The rest of Q&A


    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. 


    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.