The rest of Q&A


    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  (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. ( 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.