PRESENTING THE WORLD’S MOST COMPREHENSIVE TRAVEL Q&A

Please note that all of your questions are color-coded for easy access (latest questions appear at top)
All travel questions not related to cruises or riverboats appear in Red.
All cruise related questions appear in Blue
All riverboat related questions appear in Green

  • GETTING A RESERVATION AT ONE OF THE TOP FIFTY RESTAURANTS WORLDWIDE

    Q – As my wife and I work, almost continuously, on our Five-Year Travel Planning, we find ourselves drawn to the list you published several months ago of the World’s Top Fifty restaurants. Fine dining seems as good a reason to visit a country as anything else, so we are trying to use two or three in-country firm reservations to guide us in our planning. The question is how to best secure a reservation at one of the restaurants on the list.  Do you recommend that we call or, perhaps, put our request in an e-mail? Should it be addressed to the Head Chef or the owner? We would love to lock several places in Brazil and Japan in for 2026. Is there anything we should tell the restauant about ourselves to make this all go smoothly?

    A –  Good idea but, perhaps, wrong approach. The last thing a world-class restauant wants to do is try to figure out what a US caller is talking about. You have no clout with a foreeign restaurant unless you get screamed ast easch evening by someone named “Gordon”.

    The last thing the really top restauants overseas  want is a reputation for catering to tourists from the USA. It would help kill their local business. We would leave the restaurant reservation portion of your trip-planning to the overseas office used by your travel advisor to do the rest of the tyrip. The owners of your on-site offices live in-country and if the restaurant is on the “Top-Fifty” List it ios likely they have a relationship with management. Leave it to your local contact to fill the restauant in on juist how very important you are. Unless you are a blood relative of Anthony Bourdain  however, they may remain unimpressed. They hear from true VRVIP’s each and every afternoon seeking tables. 

    The rule here is that any reservation needs to be made by a local, fluent speaker of the language or, in the case of the British Isles, by someone with the proper pronounciation.

    There is one exception – if you are a return VIP Guest at one of the very best hotels in town, it is likely that the Lead Concierge at your hotel would also be a good source to score a hard-to-get reservation. 

    May we say that being led on your travels by a desire to dine really well is an idea with a great deal of merit. But beware that that approach may keep you isolated int he more affluent, sophisticated portions of your destination. We would suggest a fifty-fifty mix of fine-dining and dining “a la local” in the countryside.

  • WE ARE BOOKING THE GORING HOTEL IN LONDON BUT HOW DO WE KNOW IF WE ARE GETTING THE BEST RATE AVAILABLE?

    Q – It would appear that The Goring in London meets with your approval. We work with a TA and she is a member of one of the major consortium groups. However, I was able to call the hotel directly and get an extremely competitive rate with no hassles. We are collecting countries, 73 to date, and there will be many hotel nights to book as we are in our early fifties. So I suppose I want to ask, on behalf of others who visit this insider site, how do we eally know when we are getting the very best hotel rate?  Do I book through my agent, the hotel directly, one of the mega-online agencies, or do I spend my time on Expedia and Priceline? Is there clear advice you can share. It really isn’t the money. It’s more about the principle – if we are spending, on average, in excess of $1,000 per night, how can we be certain that we have been given the best price?

    A – This is, as you realize, a somewhat complex question. But you raise several excellent points and we feel that we want to try to achieve some clarity in our response. So allow us to address your questions with bullet points:

    • The best hotel rates are normally going to be offered by the hotel property, not by some third-party 800-number online entity. One would have to assume that Hotel Owners are idiots were they to allow internet-based sites to beat the pricing they have in their own hotel database. We know what the ads say – but booking anything with a 1-800 Call Center is just a sucker move – yet – seven of the ten largest travel agencies sell online strangers. They are there to sell you a hotel room but, as importantly, they are there to gather your identity and your credit card information which can then be sold several times. The proceeds from the sale of your private information is generally greater than the profit on a hotel room booking – even one at a deluxe property.
    • But you only represent a single booking. your agent may book the Goring several times a year and her consortium may do six figures or more in total annual bookings. So normally, (and beliueve us the phrase “there are always exceptions” was created by the hotel gods for their profession, the best consortium members receive similar pricing plus a package of amenities. This may include complimentary breakfast, airport transfers, a dinner voucher for the hotel restaurant etc. In other words you agent woult not be undercutting the hotel’s direct price but they may have negotiated volume amenities and upgrade offers that are not available to thje general public or those who book their accommodations directly. 
    • So – the bottom line:
      • Only book a hotel with an advisor who has a consortium certified contract arrangement with your hotel. That is how you get the best rate – ask if the hotel “Is a Preferred Supplier of your consortium”?
      • If not, your second best option is to book directly with the hotel – not a service desk or a rep firm – the hotel itself
  • IS SUNDAY STILL THE BEST DAY OF THE WEEK TO BOOK A DOMESTIC AIRLINE TICKET TO SECURE THE BEST FARE?

    Q—I have a guidebook that says Sunday is the best day of the week to book a flight within the USA. Prices seem to go up on Monday. This sort of makes sense but it also seems too simple to be true.

    Is there a time of day when the average air ticket is lower? We are now at the point where we will be doing more domestic travel to visit kids and grandkids and I am trying to figure out a simple strategy. Thanks very much.

    A – Airline strategies are fun to write about but much of what is written is old by the time it reaches print. You want to book domestic flights between 30-60 days before departure. But there is no one day when rates are lower. The new breed of computer algorithms is changing fares constantly based on availability and sales data streaming in by the millions. There is no way a human can try to predict or even keep up with those changes.

    Wednesday and Thursday may be the best days but that is really hard to certify. We do know that flights that leave between 6:00 and 8:00 am and flights that depart in the evening between 10 PM-1:00 AM tend to have better pricing and better on-time records than mid-day departures. 

     
  • IS STOCKHOLM STILL THE COOLEST CITY IN SCANDINAVIA WORTH A ONE WEEK WINTER VISIT?

    Q – We are three friends – all in our thirties, all financially comfortable, and all working for West Coast architectural firms. We ski and take lots of photos, but we travel primarily to be stimulated by new ideas in urban planning, architectural design, and lifestyle planning. We like to go where the world’s happiest people live to try to gain an understanding of how buildings and design can make city living fun again.

    We are now planning a November getaway – possibly to Stockholm. We have already traveled to Copenhagen. We are wondering if you would agree that Stockholm is the obvious choice? Love the site and the lack of ads. 

    A – We would make a strong base for Oslo at the moment. A surplus of  Norwegian oil money has allowed the city mothers and fathers to devote considerable energy to take stodgy Oslo and turn it into a cultural colassus that admirably competes with Stockholm. You will actually see locals enjoy winter sports as you walk downtown in November.Walk to the top floor of the Oslo Opera House where you can climb promenades that slope toward the roof. The public library is not to be believed – they have craft stations with 3-D Printers and home-made crafting, high quality music studios, and movie theaters that are, of course, complimentary. The National Museum is spectacular and is larger than any other museum in Scandinavia.

    Then there’s the Bjorvika District and the new performance center, SALT. But to see the locals enjoying one another’s compnay, you might want to book a short sailon a small Sauna boat that will drop you off in a relatively isolated portion of the fjord. You jump into the frigid water and then soon come back aboard warming up on the boat’s large sauna.

    Sorry Stockholm – the newest hot major Scandinavian city of the moment is Oslo. But not literally “hot” in November. 

     

  • IS THERE A SHORTCUT TO FGURE OUT WHAT US AIRPORTS HAVE NON-STOPS TO A CERTAIN DESTINATION?

    Q – I travel for business and my husband and I travel as much as possible overseas for pleasure. Inb our early forties, we are somewhere in the world about 60% of any year. But trying to really figure out flight schedules is terribly frustrating. Just wondering if there is a website or specific source you would recommend to help us figure out which airports have non-stop flights to cities where we need to go overseas. I have, of course, fooled around with the Expedia and Kayaks of the world. Simplicity of use is not one of their attributes. Sorry for the bother, buit we just feel we are missing something.

    A – You are certainly not alone. Flight search sites are predicated on the belief that price rather than non-stop flights is the major motivation for visitors. Fortunately, there is “work-arouind” for this problem. Virtually every major airport in the United States now has a page on Wikipedia. Go on the site and scroll down to the section called “Airlines and Destinations.” Under this subject you will find clear listings of which routes from the airport have non-stop service and which airline(s) provide it.  This is a simple fix but it works.

           

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