March 20, 2013

Virtuoso Gives More for Your Money in Madrid

Here’s a great example of how booking hotels with a Virtuoso travel advisor provides the best value. I recently booked a client at the Westin Palace Madrid. This is one of the city's top luxury hotels, a historic building commissioned by King Alfonso XIII, which first opened in 1912.

Westin Palace Madrid
 A professional review describes the hotel:

The lobby with its murals of vine-draped balconies and shadowy greenery looks ready for a royal ball. Its beauty is enhanced with inlaid-marble floors, velvety fabrics and Regency appointments. The staff is helpful and professional in English and a half-dozen other languages.

A dozen steps rise from reception to a small but elegant conversation area with a sumptuous 18th-century Flemish tapestry and high-end shops. Beyond, the dazzling stained-glass cupola of the main lounge is a genuine tourist attraction and the most famous feature of the property. Gathered around this lounge are restored frescoes and florid carpeting that make sipping a drink here all the more relaxing.

Hall Cupola
The revamped Rotonda serves breakfast and lunch buffet fare to one side of the lobby lounge with starched white linens, meticulously prepared buffet dishes, and exquisite service.  The popular bar, immortalized in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, is still a place to see and be seen. Rotating photography exhibits provide ample topics for conversation.

The Palace Bar

On the top floor, guests find the Westin Workout facility with panoramic city views and a sun terrace from which to enjoy them.

This grand dame has been wonderfully restored so it looks just like it did 100 years ago, but with the addition of the Westin touch, including Heavenly Beds, high speed internet, flat screen TV’s, and upscale bathrooms. As a Brownell colleague put it after her recent visit: “A great mix of tradition with our modern lifestyle. Comfortable, and wonderful personal service.”
Junior Suite
The base room rates for the peak summer season range from 225.50 € for a Deluxe Room to 455.59 € for a Junior Suite, or 260.50 € and 490.50 €, respectively, if including breakfast.

My clients pay the standard nightly rate, and then receive these complimentary amenities, simply because they are Virtuoso clients:  
  • Daily buffet breakfast for two
  • One lunch or dinner for two (first course, second course and dessert)
  • Free high speed internet
  • Late checkout
  • Early check-in
  • Complimentary upgrade on arrival, based on availability

So doing the math, a Virtuoso client gets an additional 51.20 € in value daily:
  Room rate difference (with and without breakfast) – 35.50 €
  Internet access: 15.70 €
  Plus any difference in room rate if they receive an upgrade

And over the course of their stay, there's an additional 100-150 € value for the complimentary meal.
And that’s not to mention the extra VIP attention all our Virtuoso partners give our highly valued clients – priceless!

Royal Palace
There are Virtuoso properties all around the world, from city hotels to beach resorts to wilderness lodges to spa retreats. Before booking your next hotel stay, no matter how long or short, contact me to find out how you can get the most for your money.

March 4, 2013

Europe Car Rental Tips

Here are some great tips from Auto Europe when renting a car overseas.  I use Auto Europe almost exclusively for my clients because they have great rates that are fully refundable, and they stand by their product.  They represent many car rental companies, so if you run into trouble at the counter, you can contact customer service 24/7 for immediate assistance.   And best of all, clients prepay in US dollars, and the rate is guaranteed against currency fluctuation (see last tip below).

Before You Go

Check if your personal homeowner's, credit card, or auto insurance provides CDW coverage, and if so, the limits and any restriction on vehicle makes or models.  However note that in some countries, such as Ireland, Italy, and Turkey, third party coverage is not accepted.  You can also add coverage for rental cars to your travel insurance policy for reasonable rate.

Make sure you have a large enough vehicle for passengers AND luggage, especially if you will be driving between hotels often.

Check if an international driver's license is required in your destination.  Even if it isn't, the small fee to get one can be worth the peace of mind & time savings in case you are pulled over by an officer who is not fluent in English.

When You Arrive

Make sure you understand the rental contract you are signing.  You can request the rental agreement in English from most of the larger companies.  If you do not want extra insurance, make sure you do not sign for it in error at the counter.

Inspect the interior & exterior of the vehicle before departing, and take pictures with your phone. 

Check what kind of fuel the car uses, gas or diesel.  Most car companies provide a full tank and you are expected to return it full.  But make sure you understand the conditions so you don't fill the tank and then also get charged for a full tank.

Make sure you have the numbers for roadside assistance.  If you've rented from Auto Europe, you can also call them toll free 24/7 with questions or to request assistance.

When You Return Home

Hold onto receipts for at least six months.

Check your credit card statement.  Most traffic violations are captured by camera & sent by mail.  If the rental company receives a citation, they'll automatically charge your credit card.

Check the exchange rate on the day of your rental. If the exchange rate is higher than when you booked the car, you may be entitled to a refund.  If it's lower, you saved money!