney from a “preferred” to a non preferred provider. Why? Because Disney cruises lowered the commission rate for new bookings made aboard their ships, working with the onboard cruise line sales rep, with no involvement from the guest’s travel agent, to 10%, which to me seems more than justified. Now a Virtuoso agents will claim they always respond to the interests of their clients and not the commission rate, and certainly if a client asks for Disney they will book it; However, the whole point of Virtuoso categorizing Disney as non preferred is to incentive the agent to recommend a higher paying provider, so if one does not specify Disney, they more than likely won’t find Disney among the recommended options, even if it is considered the best supplier for families with young children.

    Bottom line: treat Virtuoso members like any other travel agency: weigh the “extra benefits” carefully and do your due diligence, comparing them with other consortium agents as well as booking direct.

  7. FYI you can book Virtuoso rates online and also check what amenities are included by using ClassicTravel.com. Used it for Vegas last year and it was great. If you know where you are going, much easier than dealing with a Virtuoso agent.

  8. @echino – Sometimes the advanced rate is eligible for Virtuoso benefits, but not typically. I did a quick check on this property and the answer was no, the amenities are only on the full flex rate. With it being high season and such a difference in price, I am not surprised. I have booked for a client once with a prepaid rate and full benefits, but the price difference was not substantial.

  9. @avidtraveler – send me an email at katie at travelbykatie.com and let me know what it is your are looking for exactly. Feel free to call me – my cell is listed on my website. Thank you!

  10. Worth noting that ClassicTravel doesn’t show all Virtuoso properties when you look up rates. Best to double check with Virtuoso’s website that lists each participating property. Example is the MGM Signature @ Vegas.

  11. I never got my CTC (Certified Travel Consultant) despite qualifying, but I was always informed that FIT stood for for Foreign Independent Travel. Granted, my information is dated, but this was presented in extremely specific terms. Is this no longer the case?

  12. Great post, Katie. As a Virtuoso affiliated travel advisor, I agree with what you say here. It really does offer the best deal for the consumer in my opinion.

  13. @Christian – You know, you are probably right. I heard it the way I wrote it once and it stuck in my head and I never questioned it. We use the term on domestic trips too, so maybe it has morphed over the years?

  14. @FlyingDoctorWu
    Thank you for mentioning classictravel.com in your comment. I am a TA at Classic Travel and wanted to let you know that we are a full service Virtuoso agency. Thus, you can look online and then contact me (ania at classic travel dot come) and I will make the booking for you and make sure you get all of the Virtuoso amenities. As for upgrade priority. With exception of times when the hotel is fully booked, most of the time, I am able to secure an upgrade for my client. We have relationships with most of not all hotels and they do take great care of our clients!

    Also, in our portfolio, we have the classic travel preferred hotels – those are non-Virtuoso hotels that we think are also great properties and have partnerships with them. Which means clients who book through us will get Virtuoso-like amenities when booking those hotels.

    @Jimmy – it is true that there are a few hotels that we do not have loaded on our classictravel.com site (contractual issues mainly). However, if you are interested in a Virtuoso property or any other one for that matter that you do not see on our site, just shoot me an email, I can book it offline for you with the Virtuoso benefits.

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