Hello Hungry Travelers!
I’m fresh off an 8 day business & leisure trip that brought me overseas for the first time since 2019. I have to be honest with you, it’s been hard to stay motivated and excited about the travel experience for the past few years, but thankfully that is changing for the better. My trip took me to London and Vienna, and seeing the excitement of my colleagues who joined me on the trip coupled with the incredible holiday spirit that was so vibrant in both cities gave me a renewed hope for the future of travel and reignited my passion for making the most out of travel. Recently a few friends encouraged me to start blogging again, so I’m back to share a few tips and tricks that my recent travels brought back to life! In no particular order, here are my greatest hits:
WORK WITH A TRAVEL ADVISOR
The best way to manage your travel is to work directly with a Travel Agency. The best agencies have access to exclusive perks, negotiated rates/benefits, strong relationships with travel providers and the tools to handle just about any challenge that your travels may present. On a recent flight to Boston, realizing our flight delay was going to throw a major wrench into our plans by causing a missed connection, a quick call to our travel agency solved everything. The phone rang twice- and our Travel Advisor fixed it all in minutes, rebooking us on a direct flight and saving the day with absolutely zero friction. One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is: “what website should I use to book airfare”. The answer is: ALWAYS BOOK DIRECT. A travel agency can help you with this, and many times they have access to discounted rates and extra benefits. Never use a 3rd party (cheapoair, Expedia, etc.)- you’ll have zero support when things go wrong.
MAXIMIZE CREDIT CARD BENEFITS
My card of choice is the American Express Platinum Card. Yes, the annual fee of $695 is steep, but I definitely make up for it in Lounge usage. Think of it this way- dinner for two with drinks at your average airport will run you $100. Following this theory, the $695 value adds up quickly when you’re in an airport frequently! The AMEX Lounge network is vast- with several Centurion lounges as well as hundreds of partner lounges, including Delta Sky Clubs (when flying Delta) around the world. Personal favorite lounge locations are the Centurion Lounges at DFW and MIA. MIA can be an absolute nightmare due to crowds, but the food is excellent and views of the runway make for an AVGEEK dream. The AMEX Platinum also comes with a treasure chest of additional credits- here are the ones I find most useful for improving my airport experience- TSA Pre Check ($78 for 5 years) Global Entry ($100 for 5 years) CLEAR ($189 per year!). My recommendation is to get Global Entry and pair it with CLEAR. Global Entry comes with TSA Pre Check and CLEAR will get you to the front of the Pre Check line.
ETA pro tip– lounge access comes in especially clutch when you are on a tight budget- a “free” meal goes a long way!
MAJOR SAVINGS WHEN SHOPPING FOR DESIGNER GOODS IN EUROPE
Have you ever heard of a VAT refund? Likely so if you’ve been to Europe. For years, I thought of the VAT as unnecessary, complicated and frankly not worth the hassle. Boy was I wrong! Look at it this way- you’re going to get a refund worth 8-27% of your purchase price! A recent trip to Austria gave my friend a 20% VAT refund on a gorgeous new YSL bag. She paid an overall price that was $300 LESS than the same bag was listed for at Nordstrom in the US, then received a $350 VAT refund. Overall savings of $650 PLUS the fact that the buying experience abroad is miles ahead of the service we see in the US. While the order was being prepared, the 3 of us were served champagne on a silver platter.
ETA pro tip– be sure to have your passport number handy, the store will need your information to start the VAT paperwork. Once your purchase is complete, you’ll need to take the paperwork either to a local office to receive cash back, or you can go directly to the VAT refund office in the airport. Either way, you’ll need to validate your paperwork with a stamp at the airport office location. This is a great way to get some cash in local currency without ATM fees too!
Bonus ETA pro tip– always go with the cash back option, even if you pay with a credit card.
Check out this link for information on VAT refund percentages by country: VAT REFUNDS
GO TO THE TOP
One of my very first cardinal rules of travel from my early days is to always get to the top of any city for a Birds Eye view of the destination. Recently, this meant a 337 step journey to the top of the stunning St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna with a sinus infection. I felt like I was going to pass out at the top, but man it was so worth it! One of the best ways to get the lay of the land and take in the best angles of your destination!
KNOW YOUR STATUS
I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for points and status. It’s true. I own it. But you guys, I have been spoiled rotten by knowing what my elite status allows me access to. In my view, loyalty points/miles are a currency! I am loyal to OneWorld, flying primarily with American Airlines as an AADVANTAGE Executive Platinum member. This grants me top-tier Emerald status at OneWorld. This past week, the status allowed me and my colleagues to check in using the British Airways First wing at LHR, a private enclave with a dedicated security checkpoint which led directly into the First Class Lounge. It was quite a posh experience- this lounge is dedicated to travelers with top-tier elite status and offers an incredible selection of hot food and several bars. This status also allowed for free seat selection (free exit row seats- woohoo!), group 1 boarding, expedited luggage service and very liberal baggage weight allowances.
ETA pro tip– check your frequent flyer benefits, especially when traveling on partner airlines, as they may offer even better benefits than your primary carrier!
CONCIERGES HOLD THE KEY
One of my very favorite and most memorable jobs in the hospitality industry was as a Hotel Concierge. One of the most time-honored professions around, a professional Concierge can open up a world of possibilities and incredible experiences. In a world full of Yelp, Open Table and Trip Advisor, one may ask why they should utilize a concierge. The answer is simple- a Concierge is connected to the destination like no one else. On our recent trip to Vienna, my friends and I decided we wanted to try the famous Sacher Torte. We reached out to the Concierge at the incredible Hotel Imperial Vienna, A Luxury Collection Hotel, who put us in touch with the Concierge at Hotel Sacher. Upon arrival , we were ushered in through a very strict doorman, then escorted through the back of the house to gain entry to the incredible dining room where the Sacher Torte is served. We bypassed a line that stretched down the block! Moral of the story- Long Live The Concierge!