Travel tips

Upscale travelers are just like us

Where are upscale Americans spending their travel dollars?

Should you do what they do?

Wealthy or not, it’s good to know where the well-do-to are vacationing and where the up-and-coming “it” destinations will be for the next few seasons.

A shortcut to that intel comes from the advisors who consult with upscale Americans about their vacation goals and bucket lists and then book those journeys.  

So where are well-to-do Americans jetting off to? Here’s a story I put together recently for CNBC.

Global luxury travel network Virtuoso polled advisors, crunched numbers from $49.5 billion in bookings and transactions for September through December 2019 and shared a couple of Top 10 lists as well as insights on some emerging travel trends.  

The Top 10 destinations

“Americans increasingly choose to travel domestically for the holidays,” notes Virtuoso, which puts the United States, with its vast array of destinations and attractions, in the lead spot in the Top 10 list.

As it has in the past, Europe’s appeal as a summer destination is extending into the fall this year, with destinations such as Italy, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Spain in spots 2, 3, 4, 8 and 10, respectively, on the Top 10 list.

South Africa and Israel, in the middle of the list, at #5 and #6, remain popular destinations for families seeking “trips of a lifetime” during the holiday season, according to Virtuoso. And Japan, the top emerging “it” country in Virtuoso’s 2019 Luxe Report, takes its place on the Top 10 list of fall and holiday season destinations at #9.

Luxury leisure travel bookings being made by advisors in the Ovation Travel Group for 2019 and 2020 seem to be following those trends, said Gina Gabbard, Ovation’s Senior Vice President of Leisure & Independent Advisors.

“Italy is overwhelmingly the hands-down favorite among international destinations, with increased interest now in Southern Italy,” said Gabbard, “Our advisors note its amazing food and wine, culture and diversity of things to do, including history and art, along with available luxury accommodations. Direct flights from the U.S. are a plus.”

Despite concerns about Brexit, bookings to the United Kingdom are holding their own, said Gabbard, “The added benefit to our clients is that the value of the U.S. dollar is so strong against the pound.”

Virtuoso’s Hot 10 list

Virtuoso also shared its “Hot 10” list, which is made up of countries experiencing the largest increases by percentage in year-over-year bookings. In some cases, the increases come from a country and its offerings being “discovered” or better promoted; in other cases, political fears may be subsiding.

For September through December 2019, the list is topped by Uruguay (up 286 percent), which Virtuoso attributes to the country’s award-winning wineries, pleasant climate and adventure opportunities.

Bookings are also way up for travel to the beach retreats of the Maldives (up 171 percent) as well as Malta (up 140 percent), Romania (135 percent) and Egypt (up 122 percent). Puerto Rico, Rwanda, Qatar, South Korea and the fjords of Norway (up 96 percent) round out the “Hot 10” list.

Where are upscale Americans staying?

“We’re seeing a rise in exclusive-use travel as people look for the ultimate in privacy and seclusion while getting away from it all,” said Misty Belles, Virtuoso’s managing director for Global Public Relations, “Home rentals, from villas to condos, jumped 56 percent this year, with millennials and multigenerational trips both contributing to the growing popularity in residences.”

Belles says private yacht travel is also gathering momentum as people look to escape crowds and explore smaller, lesser-known ports of call.

When it comes to hotel stays, Becky Powell, President of Virtuoso-member Protravel International, says hyper-personalized stays are in.

“Increasingly, hotels are using technology to connect and build relationships with guests and instantly fix issues,” says Powell. Hotels are also focusing on sustainability and emphasizing connections to the destination or city they are in with local partnerships and unique experiences, she said.  

Upscale travelers and overtourism

Lots of stories about overtourism have been in then news, “But now we are seeing it translate into client conversations and influence decisions,” said Jack Ezon, founder of Virtuoso member Embark, “Our clients want to feel like travelers, not tourists. And no matter how wealthy they are, they don’t want to see a Prada or Gucci on every corner,” he said.

Instead, Ezon says upscale travelers are increasingly seeking out charming and “new” secondary destinations, staying in neighborhoods beyond the popular city centers and traveling during the off or shoulder-seasons not to save money, but to have more of the city to themselves.

Have a destination you’d like to tell us about? Please share your tips in the comment section below.

Tips for sailing through airports. Any day or busy days.

It is a stay at home holiday for some people today. But a travel day for millions. At that means some people will end up stuck at the airport.

It can happen anytime, of course. But as the busy summer travel season kicks into gear, I’ve been asked to work up some airport travel tips for the Weather Chanel audience.

Here are my notes for my appearance, currently scheduled for early Tuesday. Please feel free to add your notes too

Practice. Seems silly, but often in the rush to get to the airport we forget that we’ll have to partially unpack at the security checkpoint.

Make sure you’re wearing socks without holes, shoes that are easy to take off and put back on. And have your potions and lotions and electronic gear easiy accessible in your carry-on bag. 

Leave your guns at home.

TSA finds about 100 guns – most loaded – at checkpoints each week. I’ve given up wondering why people need so many guns. But if you carry a gun around town, check to see that you’ve taken it out of your purse or briefcase before you head to the airport.

Don’t miss the fun.

Look at the “passenger amenities” or “services” section of the airport website. (And subscribe to StuckatTheAirport.com).

Many airports have art or history exhibits, a unique shop or restuarant, even a special observation deck you may miss if you just get to the airport and stick by your gate.

Bring a wide mouth refillable water bottle. You don’t have to buy an overpriced bottle of water. More and more airports have bottle refill stations. Spend your money on something else.

Charge your phones and gadgets before you leave home.

Yes – there are more outlets in more places in airports. But someone else always seems to be using them when you’ need them.

And often they don’t even work. (Expert tip: check to see if that bank of chairs with outlets is plugged in before you use a chair outlet.)

To be a hero bring along a power cord with extra plugs so others can share.

Check to see if there are mobile apps – such as GRAB – you can use to order food ahead that you can just pick put at airport restaurant instead of waiting in line. 

An increasing number of airports have At Your Gate and Airport Sherpa – which allow you to order food (and even neck pillows) and have the order delivered to you anywhere in the airport. 

Bring snacks. You never know when you’re going to be delayed at the airport. Having something in your bag will keep you from getting cranky and from overspending at the airport and on the airplane, where free snacks can be limited or non-existent.  

Shortcut the customs and immigration line.

If you’re traveling out of the country and don’t have Global Entry (a paid program) download the free Mobile Passport app for when you’re coming back through customs.

Either program allows you to shortcut your way through that often very long customs line. Look for the signs or ask the folks stationed along the lines for where to go as the Mobile Passport sign is often not easy to spot.

The Mobile Passport app lets you answer the customs questions on your phone before you even leave the plane and sometimes you can breeze right by the folks who have to wait on a line to fill out those questions at the Global Entry kiosk. Hah!

Bring mad money.

I carry a $10 bill – sometimes $20 – to use as mad money in case I end up stuck somewhere mad and frustrated. I buy myself a treat; a cocktail, some candy, an overpriced coffee drink, a silly souvenir. I deserve it.  

Have a tip to add to this list? Please include it in the comments sections below.

Fancy a fast trip to London & Paris?

Tower Bridge at night

A few month’s back I was invited – actually, challenged – to visit Paris and London in just four or five days.

“Not possible,” I insisted. But I was willing to give it a try.

Here’s a slightly edited version of the story I wrote for Travel + Leisure with some ideas for how to do it.

Getting there and back

To make this fast trip work, fly into one city and out of the other, and book a seat on the high speed Eurostar train to travel between the two.

Plenty of airlines fly between the US and both London and Paris and it is possible to find deals on a one-way or open-jaw ticket using tools on airline comparison sites or a knowledgeable travel advisor.

British Airways currently offers up to 50 flights from the U.S. to London each day, depending on the season, from 26 U.S. gateways and will be adding flights from both Pittsburgh and Charleston to London in April 2019. The airline allows passengers to cut the cost of flights by using Avios points towards payment.

Air France currently offers more than 150 flights a week to Paris from 12 U.S. cities and is adding Dallas/Fort Worth as its 11th U.S. gateway on March 31, 2019. The French flag carrier offers flash fares to Paris (and other destinations) about once a month, so sign up to follow the carrier’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Eurostar trains make the trip from city center to city center, between London’s St. Pancras International Station to Gare du Nord in Paris, in just over 2 hours for a little as $60 each way. Eurostar ticket pricing fluctuates like airline tickets, with the lowest prices usually offered for midweek travel. Be sure to hold onto your boarding pass: it offers 2-for-1 entry to many museums and exhibitions in both cities.

Where to stay; what to do

Coal Drops Yard

In London, there are lots of hotel to choose from right near St. Pancras International railway station, which is steps from the British Library and its many free events and exhibitions. Nearby is the Wellcome Collection, a hip and free science and health-themed museum that markets itself to the “incurably curious.”

Coal Drops Yard, built in 1850 to handle the eight million tons of coal delivered to London each year, has been transformed into the city’s newest trendy destination. Located in King’s Cross, just a few minutes’ walk from St. Pancras, the shopping and dining center boasts more than 50 stores, restaurants and cafés, including the flagship store of Wolf & Badger, which gathers cool offerings from independent brands, and Casa Pastor, serving Mexican-inspired tacos, alongside mezcals, Mexican beers and imaginative margaritas.

For convenience and a hefty dose of the historic, splurge on a two-night stay at the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, inside St. Pancras station. The “Seat to Suite” package includes lounge access as well as a concierge escort between your room and your seat on the Eurostar train, which departs from St. Pancras station.

If you’ll be heading back to the states from Paris, choose a hotel in the city center that offers easy access to museums, café and other top attractions.

The newly renovated 97-room Renaissance Paris Vendome Hotel, near the Tuileries Garden and the Louvre in the city’s historic 1st arrondissement is a good option. Book a breakfast-included package (croissants galore!); seek out nearby “hidden gems” suggested by the hotel’s “Navigator”; and let the front desk book you a seat (preferably at the chef’s counter) in the hotel’s popular-with-locals Balagan Restaurant, which serves an ever-changing menu of Israeli-inspired Middle Eastern meals.

You can save time by combining touring and fine dining by having lunch or dinner at (or on) Ducasse sur Seine, chef Alain Ducasse’s new restaurant on an electric boat offering diners a 90-minute cruise on the Seine. Or board the Bustronome, a restaurant inside a double-decker bus that drives by many of the city’s top sights during a three-hour tour. (There’s a London version of this as well.)

You may not get your fill of croissants, baguettes, macarons or other French pastries during a quick two-day visit, but you’ll learn some professional French bakers’ tricks to take home during a gourmet walking tour or a French breach-making class organized by a local tour group such as Meeting the French.

Where to fly in 2018

My year-end story for CNBC was a look forward at places to go in 2018. Here’s a slightly different version of that story.

A great year-end tradition is sitting down with a map and a glass of wine and reviewing the places you have been in the past year and setting out a wish list for where to go when the calendar resets.

The possibilities of where to go next can seem endless – and expensive – but travel experts have loads of suggested destinations and plenty of tips to get you started on next year’s journeys.

  Winning historic US Main Streets

 Eleven cities and towns around the United States are sharing more than $1.5 million in preservation grant funds recently awarded by American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation to preserve unique features of downtown districts large and small.

Head to Casa Grande, AZ to see how the vintage neon sign park is coming along; how renovation is progressing on the historic Formosa Cafe (once a haunt of Hollywood celebrities and organized crime figures) along Route 66 in West Hollywood, CA; and if the recently reopened 1913 Woodward Theater in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood has reconstructed the building’s historic marquee. See the full list of Main Street winners here.

Party in Paris

 During 2018, Paris will host the 10th edition of the Gay Games in August and the iconic Ryder Cup gold tournament in September. March brings the opening of Lafayette Anticipations, a public gathering place in the heart of the Marais that will present a wide variety of events and works of contemporary art, design and fashion. And L’Atelier des Lumières, an immersive digital museum of fine art located in a former iron foundry, is set to open in April with work by major artists projected on the facility’s 26-foot-high walls.

(Takashi Murakami, Kelin’s Pot A, courtesy The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth)

Frolic in Fort Worth

Visitors to Fort Worth get an authentic taste of the Old West twice daily, when Texas cowhands drive a herd of Texas longhorns down Exchange Avenue in in the Stockyards National Historic District. For a taste of Texas-made whiskey and bourbon, visitors can now head to southeast Fort Worth, which is home to Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co.’s new Whiskey Ranch complex. The 112-acre “whiskey wonderland,” thought to be the largest whiskey distillery west of the Mississippi, also has a tavern and a historic 18-hole golf course on site.

In the city’s cultural district, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth will host a Takashi Murakami retrospective titled “The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg,” from June 10 through September 16. The exhibition will feature 50 works by Murakami, who is known for his collaborations with pop icon Kanye West and fashion house Louis Vuitton.

Celebrate the Erie Canal

In New York State, a multi-year celebration marking the bicentennial of the construction of the Erie Canal is underway in cities, towns and villages throughout the Canal corridor, which includes major cities such as Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany.

To celebrate the bicentennial of the completion of the Erie Canal, as well as the 150th anniversary of glassmaking coming to the city of Corning, in May 2018 the Corning Museum of Glass will launch GlassBarge, a canal barge outfitted with glassmaking equipment. The floating glass studio will make a four-month journey from Brooklyn to Buffalo, traveling north on the Hudson River and then westward on the Erie Canal from Albany to Buffalo, making stops in towns and cities along the way to offer free glassblowing demonstrations.

New York’s Finger Lakes region, which reaches from Rochester to Syracuse, has also expanded its Craft Your Adventure Beverage Trail  to include 29 different stops for craft beer, hard ciders and spirits throughout the region.

Be wowed in World Record spots

World’s Tallest Outdoor Rock Climbing Wall_ courtesy Whitney Peak Hotel

 A 19 percent year-over-year increase in domestic bookings suggests to American Express Travel that in 2018 many Americans will be seeking adventures and unique experiences close to home.

That includes visits to World Record hot spots in the U.S. such as the World’s Tallest Outdoor Rock-Climbing Wall in Reno, NV; Bowling Green, KY’s Mammoth Cave National Park, which is home to the world’s longest known cave system; the World’s Largest Living Tree – a giant sequoia named General Sherman – in California’s Sequoia National Park; and the volcanic-formed Crater Lake, OR which, at 1,943 feet, is America’s deepest lake.

Lots more options – and lots more lists

Overview of Paine River and snow-capped Paine Massif in Chile. Photo by Matt Munro.

The editors at a variety of travel sites and publications share extensive lists of hot destinations and editors’ top picks each year. National Geographic offers lots of “Why Go Now” reasons to visit far-flung cities ranging from Harar, Ethiopia and Tbilisi, Georgia to Oaxaca, Mexico and Sydney, Australia in 2018.

And for their Best in Travel 2018 suggestions, the editors at Lonely Planet have put together multiple lists, including the Top 10 Countries, with Chile, South Korea and Portugal at the top the list, and their Top 10 Cities, topped by Seville, Spain and Detroit, Michigan, which is bouncing back after years of decline.

 

Updated list: Travel Deals for Black Friday/Cyber Monday

Updated Monday at 9:11 a.m. West Coast Time

Looking for Black Friday/Cyber Monday travel deals? Of course you are!

Check here for what I’ve found so far for airlines deals and here for deals on hotels, rail, travel books and other travel-related options.

I’ll keep updating through Monday – so send me notes about anything that looks really great to you.