How the Best Travel Agents Reward Their Most Loyal Customers
Hotels and airlines aren’t the only companies rewarding their most loyal repeat customers. Some travel advisors also offer valuable extras. Here are some of the best fringe benefits offered by online and boutique travel agencies.
Best for Luxury Lovers
The Virtuoso travel network includes 15,000 specialty agents and 1,200 luxury hotels worldwide. Although it doesn’t charge a fee to join, some of its agents bill clients anywhere from $50 to several hundred dollars for their services. The fees often can be applied toward the cost of the trip. Book a stay at with a Virtuoso agent — the Four Seasons in Florence or the Blancaneaux Lodge in Belize, for example—and get up to $450 worth of amenities, such as daily breakfast for two, room upgrades, and early check-in and late check-out. Some hotels offer spa and dining credits, as well as free activities like the guided mountain bike tour at Anantara Mai Khao Phuket Villas in Phuket, Thailand or a private bird watching outing at La Lancha in Tikal, Guatemala. Cruisers also fare well: Virtuoso’s network includes 31 cruise lines with 500 sailing options, where travelers can receive $800 in ship credit.
Best For Meaningful Experiences
Members-only travel company Indagare was founded by former travel editor Melissa Biggs Bradley for travelers seeking trips that go beyond the luxury hotels and dinners at Michelin-starred restaurants and into the realm of transformative experiences, such as rhino tracking at an endangered species center on safari, your money will be well spent. Annual membership is divided into three levels: the Basic is $325 and best for self-planners, the $675 Elite level includes help planning one customized trip, and the $1475 Connoisseur includes three customized journeys. All members can call or email Indagare’s team of experts who pride themselves on being the guinea pigs for the experiences they sell. The company heavily invests in sending employees to scout destinations, hotels, tour guides, and restaurants. Invitations to educational seminars are another appealing benefit. A recent breakfast at The Polo Bar in New York City to learn about African safaris is just one example. Members also get discounts on business and first class airfare, free daily breakfast at hotels, guaranteed room upgrades when booking with select brands such as Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, spa and dining hotel credits, and priority wait-list clearing at coveted properties during high season.
Best for Personal Service
Skylark combines the convenience of an online booking engine with the services of a high-end end travel agency. Clients pay an annual $400 fee to join Skylark and get access to a team of agents who are available through live chat, email, or phone and are also promised favorable rates at nearly 1,000 luxury hotels worldwide. But the biggest draw is the insider pricing — up to 60 percent off published rates — on upscale travel packages and business and first class airfare, both of which can be booked online. A recent example: roundtrip business class airfare for two people on Delta Airlines from JFK to LAX and a three-night stay at the Montage Beverly Hills was $3,797 total, compared to $6,900 if bought elsewhere. The package also included a guaranteed a room upgrade, daily breakfast, and $100 in resort credit. Also, a roundtrip business class ticket earlier this summer from JFK to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris on American Airlines was $2,400, compared to the regular price of $6,700.
Best for Spoiling Yourself
Ovation Vacations, a New York City-based travel agency led by Travel + Leisure Travel Advisory Board member Jack Ezon, offers a myriad of perks to its clients. For starters, the agency’s agents can score 30 to 40 percent off published hotel rates and have personal relationships with general managers at some of the world’s top properties who pamper Ovation guests with amenities such as a bottle of champagne and free spa treatments. The agency is a preferred partner with more than a dozen hotel brands. With a stay at a Mandarin Oriental, the perks include breakfast for two daily, $100 food or spa credit per room per stay, a guaranteed upgrade to the next category of room, and a personalized welcome amenity. Mandarin suite guests even get a one-way airport transfer with a meet and greet at the gate of the plane. Client gifts are an Ovation trademark: for example, the company recently sent a prepaid FedEx box to a wine obsessed couple vacationing in Napa so that they could ship home a case of their favorite bottles compliments of Ovation. On top of all the perks, clients have 24/7 access to a support staff who can help rebook travel in the event of flight cancellations and delays and assist with any other unforeseen hiccups.
Best for Unique Hotels
If the thought of staying at a hotel operated by a chain doesn't appeal to you, consider the more than 1,000 small and independently owned properties listed by Mr. and Mrs. Smith. The brand’s London-based co-founder Tamara Heber-Percy believes in curating hotels with a personality and sense of place, and while many of them are high-end, plenty of others are very affordable. Clients who book through the site are guaranteed the lowest available rate and get a different amenity at every property that is exclusive to Mr. & Mrs. Smith’s clients. At Baros, in the Maldives, the Smith “extra” is a sunset cruise with champagne and canapes, and at Morgan’s Rock Hacienda and Ecolodge, in Nicaragua, it’s horseback riding on the beach. And although all stays are book-able online, there’s a team of 40 agents available by phone 24 hours a day for travelers who favor old school communication.