What’s Virtuoso, Again?

Have you ever been in a meeting with a professional (i.e., CPA, lawyer, contractor, car salesman or, um, travel advisor) and find yourself not asking a question because you worry it will be a waste of time, don’t want to open the door to a long answer, or just aren’t in the mood for a sales pitch?

I’ve certainly had those moments. Sometimes, asking these clarifying questions is important – like when I asked my golf instructor why he was telling me to ‘release the club’, even though he wasn’t ever letting go of it in the demo (see here if you’re curious…and yes, it’s taken a pandemic for me to join the thousands of suckers who think they’ll master golf).

Knowing that ‘releasing the club’ doesn’t actually mean to release the club is important. Somewhere over Queenstown, NZ – Oct 2014

But sometimes, it just feels awkward to ask – like when I didn’t want to ask my 5th grader to refresh my memory on the distributive property. (Please tell me I’m not the only one that was fuzzy on this – if not, click here for a primer..).

In the spirit of tackling this universal issue, I’m creating a new series of posts, which will endeavor to answer the most common not-asked questions. Fees, our affiliation with my host agency, how travel advisors are compensated, and what makes my favorite (and least favorite) trip to work on are fair game. If you have a question you’ve always wondered and never ask – that’s fair game, too. Send me an email!

For this inaugural post, I’m starting with one of the most uttered words in the luxury travel industry: Virtuoso.

What’s Virtuoso, again?

You see the logo and word on our website, email signature, hotel websites, and cruise newsletters. The name and its leaders pop up in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, CNBC, and more, sharing their views on the ‘state of travel.’

So what is it? Virtuoso is a member-only luxury travel network that brings thousands of the world’s best 4- and 5-star suppliers* and travel advisors together. There are other consortia out there that travel companies may belong to (Signature and Ensemble are two that you may have heard of), but Virtuoso is considered to be the Jumbo Lump Maryland Crabcake of the travel networks: no breading, no imitation or backfin meat, and plenty of Old Bay (at least that’s how this Maryland native has internalized it…).

(* “Supplier” = anyone who supplies travel services. Think cruise line, tour guide, rental car company, hotel, etc. One less question you always wanted to ask!)

What’s in it for me, your trusted client?

When suppliers become a member of Virtuoso, they must meet and maintain stringent standards, and also must provide value-added amenities to travelers who book through Virtuoso travel advisors (like your friends at Gehring Travel, thanks to our our independent affiliation with Brownell).

While there are occasionally Virtuoso amenities with member tour companies and cruise lines, the juiciest perks are found in hotel bookings. These amenities vary by property, but at the very least you’ll get breakfast daily for two, an upgrade if available, and some sort of monetary credit. At the most, you’ll save thousands in value-added amenities at some of the world’s top hotels.

Really, save thousands of dollars? Prove it.

Let’s take the glorious Ritz Paris, for example. If you booked a Deluxe Room from Oct 14-17 on the The Ritz website directly by yourself, the total cost of the room would be EUR 4022.50. This would include a very fancy room, wonderful service, and nothing else.

When booking The Ritz through a Virtuoso-affiliated travel advisor, you’d pay the same price, get the same very fancy room and wonderful service, PLUS:

  • A guaranteed upgrade at time of booking
    • In this example, Upgrade at time of booking to a Grand Deluxe Room, worth EUR 4,922 total for 3 nights. Instant EUR 900 value.
  • Early check-in and late check-out confirmed at time of booking
    • Fighting Jetlag on arrival in Europe doesn’t work unless you get a power nap on arrival. Power naps on arrival don’t happen when you hear that your room isn’t ready at 7am in the morning. It’s that simple.
  • Daily full breakfast for 2 guests per room (either in the restaurant or via room service)
    • At the Ritz, this saves at least EUR 50/person, per day, so at least EUR 300 in this case.
  • Complimentary roundtrip private transfer, with VIP Meet & Greet on arrival
    • This is worth at LEAST EUR 500, if not more.
      VIP Meet & Greet on arrival allows you to be whisked to the front of all lines while laughing all the way past the notoriously sloth-like passport stampers at CDG. You’ll then follow your Greeter without using one tiny jetlagged brain cell to figure out the difference between terminal 2E and 2F. In turn, the Ritz knows exactly when you’re arriving (because they’ve sent their driver), and greets you by name when you arrive.
  • Complimentary WiFi
    • To be honest, most hotels include this these days. BUT some don’t! And when they don’t, this is another win.
  • Free Visa stamp to enter the European Union. KIDDING! But if The Ritz could, they would. I guarantee it.
This dream was waiting for us in our (ready to check in) room on arrival at 7 AM. – March 2020.

The Bottom Line: Booking through a Virtuoso member advisor saves at least EUR 1700 in hard cash (in this example), plus a confirmed early check-in or late check-out. And that’s just for a 3 night stay.

Can’t I get similar amenities through Amex’s Fine Hotels & Resorts Program or Chase Preferred?

Yes – both programs (and a slew of other ‘elite partner’- ish programs) offer similar amenities (sometimes a bit better, sometimes worse).

To that I say: Thank Goodness we built our house on providing a completely seamless experience, discerning what’s most critical to building the perfect luxury trip, and on years of growing relationships within this wonderful network.

If we built it on a sandy foundation of only throwing in free perks, we wouldn’t be hanging around writing this post.

The biggest difference in other programs is what happens after the booking. As a part of our process, we personally confirm (and correct any thing odd we may see, and reconfirm again) every detail of a reservation before a client arrives. The Devil is in the details, and we go through great lengths to find exorcise it!

Our bookshelf doesn’t look like this, but only because we spend our copious detail-oriented energy on ensuring client trips are completely seamless.

While I’m a proud card-carrying Amex Platinum Member and have many clients who love Chase Preferred and similar programs, I can tell you with certainty that after you book with that call center rep or on the website, they’re not figuring out when you’re birthday is, or making sure the hotel knows your middle child is allergic to nuts (queue another middle child meltdown). They just aren’t! And trust me, friends, that’s where the rubber meets the road, and why having such a tight knit family such as Virtuoso is so important.

What’s in it for you, Louisa? Do you get some sort of incentive to book Virtuoso? And can I include a non-Virtuoso property on my itinerary?

Recently longtime clients admitted they thought that I could only book Virtuoso-affiliated hotels for them, and that I get some sort of additional kickback by booking them for clients.

Truth: the only extra perk I get booking a Virtuoso property over a non-Virtuoso property is the ability to sleep at night, knowing my clients will be taken care of during their trip.

That’s right. The only reasons why it’s beneficial for me to book a Virtuoso property are because a) the perks you get are better, b) we get immediate access to all of the contacts and bigwigs on the property, and therefore c) clients (/we) are happier with the final outcome.

This is me, when we align with clients, book with our best partners, and know the trip will be amazing.

That said, there are many, many charming little hotels that I adore using that are NOT members of Virtuoso that I’ve learned about through other amazing partners. We use those, and that’s A-OK! I love to sprinkle them in when appropriate.

There are also even more hotels that aren’t Virtuoso that are miserable to work with. Don’t get me started. There is NOTHING worse than booking a hotel we feel unsure about because the friend you met at the cocktail party said it was the best ever when she stayed one time 6 years ago….and we only have “info@” email address as a final recourse if something goes bump in the night. UGH.

Got it! What if I just want to book the hotel on my own, and still get the amenities? I love you and all, but don’t need anything more than free perks for this particular getaway.

#COVID #LastMinuteGetaways. I get it!

Now that you all have a refresher on what Virtuoso is and have all the time in the world to dream about travel, it’s a great time to pop on the site and do some travel dreaming.

On the Virtuoso site you can poke around and search suppliers by destination, and can also look into hotel perks and amenities.

You can actually even book yourself (though make sure to note that I’m your advisor, so that you can get the amenities and I know to reach out about your stay!). If you just want to get those perks and don’t need any additional research/concierge/airline help from us, this is a complimentary gift to you.

So there you have it, dear friends! I hope this was useful. If it’s brought up additional questions, remember – this is an open Ask Louisa forum, and it’s fair game for discussion!