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No Ads – No Hype – No Promotional Funds – No Free Trips exchanged  for kind words


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


    Q – I am sorry – but your industry seems to lack any ethical foundations when it comes to marketing cruises and other types of vacation offerings. We are AARP Members, belong to one of the nicer golf clubs in Ohio, and we donate our time to numerous charities. As a result, we are inundated with mail and e-mails offers the vast majority of which really insult our intelligence. Sometimes I wonder if it is deliberate. But the one that brings about my question is the offer received from two different cruise lines that indicated that if I would only call them, I could get two-for-one pricing – meaning my wife can join me for free. As a former CFO, I smell a rat. What should I be thinking when I receive a two-for-one cruise offer? 

    A – You should be thinking that your intelligence is being insulted. The assumption of most travel advertising is that the travel consumer is a dimwit who can be told virtually anything about pricing. The industry is built on a foundation of misinformation and manipulation. You are not supposed to understand cruise pricing. 

    Before a pricing brochure is finalized, cruise executives determine the actual price they need to put on each stateroom category to realize the kinds of profits they need to generate. They take that price and double it. They then advertise 2-1 pricing.  The Top Ten Cruise lines, the real ones, tend to raise their pricing every 90 days while creating new offers designed to make the consumer feel good about paying more – they may raise prices and then throw in one or two free shore excursions or gratuities.

    The secret for the consumer is to fully understand the real price formula every potential cruiser needs to know. We have mentioned this before in one of our responses – but here is the secret to understanding cruise pricing:

    Use the same mathematical formula each time you consider a cruise: Take the minimum unobstructed outside stateroom and remove the port charges and the air from the total cost. Then, take the total cost and divide it by the number of nights you will spend on the ship.

    This will give you a per diem price with the “applesauce” removed. Use this formula each time you look at a cruise to determine the real cost of your cruise. You can decide if the air is a good deal separately. We actually have a client who has used this formula for years and, based on the outcome,  he decided to book  a 72-Day Grand Voyage based on the low per diem costs. 


    Q – We have some wonderful friends who have indicated they will join us on something like a ten-day Nile cruise/tour in Egypt. We are well-traveled, as our friends, but they like to travel independently and a group tour may be a tough sell. I have heard from returning friends that Cairo and the Pyramids, along with Luxor were packed with tourist buses. We will want to avoid some of that by going in the off-season. Is there a time when tourism in Egypt really slows down? Do you recommend we try to convince our friends not to do Egypt on our own? 

    A – The “off-season” in Egypt is May-September, their summer. Summer in Egypt is no picnic and we do not suggest you visit during days of physically challenging  heat. Prime Season is November through March. A good compromise might be shoulder months of April, September, or October. 

    Since there will be four of you, we would normally urge you to consider a private journey. The price when you are joined by one or two additional couples makes private travel somewhat more affordable. But in this case, you will want to be on a Nile River Cruise with other people and you will want to go to the most popular tourist sites. So “getting away from the crowds” is far more challenging. 

    It seems to us that your best option is going to be a small group journey with fewer than 20 fellow guests. We think that Abercrombie & Kent, a company with a strong presence in Egypt, is the first company to consider. But there are several other good Egypt operators including Tauck and National Geographic. 

    Egypt is one of the “UIP” countries (Upgrade If Possible). You really want to avoid three and four-star hotels. Egypt is also known for having a surplus of non-certified guides. 

    Finally, we would suggest that your friends try to understand that independent touring is not what it once was – independent travelers often believe what they are being told on internet travel sites and apps. The fact is that the independent traveler receives few of the price breaks enjoyed by upscale travelers on group programs. “Independent Travel” now carries a real additional cost on virtually every component of a trip. Given security issues, we think that you need to travel with a company that has on-the-ground staff in-country when traveling to Egypt. 


  • Headed to Athens from Omaha: But Where to Connect?
    Newark Liberty International Airport [EWR] Terminal Guide [2020]



    Q – So pleased that our pediatrician told us about this site. But the lack of ads is scaring us. Won’t you go broke soon? 

    So here is my question: We are going on a wonderful Explora 1 Cruise  next summer that begins in Athens and ends in Barcelona. I don’t worry about the return but my schedule is such that I will only have one day in Athens before we board. I don’t want anything to go wrong. Should we connect through Newark, JFK, or Boston Logan? Do you feel strongly that our chances for a hassle-free flight connection over are going to be better from one or the other? We would be looking at American or United most likely. 

    A – In this case, don’t worry about the airport. Ideally, we want you to have a two and a half hour connection and we would prefer if you left before midnight. You might also consider the type of aircraft on the East Coast to Athens segment. If you are flying Business you will want lie-flat seats. If possible, avoid flying the 767 as there are now roomier options. Consider adding Philadelphia to your list of options as American is turning it into a major international hub. If you want to go crazy, you might want to look up back-up flights – as in what can you fly if you miss your connection. 

    There is also arrival time. If you arrive in Athens at 7:00 am and get to your hotel by, say, 9:30, it is highly unlikely that your room will be ready.

    As to our consumer-oriented, ad-free approach: No worries. We all have day jobs.  We do this work out of a sincere desire to provide at least one source of truthful information for the intelligent traveler. It helps us sleep at night.

    Just to cross our t’s on our response: Do consider shipping your luggage from home to your hotel. And please seriously consider using a reputable flight monitoring service so if there is a hiccup they will be by your side via app. to re-book you on the best available option. These are two specific things savvy travelers do when there are questionable connections on the horizon. 

    Please let us know how this all turns out including your time aboard Explora, the new, upscale division of MSC Cruises. 


    Discover Gordes, Provence | What to Do, Where to Stay

    Q – We have been going up and back with two travel agents, one online, to plan a one week stay somewhere in France in a wonderful village setting. There are some great hotels but then we would need to drive or be driven to the local village. We are both educators, I am a High School Principal. Our time is somewhat limited as we plan for our 25th Wedding Anniversary. We’ve been saving for this trip and price is not a huge consideration. If possible we want to avoid Paris and other cities and just stay in a great hotel smack in the middle of a lovely village. But we also want great service and food that we will never forget. 

    So far, we are being given names in Provence and along the French Riviera. We just started reading this web site and we feel that your backgrounds may point us in the right direction. We do have a relationship with one of the agents who we have met with twice but you can convince us to work with you on this truly important trip. Thank you in advance and know that we appreciate the total lack of insulting travel drivel.

    A – This is, of course, an opinion question and we are at a disadvantage as we have never spoken and we would want to know more about you before making a final recommendation. But, based on what you have told us, we strongly urge you to consider the Hotel Bastide de Gordes. Gordes is a commune in the Vaucluse département in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in southeastern France. The residents are known as Gordiens. The nearest big city is Avignon; smaller cities nearby include Cavaillon, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and Apt . 

    The hotel is among the finest we have ever experienced and the village has been named France’s “Prettiest”. The hotel is on the main street with terraces out back that overlook a magnificent scene of hills and old stone villages. The extraordinary staff all speak English and the food is Michelin + quality. 

    We appreciate your kind offer of possibly working with us but we would urge you to be loyal to the agent who you met with two times. We have been in business for 38 years with a following in 46 states and 6 countries – there is no need for us to use this consumer site to solicit or even seek new business. 

    Whatever you do in France, thank you both for your service to our kids and have a memorable second honeymoon. 


    Q – Love that you are including some food and restaurant information on traveltruth. We hope you will feature more.  My wife and I are head off to London in mid-August. We will be staying at the Lanesborough, a hotel I would think you would recommend. We have booked it directly with the hotel and so we will be expecting the refund for booking direct when we check out. 

    But our questions concerns sushi. My wife and I love sushi restaurants – I would say that Nobu is our favorite restaurant group in all our travels and, of course, they have one and many like them in London. But here in Boca, most of us are smart enough to stay away from raw fish in mid-summer when the temperatures are so high and food handling of fresh fish becomes problematical. Would you be afraid to order sushi at Nobu in August in London or any other high quality restaurant in London? We are recommending this site to all our friends. Keep it up – but more food Q&A.

    A – Interesting question. We feel that you can trust the food handling at Nobu worldwide. When it comes to other London sushi restaurants we would urge caution about dining on raw fish mid-summer when real temps may be above 100 degrees. That requires a lot of faith not only in the sushi chef but in the the system of receiving and storing newly arrived fresh fish supplies during a heat wave. Sushi is a gastronomic leap of faith at the best of times. We think your question is relevant and we would urge some level of caution. One rule of thumb recommended by some experts is always avoid eating raw fish between May and September while traveling in a heat zone. 

    But allow us to also suggest that you should also consider that fresh fish standards in Great Britain, are  higher than they are in the United States as a result of stricter government regulation and, of course, proximity to the sea. We would not, personally, hesitate to order sushi at a top-grade Japanese restaurant in London mid-summer. You might want to request a selection from “your last fresh fish delivery”. 


    Q – My friend and I have decided to take our three weeks off each year and do some traveling together within the United States. We are both in our forties – my friend is divorced and I am single. Unfortunately, we’re both OK looking so there are some concerns about traveling independently. Having spent some time on this site, we think you’re the right folks to ask although we understand this is out of your wheelhouse. 

    As we start our long-range planning, we are wondering if there is any research that might indicate which State in the country, or area, is going to be the safest for two women traveling together?  For our first trip or two we would like to head to an area of the country where we feel secure and then we’ll ease into other trips as we gain confidence.

    A –  There is some research that measures the major factors you would want to consider. But we think that any conclusion is really stretching it. For the record, Vermont is considered the safest state for women traveling on their own. We would put little faith in that conclusion but we do think that New England generally may be a good place to start your journeys. We would offer one caution – in your situation, there might be a tendency to avoid big cities and to consider rural drives and sightseeing well off the beaten path. That is fine, but do also look for places that have a well-educated demographic, higher income, and a well-regarded police force. You might also want to be unusually cautious about your accommodations.  As you have concerns, we would suggest going up a “star” and try to stay in hotels that have evening security. The vast majority of hotels in the United States have absolutely no on-duty security during evening hours. In fact, the vast majority of hotels in the United States operate with only one staff member on the late-night shift. 

    We do want to end by suggesting that you not read our comments as serious concern. Doing a driving trip within the United States with a friend is a relatively safe pursuit by any standard. 


    Q – (9.14.23)  Would like to see if you can address a preference I am sure many people share. We just can’t seem to pinpoint specifics and we are getting frustrated. We are frequent, and growing more frequent, cruisers. My wife and I  are not easy sleepers and we find that we sleep much better when we are facing the bow of the ship. In other words, we want a bed that allows our legs to face forward toward the front of the ship. 

    We sail Oceania often and Regent sometimes. We have had our vacations severely disrupted more than once when the cabin layout was not as promised. Our Travel Agent was told that the staterooms were forward facing and , when we arrived, we discovered they weren’t. In one case, the ship was sold out so no changes were possible. Our agent knows what she is doing but I still called reservations directly and quickly realized that they don’t really have a clue as to how beds are aligned in each cabin. The company deck plan is worthless on this issue. All of this boils down to one simple question I am sure would interest many of your followers: How exactly do we ascertain the direction faced of the bed in our stateroom? 

    A – You have put your toes on a real issue at most of the lines. When researching this for you, one of our editors was told “we will have to try to get in touch with the yard that built the ship to find out”. Deck plans are useless in terms of finding forward facing bedding in specific stateroom numbers. The information is not readily available because many ships make layout changes to ships when they are in their annual drydock. The real thing that is going on here is that, from a sellers point of view, the cruise lines do not want to offer still another choice in cabin selection that could eliminate 50% of the available staterooms.

    The best tactic at this point is to have your agent speak to Special Services or a Reservations supervisor. Ask that the fact that yours is a forward-facing stateroom be put in writing by Oceania. That way, if you booked a forward facing stateroom and it turns out not to be on arrival, you would find onboard management sympathetic to a complimentary upgrade. 

    Finally, a more extreme approach would  be to secure a note from your physician explaining that you require a forward-facing bed. That note can be presented to the cruise line’s Medical Officer at the timer of booking and that may help you achieve what you want. 

    It is interesting that flyers raise hell when they find themselves in rear-facing  seats on an aircraft but cruisers who may be spending more than a week in their stateroom are expected to never question the direction of the bedding. British Airways, for one, has installed rotating front and rear facing seats in the Business Class sections on some of their long distance aircraft. The rear-facing seats are less popular than Mike Pence. 


    Q –  Really enjoying this new site and the opportunity to ask honest questions without pop-up ads and someone trying to sell me something. We travel for pleasure several times a year now, after retiring two years ago. We’ve done a tour program with National Geographic and we’ve cruised with the French line Ponant (loved it). We have a dedicated  travel advisor and I think we are getting some good advice. But her agency only sells one insurance company and I just don’t know if something as important as insurance coverage should just be automatic.

    We are staying away, largely based on your advice, from the supplier travel insurance policies. But how does the consumer pick the best vacation option for their specific trip? Can you please boil it down to the bottom line – what should we be looking for in a travel insurance policy. I am also curious about commission. If I buy a policy from ABC Tours who is taking me to Peru, does that mean that my travel agent is not getting a commission? Do travel agents earn anything when they sell you a travel policy. Love to know how that works and how it influences which policy is being recommended. I don’t  know why you would spend the time maintaining this site – but please don’t stop until we have completed our RTC (retirement travel cycle)

    A – Thank you. This is our 38th year. We will be here for your entire RTC! 

    There are three things you need to look for when selecting travel insurance. The first two three obvious – the third is not:

    Choose an insurance provider that:

    01 – Has the strongest demonstrated financial strength. The firm that we recommend most often is owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway. No “going out of business” concerns.

    02 – Never choose a policy that provides less than $500,000 in medical evacuation. Given costs associated with medical evacuations abroad, we consider this the minimum coverage required.

    03 – Ask your agent to demonstrate their ability to offer insurance “advocacy”. Can they intervene with the insurer on your behalf if needed? (This tends to eliminate all online sellers) This is the tie-breaker because in the insurance industry, as you may have heard, the inclination is to encourage adjusters to turn down claims whenever they can. You should only purchase insurance from a seller who can demonstrate the ability to be your advocate with the insurance company to request that they re-examine your claim when it is appropriate. 

    Anyone, from the cruise line, to the insurance agent, to the travel agent, to the tour operator who ever sells you travel insurance is earning a commission. Be sure of it. That is why the three requirements above are critical in the selection process. If you purchase your travel insurance directly from the insurance provider it works exactly the same as it does when you book a hotel directly, or a cruise etc. They simply charge you the commission anyway and simply pocket it as extra income. 

    We hope this helps. Enjoy that RTC!

    Q – (9.9.23) We have been taking European vacations on and off for the past ten years after we retired in our early and late sixties. I really want to return this coming summer to do one of those Globus Tours that allows you to see five or six European capitals in about two weeks. But my husband is now adamant that he will not get into any political discussions about our American way of life while traveling overseas. He is a Trump Republican, more than I am, and  he feels that at this stage of his life he doesn’t want a bunch of Europeans in his face firing questions at him about our politics in the States. Is that a realistic view in any way? I mean we have traveled to Europe four times and I can only recall one political discussion with a front desk clerk in our Budapest hotel. 

    A – There is little evidence, at this point on the indictment scale, that Europeans are starting to pepper American tourists with questions about their politics. You know this from your past visits. In fact, based on our experiences in this area, there is a greater likelihood that one or two fellow tour members from the States could be a greater irritant on your husband’s tender feelings than the locals. We sometimes forget that the European have their own issues.

    Italy has a Far Right Prime Minister who has expressed complimentary words for Mussolini, the Far Right has made some impressive gains in France’s government, an area of Spain, including Barcelona, has been trying to secede from the rest of the country, and Great Britain and London are experiencing waves of gang-related store looting that rivals anything we have here in the States. They also had Boris Johnson. Europeans are not really in a position, for the most part, to lecture us about the imperfections of our Democracy. Not yet.

    But this is a a seven-continent kind of place. Your husband is in his seventies and, it is our opinion, that he should avoid any destination he can’t visit with full measures of joy and anticipation. Take him to Japan. They are too polite to ever discuss American politics with a guest in their country. 

    We are seeing your question being raised in one form or another fairly often. But we are not hearing anything to indicate that concerns about political confrontation abroad between locals and American visitors are justified.


    Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda -Luxury Safari Extension-Micato SafarisQ – We have decided, based largely on your advice, to do our first trip to East Africa through Micato Safaris. We are leaning heavily toward trying to see the mountain Gorillas at the end of our safari. Is it worth it and is it more than a “chance encounter”? Don’t want to spend the extra nights and travel time, as well as cost, if actually seeing the Gorillas and knowing them on a first-name basis is not going to happen.

    A – This will, almost always, work. You will start out in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. You will then head northwest into Volcanoes National Park . The park lodgings are quite luxurious and by day you should encounter one of the park’s current ten families of mountain gorillas. This kind of touring is carefully controlled to avoid crowds and to avoid interaction with the gorillas while they are watching Fox news. 


    Q – We have pretty much decided that we are going to do the Paul Gauguin next winter on a sailing from seven to 11-days. We are looking at three different itineraries, the seven-night “Tahiti and Society Islands”, the Society Islands and the Tuamotus, (10 nights) or the Cook Islands and the Society Islands (11 days). All things being equal, is one of these a superior choice? We are flexible in terms of dates and expense. Appreciate your efforts. Just starting to read the entire site.

    A –  We think you may be most impressed by the Cook Islands which, on this itinerary, is added to the essential seven-night Tahiti program plus a visit to a private island Motu. And if you really like the Cook Islands and have millions of dollars you would like to place in an offshore bank, you might become a frequent visitor to the islands. . As one of the major banks advises,

    “The Cook Islands, a sovereign nation based on the Westminster style of government is a group of 15 islands in the South Pacific Ocean south west of Tahiti and due south of and on the same time zone as Hawaii. Our geographic location allows the Cook Islands to have a strategic advantage in dealing with both the Asian and US markets”

    Add the Aitutaki Day Tour to your Cook Islands Holiday | Cook Islands


    Q – We have enough miles to use for a 32-Day, three-segment cruise from Singapore to  Hong Kong.  What is the best way to go about using them? Any strategies for this sort of thing? We are not going to be using the cruise lines air but I have never cashed in any of my approximately 750,000 miles on United. 

     A – If you are going to purchase a coach ticket and use miles to upgrade to Business or First Class, you should deal directly with the mileage desk at your airline. They will likely offer you more than one option requiring some instant decisions.

    If, on the other hand, you are going to use your miles to get Business or First Class tickets, we highly recommend that you speak to the leading expert in this field, Gary Leff. He charges fees (approx. $350) but his expertise in this field is well worth it. Gary has been hailed as “The World’s Best Mileage Expert” (source: Conde Nast Traveler) and he assists many Churchill & Turen guests. Contact him initially at gary@bookyouraward.com  (Note: We do not have a business relationship with Mr. Leff). We do not accept payment in any form from those firms we recommend to our readers)



    Q – I know we are early, but we are planning our first trip to the Orient in the winter of 2025. We will likely be using one of the top ranked tour operators like Red Savannah, Abercrombie & Kent or, perhaps, Tauck. We will be flying out of Cleveland. I am a tad anxious about the air and I will obsess about it until I have the schedule in my hand.  I am not sure, since I will know exactly what I want, if I will need a travel agent or if I should book this directly.

    I will not accept flights that are “assigned to us”. There are some excellent carriers that operate in Asia and we will want the best possible routing. Who do I speak to at the tour company to make this happen as “it must”. 

    Would really appreciate your addressing the “use an agent” question as I am receiving contradictory advise from friends who are well-traveled. Don’t be afraid to tell it to me straight. Love the site.

    A –  You do not get to “choose” your flights when using supplier-provided air. What they can offer is, as we have discussed elsewhere on TT, limited by their contractual obligations. But there is nothing wrong with letting the air department know your preferences. If you don’t get them, and the air schedule is unacceptable to you, simply reject it and do your own thing. This will, almost always, increase your total costs by several thousand dollars and, should something go wrong, you are on your own. Another down side is that air, as quoted by a tour operator or a cruise line, is almost always a package – not a simple ticket quote. It usually includes taxes, which can run as high as 18%, baggage handling, and round trip transfers. You will end up paying for each of those items if you do your own air. 

    The “should I use an agent” question is one that comes to us, in one form or another, on an almost daily basis. You want it straight – only a fool books direct. When you do, you are supporting one of the travel industry’s major “scams”. Virtually all suppliers will charge you the travel agency commission even when you book directly with the company. By all rights, it would seem to be unethical, and perhaps illegal under certain provisions of existing consumer protection laws, to charge a consumer the agent commission  when they book directly and have not used an agent. But the agent commission is always built in and you might  be surprised at the number of folks who pay it without asking for a refund. This is how travel suppliers can easily double their profits on any booking. They get the consumer to pay the same price the agent would charge even though the agent’s services are not included. This is why savvy travel observers will notice that every possible effort is made to get you to go to the supplier’s site to book online. You are paying for services you never received and they are simply pocketing the difference. 

    Was that “straight” enough?



    Q (9.4.23)  Your help would be appreciated. How do I know if my hotel pricing from Expedia is the best available? We are looking to book a two-week vacation in Poland and Hungary with a planned visit, if time permits, in Austria. But my husband has no interest in going so I will be traveling with our two teenage daughters. We are looking online but, quite frankly, we don’t know where to begin. Should we be looking under Poland tour operators or “tours to Eastern Europe”.  Obviously, there are budget concerns, but we are willing to go as high as $300 per night if necessary. The trip will be scheduled in September and, as you might imagine, the girls are primarily interested in Instagram moments while I want to do some serious sightseeing with good guides.  If we were sitting across the desk from you – what would you advise? My oldest daughter is quite good at internet research. 

    A – There is a lot to unfurl here so please understand our need to be brief.  Do all the research you want on the internet and Expedia – but no travel consumer should ever book with a stranger at the other end of the phone who could be living anywhere and who is generally unreachable should there be any problem. When it comes to travel planning, you want to always avoid providing personal information and your credit card details to anyone you found on a search engine.

    Never book any hotel room online because that is an automatic signal to the hotel that you are buying on price and you will never be a loyal, return customer. You will likely  get one of the worst rooms reserved for “online bookings”.

    All hotel reservations should always be booked with an actual human who is working at the hotel “on-property”. This can be challenging because a large proportion of online hotel booking sites have been revealed to be “ghost sites” with no business relationship with the property. 

    Your budget is unreasonable unless you are seriously looking at three-star hotels. Do you really want to put your daughters in that position? By the way, September has become the single most popular travel month in western Europe given the heat issues of the past decade. Prices are much higher than you might imagine.

    Our suggestion is that you consider this a potential trip filled with moving parts and complexities. You should make an appointment with an experienced travel agent close to home, someone who will be available to you before and during your travels. Your agent will be able to give you a realistic cost estimate. 

    It strikes us that you might want to inquire about a land tour that gives you most of what you want. Having a tour guide to attend to all details might actually enable you to enjoy this vacation with your girls. Try to understand that “Europe on $5 A Day” is now closer to “Europe on $1500 A Day”. And you are a “Triple”!

    Finally, we would strongly urge you to consider a river cruise along the Danube. Sightseeing would be included as would all meals and accommodations. Much less to worry about.


    Q – All right – just love the no bs approach of this  site – hope you can help. We have cruised Cunard twice, Azamara once, and we are now looking at Alaska on Regent which our travel agent says is the top-ranked cruise line in the world! So, first, is that correct? But my real question has to do with the Free Air offers to Alaska. I notice that when you book Regent Cruises to Europe you get free round-trip air and they fly you in business class. But our travel agent is saying that if we book Regent to Alaska, she will get us free first-class air – not business.  She has been around and is well-regarded in the Pittsburgh area. Is she getting us something special. Sure feels like it – and she did put it in writing.

    A – Regent is not the Top-Rated cruise line in our latest rankings. But they are among the top three and they are rated at the very top when it comes to “Best Overall Value for A True Luxury Cruise Product.”

    The answer to your question is not exactly what you may have concluded. Regent does include “Free” Business Air on every sailing outside our continent. It is automatic. But you can always turn it down and take an air credit. For instance, a typical air credit for a sailing in Europe would be $2700 per person. So if you chose not to use the cruise line’s air, your travel agent would be able to take $2700 x 2 off your total invoice. 

    What is confusing you is that Business Class seats rarely exist on flights within North America. So when you are traveling between Alaska and your home your only choices are normally flying First Class or that other class that begs for food from the folks in front. So, yes, Regent always offers First Class rather than Business Class air on flights within North America and you always have the option of choosing the air credit instead. Morgan & Morgan might argue that the air credit voids the legal concept of free. Your travel agent is doing a fine job but all of your fellow travelers on Regent are getting the same offer.

    It is, by the way, worth repeating, that Regent is still, after more than a decade, the only major luxury line to offer the “Free Air” option on every sailing. No one else seems to have figured out how to do this. Instead, lines use “Free” air promotions sparingly on sailings that need financial or marketing stimulation. What Regent knows that the others haven’t figured out, is that travel agents will always sell the thing they know. And rather than look up the date or wait on hold with a competitor to see if free air is available, they will turn to Regent where they know it is.

    Worthy of some discussion at the Harvard Business School. 


    Q – (9.3.23) – We have never cruised on a riverboat – my husband thinks he will be unhappy if he is limited to one major lounge onboard any ship. We’ve cruised three times on NCL on advice of friends and we were happy with our experiences. But as we approach retirement (we are in our early sixties) we are starting to see other options. My hubby is not a mathematician but I think I have him understanding that a 3,000-4,000 guest Norwegian Cruise ship will not, in his lifetime, be sailing down the Danube. I feel that I need to “sell this” to him based on quality, making sure he is on the very top line. I am reading some nice write-ups about Uniworld. Are they the best? 

    A – Tricky question – and one we get asked all the time. (See below)  It is really hard for the consumer to gauge relative quality when considering two or three hotels that manage to float from place to place. Obviously, each one has its strengths – but also its weaknesses. The truth is that when Crystal, the old Crystal, declared bankruptcy, the best overall product on Europe’s rivers was no more. Now, we have several contenders and Uniworld is surely one of them. Given your concerns, we would limit your search to AMA, Tauck, Scenic, and, yes, Uniworld. Our media group does include a site totally devoted to river cruising. (www.rivercruiseratings.com) Currently, as of this morning, our overall rankings of Europe’s best riverboats is the order listed above. We do think that Uniworld is worth a serious look. They are strong in terms of shore excursions and onboard dining. The boats have more traditional decor – more palatial than modern. The line tends to attract an older crowd than appreciates the classic touches. 


    Q – Your industry is not very good at helping consumers identify the various pros and cons of competing products. we’re not cruisers, but we are excited about the casual on-board life and ‘below 200″ fellow guests on Europe’s waterways. We are ready to begin a five-year plan to start sailing Europe’s rivers in style. So, after reading much of this site and carefully checking your credentials, we have just one question: “Right now, which river cruise line is considered the very best at what it does overall”?

    A – It is a fair question and your assumption about our industry’s attempts to keep qualitative differences away from the prying eyes of the consumer is absolutely correct. Look at all the magazine awards – they all go to different lines. Confusing and we sincerely wish we could answer you in a sentence – but we can’t. We do hope you can spend time with our full reviews on our www.riverboatratings” website (it is not a public access site) 

    Here is the bottom line: Before their parent company, Genting in Hong Kong, declared bankruptcy, Crystal Riverboats were clearly the benchmark brand in the industry. Now, with Crystal gone, several lines are fighting for dominance. Here are the best brands currently on Europe’s rivers and just a few comments to help guide you in your decision:

    AMA Waterways – This family brand wins the most awards for excellence on the rivers although we think the gap between it and its competitors is sufficiently narrow to blur distinctions. AMA shines in terms of its hand-picked crew. It has also formed some interesting partnerships with Disney and companies like Backroads for bicycle touring. The line does a series of wine-centric cruises. We think that AMA is generally the safest choice for first-timers seeking the highest available quality experience. 

    Scenic – On any sunny day along the river nothing is better than the Scenic experience. This is an Australian-owned company and they are fairly notorious for some poor communication between headquarters and their crews when it comes to reacting to water level issues and some of the other issues that can crop up from time to time. But in terms of food and service as well as a nice international mix of guests, Scenic is a player.

    Tauck – Unlike the others at the top end of the market, Tauck, the renowned tour operator, does not own their boats nor do they employ the crews. This is a rental product overseen by Tauck on-board guides and management. Like everything Tauck does, it is extremely well-organized and caters to an affluent American market. Food gets good reviews but Tauck also has the edge when it comes to some creative touring options. 

    We will stop there to avoid confusing you further. Uniworld is a top-tier line and Viking is, by far, the largest operator in Europe’s rivers with more than 70 boats featuring progressive Scandinavian design. Avalon does some lovely programs as well. But we think, if you are limiting yourselves to the very top of the current options, you might want to start with one of the three we have profiled. 


    Q – We will be doing more and more traveling since I won the mega-billion lottery. No, actually, I am still working and I just won a $400 scratch-off here in Providence. But we are going to be stepping up our domestic traveling. I have a fairly short fuse when it comes to canceled flights. Can you name the airlines that currently have the worst domestic record in this regard I am wondering if there is a real connection between the cost of the ticket and the rate of flights being canceled. Thanks and wonderful site. 

    A – The short answer is yes. If you look at all of 2022, Allegiant led the industry by canceling 4.43% of all flights while Delta had the best record of the majors with just 1.94%. Jetblue, Southwest, and Spirit held the next three spots in terms of their flight cancellation rate. 

    Yes, there is a connection between overall airline rating and the percentage of cancelled flights. But we should remind you that the respected Skytrax organization does the industry’s most respected annual rankings of the world’s airlines. Five Star + is the highest ranking. All three US major carriers, United, American, and Delta are currently ranked as three-star airlines. Turkish Airlines, by contrast, is a 4-star rated airline. 


    Q – We booked a Silversea cruise from Athens to Venice and just learned, sixty-thirty days before we leave, that our air schedules have been changed because Delta canceled one of our flights. Our travel agent says she cannot speak to Delta to help us but they are trying to work this out directly with Silversea. I see Delta as the one who canceled the flight and I think they are the ones who ought to make this up to us by offering us a better connection – not a worse one. Should we go around the agent and call Delta directly? If so, what department? I don’t quite understand why I used a travel agent to book this if they can’t help me with Delta.

    A – We will infer from your note that you are booked on an air program that is part of your Silversea booking. Your travel agent is exactly correct. Your ticket was purchased by Silversea as part of a group contractual arrangement with Delta. This gives Silversea access to tickets at special pricing but they must adhere to the terms of the contract. Delta will not, legally, be able to speak to your travel advisor because your travel advisor is not the official “ticketing agent”. That would be Silversea’s Air Department. 

    Your agent can contract Silversea on your behalf because the agency acts as your “advocate” in situations like this. This, by the way, is one primary reason why you should always use a travel advisor. That, and the fact that, even if you don’t use one,  you will end up paying their commission anyway because it is always built into the cruise line’s price matrix.

    It is highly likely that calling Delta will be a waste of your time. The cruise lines go through special group departments and you will likely not be put through to that office as they do not work with passengers directly. 

    There is one essential point here we want to be certain we make clear. Let’s imagine that your Business Class ticket actually cost Silversea $2800 based on their negotiated confidential contract with Delta. If your original flight is canceled, Delta must, working with Silversea’s air department, find you an alternative way to get to your destination. But what they will not do is put you on a flight where the Business class tickets are currently priced at $4500 Per Person. They must operate on their agreed-upon price of $2800. They are not going to east the difference – neither is Silversea. So what you will be getting on a cruise line-supplied air offer is alternative routing within the same general price range. There could be a non-stop available – but you won’t get a $4500 ticket. 

    So what to do about it? You can always decide to take the available air credit and do your own air every time you take a cruise abroad. But studies show that 90% of the time you will be spending more, often thousands of dollars more, to do your ticketing independently. And, always remember that when do do not use the cruise line’s air program your transfers from and back to the airport are not included. In most European capitals that can easily amount to additional charges of several hundred dollars.


    Q –  (8.20.23)We have been going to Hawaii, on and off, for the past eighteen years. Instead of a busy itinerary, we like to devote our time to one island per vacation, staying a week at the best hotel and a week at the best condo. We always do the condo first so we can be “served” the second week. Four years, ago we stayed on Lanai and absolutely loved the small-town vibe and the beauty. Now, we want to return but with all of the restoration work after the devastation that hit the Lahaina area, we are having second thoughts. We don’t want to be in the way but we must assume that tourism is going to be sorely missed. Any thoughts would be appreciated.   

    A – We think your heart is in exactly the right place. Hawaii is still cleaning up and it will be for years in portions of Lahaina and Maui. But the islands will need the support of all of those who love the places and the people. We would encourage you to plan a vacation back to the islands just as soon as you can. Be prepared for some work crews to be using accommodations wherever you stay and dining options may be a bit limited. We think that waiting a month or two might be wise. But real travelers who have felt the Aloha spirit should, in our view, be planning a return to the islands to help spur the essential revival of the tourism economy. And please bring as many friends and family members as you can.

    Just two weeks before the fires struck, we had a call from a very prominent Hawaii hotelier who wanted to discuss any clear reasons we could see why tourism to the islands had slowed down dramatically in terms of fall and winter bookings. Hawaii, as well as Mexico and the Caribbean, have all been impacted by a surge of American passport holders who, post-Covid were ready to head for points in Europe. 

    So Hawaii has felt the power of a natural disaster coupled with a trending away from the North American continent. All of us have always seemed to take Hawaii for granted. But Paradise was always there and, for the most part, it still is populated by a people with fierce determination. We want to thank you for asking this question. For all of the exquisite moments we have spent on these magical islands – it is now payback time. 


    Q – We seem to be getting more and more cruise offers at home which would indicate that the cruise lines are in trouble. Yet, for the most part, you have indicated they are not. Why this flurry of deals and special offers from the top cruise like the ones Churchill & Turen represents and do you, quite frankly, have the same offers?

    A – Love this question. Your perception is correct. There are more offers and part of the reason is that marketing folks have to earn their keep. Many years ago, we advised guests to always use the “Cruisetruth Mathematical Model” to determine the true price of your cruise.

    Take the least expensive, outside balcony stateroom and determine the total cost including port charges but leaving off air and insurance. Then divide by two. Then, divide that number by the number of nights you will spend aboard the ship. That will give you the true “per diem” cost per person and you can then compare that pricing with other cruises you might be thinking about taking.

    The cruise industry is not “in trouble”. There is considerable Pandemic-related debt to be paid down, but as of yesterday, for instance, Royal Caribbean stock was up 114% for the year. (They own Celebrity and Silversea)/ Several major lines are operating currently at occupancy rates above 100%. 

    As to the deals. We can use Regent Seven Seas as an example. They currently have an offer on a wide range of sailings that includes a three-night land program at the beginning or end. Sounds great. And, like virtually all cruise advertising, it assumes that the consumer is totally deal-focused and will believe anything. So what is missing in these deals? The worst thing that can happen on a Seabourn cruise, or a Tauck Tour, for that matter, is a discussion where a large number of loyal guests realized that if they had just waited until the last minute to book they would have received a better offer. And you know what? That does happen on Carnival, on Norwegian, and on Royal Caribbean. Last-minute deals happen all the time on a four and five thousand guest ships.

    But the world’s top ten ranked cruise lines, which are the focus of our firm,  do not generally do that because they realize that those who book earliest are their most reliable core clients. And they have absolutely no interest in alienating their most loyal guests. We know many of these top executives. They are highly intelligent and aware men and women who have no interest in trying to train high-income, sophisticated cruisers to wait until the last minute to score a price deal that can be bragged about over cocktails on the ship. 

    The cruise industry’s goal is not to simplify pricing so every consumer understands it clearly. Just the opposite. Their commissioned call center personnel are trained to try to get you to spend the most you can when you call.

    The luxury lines fully understand that people talk aboard ships and it could cause major problems if those who booked last-minute received better pricing than those first 25% of guests putting down deposits – often more than a year in advance.

    There is a major cruise myth perpetrated by the media that would make it seem that every cruise line goes out and negotiates different pricing with every travel agency group – with each price negotiated separately so there are hundreds of pricing models in the cruise line’s computer system. And, you have to believe that the cruise line management is so stupid that they put out pricing to the public that undercuts the pricing they are offering in-house. 

    What many of our guests do not realize is that the top lines have a regular schedule of rising prices as each ship fills. On one of the very top-ranked lines, for example, the prices generally are raised every 90 days. So while they may offer a land program, in the example you used, when you book it you are being charged a fare that has been raised several times which helps defray the cost of the package. You are not getting a better deal than those who booked earliest.

    With tour operators that meet our stringent requirements, there is no discounting at all. The worst thing Tauck could ever do to a long-time tour guide is to have twenty-four guests on the bus who have paid a wide variety of prices for the same program. Guests would be unhappy and the company might well lose one of its best guides.

    Finally, you asked about our firm. Since we have held executive positions in the industry and fully understand pricing models, we take a different approach. Instead of playing foolish and misleading pricing games, we state, in writing, that we will seek out the best current legitimate offer and we will refund 100% of that offer to the guests. We have not, in 38 years, ever retained any portion of the discounts due to any guest of our firm. We’re sure there are other luxury travel firms that share this policy but we feel better presenting it in a legal format.

    Apologies for the long response. You hit a nerve. Every travel supplier wants its guests to take action to book. The best way to do that, they feel, is to make every guest feel that they are receiving a very special offer. That is why you keep getting mailing offers at home. Use our Cruisetruth Pricing Model and you will always know exactly how good an offer you have received. Define your own “Per Diem” comfort level and don’t be shy about advising your advisor about the figure you have in mind. 

    Thank you for your important question.


    Q – I thought you had written something a while back that indicated that an airline can give your seat away even after it is confirmed and you have it in writing. Can that be true?

    A – Yes. The fine print on every ticket indicates that you have been assigned seats that can change. This does happen more than you might imagine for two primary reasons: The first is when there is a change of equipment. When that happens, airline computers will arbitrarily assign new seats based on the newly assigned aircraft’s seating plan. The other scenario when seats are changed without your knowledge has to do with the needs of one of the airline’s elite fliers. Airlines can and do give booked seats to their most frequent, million-mile fliers. This is one reason we always advise flyers to download the airline’s app to check from time to time that their assigned seats have not been changed.


    Q – We are now fully retired, although I do some consulting in the field of Environmental Law, and my wife and I are ready to start living some of our dreams – most of which center around eating some incredible, best available, meals. We want to start planning two or three major trips a year where we can find, quite literally, the top-rated restaurants on the planet. I guess you can call us Obsessive Foodies with an emphasis on “obsessive”. 

    Obviously, we would try to knock out several of the world’s best on each trip. But how to find out where the best restaurants are and what to say when we call them up for a reservation? And where to begin? Does any such list that is actually respected in the Restaurant Industry actually exist? And where would you start if we want to begin at the very top of the list and then work our way down? As you can see, this is all in the beginning planning stages but we really want to take off next summer on the first of two or three journeys next year in search of “The Planet’s Best Meals”.

    There may be a book or a blog involved in this project but that is really secondary to amazing dining memories and, let’s be honest, some bragging rights. Are you aware of anyone who has done this before and actually worked their way down the line from 1-10? Can’t wait for your response and kudos for an intriguing site that allows open questions like this with no apparent financial motive.

    A – OK. Let’s see if we can help you organize this. It has been done before and, yes, there is an “officially” recognized and respected list each year of the World’s Best Restaurants. There are clients of ours who have tried to include the very top-tier restaurants but, if you want to “do the list” be aware that it refers to the “Best Fifty Restaurants in the World” so you will need to plan carefully.  

    The most respected list in the industry is called “The World’s Best Restaurants” and it was launched by an impressive group of chefs, food editors, and writers in 2002. It has, since it was launched, gained a great deal of respect within the international dining community. Last year’s winners were Noma and Geranium, both located in Copenhagen which quickly became a gourmet food destination to those in the know. 

    The group has a strong rule that no restaurant can gain the top spot more than once so everyone in the restaurant industry worldwide was quite interested in which restaurant would get the top spot in 2023 and where it might be located. Given the number of Michelin restaurants on the list, Japan was thought to be a serious contender.  

    You will first be headed to Peru on your life journey. Lima’s Central has been inching up the list since 2013 but it got a boost when one of the owners,Virgilio Martinez, was featured on Netflix “Chef’s Table” series.

    The restaurant is in the coastal Barranco neighborhood. You will be served a 12 or 14-course tasting menu at a cost per person of just under $300. We thought you might like to see where the rest of your travels will be taking you if you literally decide to do the full list of the World’s Best Restaurants. Lima, by the way, has an amazing four restaurants on the list making it the world’s premier Foodie destination.

    In terms of travel planning, no restaurants in India or on the African Continent made the list. Here are the 2023 Restaurants named the Best in the World:

    The Complete List of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023

    1. Central (Lima, Peru) – Best Restaurant in South America
    2. Disfrutar(Barcelona, Spain) – Best Restaurant in Europe
    3. Diverxo(Madrid, Spain)
    4. Asador Etxebarri(Atxondo, Spain)
    5. Alchemist(Copenhagen, Denmark)
    6. Maido(Lima, Peru)
    7. Lido 84(Gardone Riviera, Italy)
    8. Atomix(New York City) – Highest Climber, Best Restaurant in North America
    9. Quintonil(Mexico City, Mexico)
    10. New: Table by Bruno Verjus(Paris, France) – Highest New Entry
    11. New: Trèsind Studio(Dubai, UAE) – Best Restaurant in the Middle East and Africa
    12. A Casa do Porco(São Paulo, Brazil)
    13. Pujol(Mexico City, Mexico)
    14. Odette(Singapore) – Best Restaurant in Asia and Chef’s Choice: Julien Royer
    15. New: Le Du(Bangkok, Thailand)
    16. Reale(Castel di Sangro, Italy)
    17. New: Gaggan Anand(Bangkok, Thailand)
    18. Steirereck(Vienna, Austria)
    19. Don Julio(Buenos Aires, Argentina)
    20. Quique Dacosta(Dénia, Spain)
    21. Den(Tokyo, Japan)
    22. Elkano(Getaria, Spain)
    23. New: Kol (London, England)
    24. Septime(Paris, France)
    25. Belcanto(Lisbon, Portugal)
    26. Schloss Schauenstein(Fürstenau, Switzerland)
    27. Florilège(Tokyo, Japan)
    28. New: Kjolle(Lima, Peru)
    29. Boragó(Santiago, Chile)
    30. Frantzén (Stockholm, Sweden)
    31. Mugaritz(San Sebastian, Spain)
    32. Hiša Franko(Kobarid, Slovenia)
    33. New: El Chato(Bogotá, Colombia)
    34. Uliassi(Senigallia, Italy)
    35. Ikoyi (London, England)
    36. New: Plénitude(Paris, France)
    37. New: Sézanne(Tokyo, Japan)
    38. The Clove Club(London, England)
    39. The Jane(Antwerp, Belgium)
    40. Restaurant Tim Raue(Berlin, Germany)
    41. Le Calandre (Rubano, Italy)
    42. Piazza Duomo(Alba, Italy)
    43. Leo(Bogotá, Colombia)
    44. Le Bernardin(New York City)
    45. Nobelhart & Schmutzig(Berlin, Germany)
    46. New: Orfali Bros(Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
    47. Mayta(Lima, Peru)
    48. New: La Grenouillère(La Madelaine-sous-Montreuil, France)
    49. New: Rosetta(Mexico City)
    50. The Chairman(Hong Kong)

    Finally, in terms of getting reservations: Do not try calling them on your own. Instead, work with a travel advisor well-versed in food and fine dining. Your advisor should be part of a consortium that has offices in the countries where you will be headed. You will want reservations requested by a local who will have the inside track on securing often, impossible to get, reservations.

    We have clients who just returned from dinners at both Noma and Geranium during a one-week visit to Denmark. They booked the best hotel in the city and got to know the lead Concierge. They arrived at the hotel with a carefully thought-out gift for the Concierge. They reported that each dining experience was well worth the effort and the price.

    For the record, we don’t feel that anything about your plan is obsessive. You are focused and we suspect that your focus will result in a suitcase full of truly memorable journeys. And you may become more in demand as a cocktail party guest. Enjoy it all and don’t fill up on the bread. 


    Q – Really interesting site – just stumbled across you via some algorithm hidden in the bowels of Google’s basement. Two weeks ago, on business in DC, I was checking in at the JW Marriott. I had checked and I knew, for a fact, that the next category up, a junior suite was available. I asked the front desk, and then the front desk manager, if they would consider an upgrade. They politely refused even though I am every kind of Marriott frequent stayer there is. As a security consultant (you can read anything into that you want) I could not believe they would refuse to upgrade me when I was checking in at 8:30 PM. 

    One of my co-workers had almost the same scenario occur at the Grand Hyatt in LA. He is an off-the-charts Hyatt frequent traveler. I know you weren’t there – but wondering if you can think of any explanation that is making it harder and harder to secure hotel upgrades?

    A – In other words you are a part-time security guard  who wants a free upgrade? No worries – you are asking a serious question and the tend you have noticed is, we think, very real. There are several possible reasons applicable to specific properties but you may very well be looking at a change in upgrade procedures that is a result of pandemic financial losses and a severe shortage of housekeeping staff. There are wage increaese pressures, threats of unionization, and a failing attempt by four and five star hotels to get guests to willingly forego housekeeping services.

    Some of this is, we suspect, mathematical. The time spent cleaning a suite is greater than the time spenmt cleaning a standard-size room. The amenities and in-room cleaning requirements are greater.

    One of the not so public issues that has arisen as hotels emerge from the pandemic with higher, much higher, average occupancy rates is the amount of time maids can spenmd cleaning rooms. In many larger cities like Los Angeles, hotels are addressing their increasing costs for housekeeping services by placing limits on the actual number of square feet a maid can clean. The number we are hearing is 3,500 square feet per day. After that the maid, or “room attendant” has completed their work and must be paid for a full day or, perhaps, be compensated at “overtime” wages. 

    So upgrading you to any kind of suite would have increased the maid’s square foot coverage, would take more time, and would, if done frequently enough, more additional housekeeping staff.

    The maid’s unions are in a stronger position then they have ever been and room cleaning services are increasingly going to be viewed by hotels as services for which the guest must sign-up and expect to pay for the “extra” services. 

    In this environment, comp room upgrades are going to become less frequent.
    Q – What is the biggest mistake you think clients make when planning their vacations? Is it where they travel or more, how they travel?

    A – Many upscale travelers reject the notion of traveling with other like-minded people out of hand. Many of our guests are unaware that there are several, not many, tour firms that appeal specifically to intelligent and relatively sophisticated travelers. It is also true that many of our guests will not even consider a cruise vacation because of the many stereotypes regarding mega-ships at sea. The fact is, that when you did down deep enough, there really is a ship for everyone. You just have to be open to the discussion. 

    Other “mistakes” might include a reluctance to do off-season travel when recommended to do so. In a general sense, we would argue that the consumer’s tendency to believe social media posts by so-called “influencers” and very part-time travel writers and agents, has created a dung heap of phony and purchased reviews designed to spread product quality misinformation. In public forums and on talk radio we use this example: If you loaded up a bus filled with friends and headed out to the largest indoor mall in your area and then stopped the first 500 people you saw to ask them if they could name the world’s top-rated cruise line – we believe not more than one or two would know. And that is being optimistic. 

    Our industry, the nation’s third largest, is so filled with deceit and misrepresentation, that a majority of consumers cannot describe how their travel agent is compensated.