Tag Archives: ask wendy

How to Get an Extraordinary Trip: Wendy’s WOW Approach

As a travel journalist and consumer advocate for the past 30 years—first as Condé Nast Traveler’s advice columnist, then as TripAdvisor’s Travel Advocate—I’m all too aware of the multifarious travel challenges that need to be addressed as a result of the post-pandemic combo of pent-up travel demand, inflation, understaffing, and ever-changing local rules.  For international trips in particular, you’d be wise to use an extremely well-connected, extremely knowledgeable, destination-specific, trip-planning specialist who can act as your local fixer and optimize your every step.  You’d be even wiser to find and contact that trip planner via the unique WOW approach to trip planning that I’ve created by popular demand from my longtime readers.  It’s the approach used by the travelers who are submitting these trip reviews. And it starts with filling out any one of the trip questionnaires on this website

Starting a trip with my questionnaire is designed to deliver these benefits:

1. Priority status and VIP treatment
2. Unbeatable value for a maximized travel experience
3. My advice from the start of your trip planning and at key stages of it
4. The right to review the trip planner after your trip (your reviews serve as a uniquely useful and empowering resource to our community of sophisticated, frequent travelers)
5. A surprise WOW Moment, custom-designed for you and complimentary. After two qualifying trips, Wendy will email you a WOW Moment gift certificate, which you can then redeem on a future qualifying trip before the certificate’s expiration date.

I can’t monitor your trip if I don’t know about it. That’s why it’s necessary to fill out my questionnaire at the start of your trip planning. It’s the only way I can watch over your trip from the start to make sure it will turn out as great as it could be.  When you use my questionnaire, that’s how the trip planner knows that I sent you and I’m watching.

To find my questionnaire:
• Go to The WOW List and click on the CONTACT button of the travel specialist you want.  Your answers go directly to that trip planner, as well as to me.
• Go to Ask Wendy.  We can recommend the best trip planner for your specific needs.

Because I stand by my words and my vetting, I will invite you to review your trip afterward here on WendyPerrin.com.  This review system ensures that my recommendations stay up-to-the-minute reliable. It safeguards my reputation by proving I can stand behind my recommendations. That’s what I get out of this. What you get is an excellent trip.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I hire Wendy to plan my trip?
2. What is a WOW trip?
3. Is a WOW trip better than what I can plan on my own?
4. When should I NOT use a WOW List trip planner?
5. Why should I use your questionnaire?
6. Is there a cost to using your questionnaire?
7. Are a WOW List planner’s trip arrangements more expensive than if I plan it myself?
8. Will I know what every element of my trip costs?
9. Why must I speak (rather than just email) with a WOW List trip planner?
10. How does a trip planner get onto The WOW List?
11. What is Wendy’s “trip support”?
12. What is The WOW List Pledge?
13. What if there’s no trip planner in my price range listed for where I want to travel?
14. How do you test new candidates for The WOW List?
15. Do we want readers to nominate trip planners for consideration and to help road-test WOW List candidates?
16. What are Wendy’s WOW Moments?
17. Is The WOW List pay-to-play?
18. So how do you fund this website and service?
19. I have a question that hasn’t been answered above.

1. Can I hire Wendy to plan my trip?

No.  I’m a journalist on deadline. But I can likely recommend the trip designer you’re looking for. My unique expertise is that I have spent two decades finding, vetting, testing, and monitoring trip-planning specialists for specific regions of the world and types of travel.

It started when I was Condé Nast Traveler‘s advice columnist (1996 – 2014).  As more and more Internet travel-booking sites were popping up in the late ’90s, readers kept asking me the smartest way to book their travels, and I realized they could use a list of the best destination-specific trip planners.  So I combed through my Rolodex (remember those?) and selected those destination specialists with the greatest depth of expertise and connections. Thus was born the magazine’s list of top travel specialists, in June of 2000.  It was literally called “Wendy’s Rolodex.”  It became so popular (and copied!) that I was forced to compile it (and improve it!) annually for the next 14 years.

When I left Condé Nast Traveler and launched WendyPerrin.com in 2014, I was inundated with email from my longtime readers, who were still asking me who to use for their trips. So I put up a WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts and an “Ask Wendy” button.  Colleagues of mine from Condé Nast Traveler, Billie Cohen and Brook Wilkinson, pitched in to help me cope with the overwhelming volume of inquiries. This ultimately led to our Get a Personalized Trip Recommendation service and an entire WOW system designed to make sure you end up with the best possible trip.  All of which is to say:  I can’t personally plan your trip, but I can—if you use our questionnaire—give you advice, and the other benefits listed above, to make it WOW.

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2. What is a WOW trip?

 A WOW trip is a custom-tailored, wisely designed, non-touristy, sophisticated, hassle-free trip that maximizes your experience of a place—like these trips that your fellow travelers have recently returned from—and minimizes your risk and unnecessary logistics.

  • It eliminates inefficiencies, crowds, lines, and other headaches and pitfalls.
  • It gets you priority status, insider access, and VIP perks.
  • It may cost more than a trip you plan yourself but is worth it.  It’s value for what you get.

The trip planners on The WOW List deliver such trips.

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3. Is a WOW trip better than what I can plan on my own?

You’re comparing apples and oranges. Some people like to plan their trip by finding and booking each separate component (hotels, restaurants, day tours, vehicles, English-speaking guides) on the Internet. By contrast, the destination-specific specialists who have earned a spot on The WOW List create one-of-a-kind, start-to-finish trips that you can’t find on the Internet—and the whole that they create is bigger than the sum of its parts.  Think of them as trip chefs:  They find, combine, and even create trip ingredients—in ways that you can’t, thanks to their local expertise and connections.  Even if you could buy the same ingredients from the same marketplace,  the meal you cook wouldn’t turn out the same.  That’s because WOW trip chefs leverage their relationships to spice up each day, creating a unique journey, customized to your personal tastes.  They eliminate unappetizing elements (lines, logistics, traffic jams, tourist traps), sprinkle in special touches (behind-closed-doors access, can’t-miss views you would have missed, introductions to noteworthy local people), and sometimes pull off the impossible.

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4. When should I NOT use a WOW List trip planner?

It does not make financial sense for you to use a WOW List trip planner (you will not get enough value for the money) in these circumstances:

  1. When you’re looking for a budget or off-the-shelf product. Here, we define value by how high-quality and personalized your trip is, not how little it costs. There are plenty of websites that can help you find travel deals (though you should beware phony “values”), but this isn’t one of them.
  2. When you’ve already booked much of your trip. To guarantee a world-class experience from start to finish, a WOW List trip designer needs control over your arrangements from start to finish.  The more of your trip you have already booked yourself, the less value you will get by using a human-being trip planner, and the less financial sense it will make to work with one.  Example:  Let’s say you’ve booked your hotels and you need only an English-speaking guide for a couple of days:  If you use a WOW List trip planner to book just the guide, you might be missing out on the hotel perks you could have gotten. You might get a lower-quality guide because trip planners save their best guides for the travelers who are making bigger arrangements. Or, the trip planner may be concerned that what you’ve booked already could negatively impact the portion they would arrange and, therefore, they may be reluctant to work with you at all.  The more of your trip a WOW List trip planner designs and books, the more they can save you wasted time, money, and pitfalls, and grout your trip with special touches.
  3. When you’ve already decided on a detailed step-by-step itinerary. When you know where you want to go, stay, and eat, and you just want someone to book all those components, book them yourself.  Do not use WOW List trip planners as order takers. They deliver the best trips when you give them the freedom to create an imaginative, outside-the-box itinerary that will surprise and delight you.
  4. When all you need is an airline ticket, a hotel room, and a rental car.  You can book those things on your own. The time to use a WOW List destination specialist is when you also want a brilliant itinerary, special experiences, and the savviest local fixers who will save you time and headaches, deliver insider access, and make your whole trip easy and delightful.  You can’t get that on your own.
  5. When you’ve redeemed points for your hotel stays or otherwise already booked your accommodations.  Trip planners do not earn revenue for hotel stays booked with miles/points.  The less you use the charming properties that the trip planner has negotiated special rates and perks with, the less that trip planner can embellish your trip with special treatment.  This means that, if  you use a WOW List trip planner for a trip where they won’t be booking your hotel, you will get less value for what you spend.

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5. Why should I use Wendy’s trip questionnaire?

    1. It’s like a personal letter of introduction from Wendy to the WOW trip planner. It marks you as a VIP traveler.  It tells the trip planner that Wendy sent you and is watching, and that you will be reviewing the trip afterward.
    2. It helps you to articulate your trip goals and needs effectively. This sets you up for a more productive conversation and successful collaboration with the trip designer.  We have spent years figuring out exactly what input on your end will lead to the most efficient and effective conversation (see FAQ #8) and help you determine what the trip planner can do for you and whether they are the right choice for your specific goals and needs.  The questionnaire works!
    3. It’s the only way we can know about your trip in order to monitor it.  Wendy designed this system because, throughout her decades as a consumer journalist, readers have contacted her about the same recurring issues over and over again.  Through her trip-monitoring emails of advice to the traveler, she can provide answers before those issues arise.  She can help prevent the common misunderstandings and mistakes that occur between travelers and trip planners.
    4. You get the benefits outlined in The WOW List Pledge. Every WOW List trip planner must sign The WOW List Pledge (see FAQ #11), promising that they will follow certain best practices that Wendy insists on because they are beneficial to travelers and lead to an excellent trip.  For instance, they pledge to reply to your request within 48 business hours.  They promise to have an in-depth trip-design phone/Zoom/Skype conversation with you (because such a live conversation is critical to a WOW trip—see FAQ #8).  They promise to offer the lowest pricing publicly available.  They promise VIP courtesies and treatment.
    5. You get to review the trip planner after your trip.  We continually monitor our recommended travel specialists in order to ensure they uphold the standards and values that got them onto The WOW List in the first place.  When you return from a trip that we’ve monitored, you’re invited to share your review of the travel specialist, for the benefit of your fellow travelers. These reviews from you help determine whether or not that travel specialist stays on The WOW List.
    6. It’s the only way your trip can qualify toward a WOW Moment on a future trip (see FAQ #15).

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6. Is there a cost to using Wendy’s questionnaire?

No.  There might be someday, but for now, we’re trying to keep our advice and service complimentary.  If you choose to work with a trip planner whom you contacted via our questionnaire, then The WOW List Pledge applies, and that Pledge requires that you get the trip planner’s lowest pricing.  WOW List trip planners are incentivized to comply with this requirement because they want to remain on The WOW List and because they want to get great reviews. If travelers feel they got great value from a trip planner, that translates into great reviews.  If enough travelers feel they did not get value, we remove that trip planner from The WOW List.
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7. Are a WOW List planner’s trip arrangements more expensive than if I plan it myself?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It depends on the destination and type of trip.  WOW List trip planners can save you money via reduced rates that they negotiate with hotels and other travel suppliers at their destinations. They negotiate special benefits and amenities too (e.g., early check-in, upgrades, complimentary meals). At the same time, their arrangements can cost more because they employ the best local private guides whom they have personally vetted, they use the newest cars and safest drivers who know all the shortcuts, they pay to eliminate time-consuming hassles such as lines and crowds, etc. Their trips include special touches and perks that you would not be able to procure on your own—and most of these special touches you won’t know about, or appreciate the value of, until you’re actually taking the trip. Their prices also include the local infrastructure to be able to come to the rescue in an emergency.  So, typically, you’ll pay more than if you booked on your own, but you’ll end up with a more rewarding trip in the end. Read these FAQs for more details about trip costs and fees.

If your conversation with a WOW List trip planner doesn’t convince you that the value he or she will add to your trip will be worth the higher cost, then don’t use that trip planner. Feel free to ask us for a different recommendation.
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8. Will I know what every element of my trip costs?

It is common for travel planners to quote a lump-sum price for your entire trip. Why? The local hotels and other businesses that provide the Trusted Travel Experts with exclusive reduced rates do so on the condition that the TTEs not reveal those rates. Sometimes a planner is able to provide a partial breakdown, either by day or by type of expense (e.g., accommodations, private guides, transportation). If you’re presented with a lump-sum price and need to cut costs, explain that you’d feel more comfortable investing X thousand dollars in this trip, and ask the planner how they would suggest that you reach that figure.

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9. Why must I speak with (rather than just email with) a WOW List trip planner?

Because, in the 20 years that I’ve been monitoring and scrutinizing feedback from travelers, I’ve learned that the single biggest factor affecting the outcome of a trip is the initial conversation between traveler and trip planner.  If you want a truly custom-tailored trip, it’s essential to have a live, in-depth conversation, preferably via video call.  Such a conversation gives the trip planner a nuanced understanding of your specific trip goals and needs and what would delight you. It also eliminates the misperceptions and disconnects that can easily mar a trip. This trip-design conversation should be with the specific person named and listed on The WOW List (not just any old employee).  These WOW Listers are very busy and frequently traveling, and many who are company founders/owners don’t speak with travelers anymore as a general rule. But when I put someone on my WOW List, the prestige is great enough that they agree to speak personally with “Wendy’s travelers.”

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10. How does a trip planner get onto The WOW List?

A trip planner earns a spot on The WOW List via the testing process detailed below (see FAQ #14).   We’re constantly testing a new crop of travel specialists to determine whether or not they warrant inclusion on The WOW List.  We’re always improving the List, by listening to feedback from travelers who use it, gathering nominees from our readers who understand the standard we insist on, and scouring the travel industry worldwide.

The WOW List is not static.  It changes all the time because we are always road-testing new travel specialists who come to our attention.  We send travelers to them, collect and publish those travelers’ trip reviews afterward, and then use those reviews to determine who belongs on The List.

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11. What is Wendy’s “trip support”?

When you use our questionnaire, it enrolls you in our trip support:  We’ll watch over your trip planning from start to finish, sharing important advice via email at key stages of the process. I designed this system because, throughout my decades as a consumer journalist, readers have been telling me about the same recurring issues over and over again, and I can provide insight and answers before those issues arise.  I can help prevent the common misunderstandings and mistakes that can occur between travelers and trip planners and that can spoil a trip.

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12. What is The WOW List Pledge?  

The WOW List is comprised of destination specialists, trip designers, and local fixers who have earned a spot on the List after a rigorous test for the specific location or type of travel they are listed for (see FAQ #14) .  They must also sign a Pledge agreeing to abide by these requirements:

1. I will reply to Wendy’s travelers, within 48 business hours of receiving their questionnaire, to schedule a phone appointment or video call.

2.  I will personally meet by phone/Zoom/Skype with each traveler sent by Wendy because I understand that an in-depth, live conversation (not just an email exchange) is essential to an extraordinary trip. (See FAQ #8 for why.)

3. I will extend my lowest pricing to the travelers who come through Wendy’s questionnaire.  I understand that Wendy’s system was designed so as not to increase costs for the traveler and, in fact, so as to save the traveler money in many cases.

4. I will extend any and all VIP courtesies and benefits that I am able to provide. I will make Wendy’s travelers top-priority clients.

5. I will make every effort to reduce Wendy’s travelers’ financial and health risks in light of Covid. I will detail the measures I am taking to protect their health, and how my booking, cancellation, and postponement policies will help protect their financial investment.

6. I will update Wendy frequently regarding the trip-planning status of the travelers she refers to me, so that she can send emails of advice to the traveler at specific times and stages of the trip planning.

7.  I understand that The WOW List is a list of people, not companies. The WOW List logo applies to me specifically and not to others in my company who are not on The WOW List.

8. If my WOW List designation is revoked, I will stop using the WOW List logo—from any and all years—in my marketing immediately. 

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13. What if there’s no WOW List trip planner in my price range for where I want to travel?

If you ask us, we may be able to recommend someone more affordable. Sometimes we are in the process of testing someone who is more affordable (see FAQ #14).   But remember that some countries are far more expensive than others. Also remember that The WOW List is a list of the best people out there; they provide trips you can’t buy elsewhere, and the prices they charge are considered a great value by your fellow travelers who have experienced the trips first-hand.  Furthermore, nowadays there is no viable business model for inexpensive human-being travel agents. If you want an inexpensive trip, book through a deals website.
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14. How do we test new candidates for The WOW List?

We are constantly road-testing destination-specific travel specialists, local fixers, and other trip designers who come highly recommended by your fellow sophisticated travelers.  First, we evaluate these candidates to determine whether they meet our high standard and have a good chance of ultimately earning a spot on The WOW List. Then we send travelers to them and monitor those trips closely, staying in touch with the travelers and asking them to review their trips afterward.  Eventually, if we receive enough stellar feedback about the WOW List candidate, then we conclude that the travel specialist has earned a spot on The WOW List. This testing process takes at least a year and more typically two or three years—because it takes that long for enough trips to get planned, booked, taken, and reviewed publicly, so that there is no doubt in our minds that the trip planner merits The WOW List.
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15. Do we want readers to nominate trip planners for consideration and to help road-test WOW List candidates?

Yes!  Hundreds of trip planners have asked to be considered for The WOW List, and dozens of readers have asked for distinct specialties that are not on The WOW List yet (usually because we’ve never found anybody good enough in those specialized areas, despite years of searching).  We want to fill these gaps, if possible.  So, if there is someone whose trips you have experienced first-hand and whom you recommend for The WOW List (even if you see others already listed for that region), let us know. If you have used at least three of our recommended people and thus have a clear first-hand understanding of the standard and level of service they represent, and you would like to be a road-tester, let us know.
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16. What are Wendy’s WOW Moments?

On every third qualifying trip you take, you’ll get a gift of a WOW Moment. This is our way of thanking you for helping us fine-tune our evolving WOW system. It’s also how we incentivize travelers to submit their trip reviews within three months of returning from their trip.  The WOW Moments rules are here:  Wendy Wants to Amp Up Your Trip!
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17. Is The WOW List pay-to-play?

Of course not. I’m a journalist and would never jeopardize my reputation, and all the years I’ve spent building up the trust and credibility that my readers and sources depend on, by publicly recommending a weak travel planner, no matter how much they wanted to pay me.  My name, and the standard of travel I stand for, are worth a lot more than that.  Besides, if The WOW List were pay-to-play, there would be 5,000 travel agents on it.

Getting onto The WOW List is like getting into a top college:  You need to pass a series of challenging tests.  Once you’re admitted, it means you’re the best of the best, and in our case, it means a trip planner becomes part of the WOW pool from which Wendy feels confident making her recommendations. (See FAQ #13 for how trip planners get approved for The WOW List.) There is no application fee, and there is no way to pay to bypass the test.  After approval, if the trip planner would like to purchase a special logo they can use to let people know they’ve been accepted (the same way proud parents buy a college bumper sticker), then we make that available to them for a fee.

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18. So how do you fund this website and service?

Perhaps we should charge for our advice, but we are journalists who have spent decades informing as many people as possible, regardless of the size of their wallets, and that is what we believe in.

So we have worked very hard to create a site that is self-sustaining, that enables us to continue sharing our honest advice, and that puts each traveler’s needs and bottom line first and foremost.  We accept advertisers, host conferences with sponsors, and earn speaking fees.  Trip planners who pass our rigorous WOW List test (see FAQ #13), as evidenced by the stellar trip reviews they earn, become approved for The WOW List.  Once approved, they may pay for the right to use The WOW List logo in their own company’s marketing materials.  If you decide that a trip planner we’ve recommended is a good match for your needs and you opt to work with that trip planner and buy a trip, then after you return we may (or may not) receive a referral fee.  In cases where we do, the fee does not impact your trip cost (see The WOW List Pledge).  To get a sense of the standard to which we (and our readers) hold WOW List trip planners, you can read these reviews.

To protect the traveler’s bottom line, we require every WOW List trip planner to sign The WOW List Pledge, ensuring that “Wendy’s travelers” will not pay one cent more when using our questionnaire and receiving our trip monitoring.  And the value that travelers receive shows through in their trip reviews. If we receive complaints that a WOW List trip planner is not delivering value for the money, we remove that person from The WOW List.
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19. I have a question that hasn’t been answered above.

Ask it here so I can answer and add it to these FAQs.
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Explore The WOW List

United's Polaris business class cabin

How to Find Affordable Business-Class Airfare to Europe, South America, and Asia


Wendy, we’d like your help finding a reliable airline ticket consolidator for a July trip for five of us. We need two business-class and three economy tickets on the same plane. Thank you for any guidance you can give us. —Bonnie


Bonnie, for business-class consolidator airline tickets, you might try Blake Fleetwood of Cook Travel, a boutique consolidator with 35 years of experience and a high level of personalized service. Blake negotiates low fares with all the major airlines to just about every international destination, mostly in business or first class; his best deals are to Europe, South America, and Asia. Look to him when you have some flexibility in your travel dates, so that his team can peruse the options to find you the best deal.

Blake’s business-class fares save you between 10% and 40%, depending on how far ahead you’re buying them (three to four months is ideal, though you can sometimes find great deals at the last minute) and the time of year you’re flying. Business-class fares are relatively low during holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and Easter. They’re relatively high from September through November and March through May, since those are the two peak times of year for business travel.

Blake’s team is available 24 hours a day, and they have an emergency hotline if your flights go awry en route. Beware of less reputable consolidators that may be reselling frequent-flier tickets; if you can’t earn miles on a ticket, that’s a likely sign that it’s fraudulent. Another bonus: Blake’s business- and first-class fares are almost always refundable, though sometimes minus a penalty of about $500 per ticket.

UPDATE:  The company mentioned above, Cook Travel Inc (based in New York City), is not affiliated with Thomas Cook Group Plc (based in Britain), which went bankrupt on September 23, 2019. The company mentioned in this article is not affected by that bankruptcy.

Airplane travel

Ask Wendy: How to Compare Long-Haul Business Class Flights


Wendy, we have booked a trip to Sri Lanka in January with your Trusted Travel Expert.  American Airlines and Etihad are having a challenge with our business-class reservation, so we are considering Cathay Pacific.  Are Etihad and Cathay Pacific business-class seats/service about the same? —Jeanne

This was my business-class seat on Cathay Pacific from Newark to Hong Kong. Note the size of the TV screen.
But it was hard to take my eyes off this: the northern lights outside the plane window, somewhere over Siberia.
As you can see, Cathay’s business-class seats are pretty spacious.
The in-flight amenities kit
The late-night supper menu
The wine list
Business-class snacks on demand include this won ton noodle soup, Black Angus burgers, and Häagen-Dazs ice cream.
Doug checks out the view from one of Cathay Pacific’s Hong Kong airport lounges.
The lounge’s coffee and tea bar
I ordered up a crême brulée cappuccino. It tasted as good as it looked.
Flavors of JING tea served in the lounge include Flowering Jasmine & Lily, Whole Chamomile Flowers, Whole Peppermint Leaf, Lemongrass & Ginger, Organic Jade Sword, Traditional Iron Buddha, Jasmine Silver Needle, and 1990’s Royal Loose Cooked Pu-Erh.
Airport lounge pre-flight comfort food: Won ton noodle soups from the lounge’s noodle bar and Hong Kong-style milk tea.
Condiments in the noodle bar for spicing up your won tons
The lounge was so comfy we didn’t want to leave!
As lovely as the lounge was, though, the highlight of our whole experience was still the northern lights out the airplane window.


Jeanne, I flew Cathay Pacific to Sri Lanka myself last December—via Hong Kong, the airline’s hub—and I can assure you that business class on Cathay is very comfortable and highly civilized, with flat-bed seats and gold-standard service, not to mention won ton noodle soup whenever you like. Cathay’s premium-class cabins rank among the world’s best, as do its fabulous Hong Kong airport lounges, but here are two ways you can compare Cathay’s seats with Etihad’s:

First, you can compare seats on different aircraft by using SeatGuru’s airline seat comparison charts. On the appropriate chart (in your case, the Long-Haul Business-Class Comparison Chart), find the two aircraft you are choosing between and compare their seat width, seat pitch (which indicates legroom), amenities such as on-demand TV and power ports, and other features. Second, you can use Routehappy to find out the pros and cons of any two flights on the same route. Type in your origin and destination cities, and the site will compare the different airlines flying that route and tell you the smartest choice.

You should also know that Cathay’s Black Friday sale, happening now, is offering astonishing bargains to Hong Kong and Asia. Business-class airfares from U.S. gateways to Hong Kong start at just $3,187 roundtrip. The travel window is January 1 – May 23, and your deadline for purchase is November 29. Here’s a link to the business-class sale. Cathay is offering similarly steep bargains in premium economy too. Prices start at just $1,185 roundtrip to Hong Kong. Here’s the link to the premium-economy sale.

Cathay’s premium economy to Hong Kong, I can tell you from first-hand experience, is surprisingly comfortable, thanks to the seat width and degree of recline, the leather-padded footrest (to make sleep comfier), and snacks on demand.  When my family flew from Newark to Sri Lanka last December, the kids sat in premium economy on the Newark-Hong Kong leg, and the fact that they could have instant noodle soup in a cup whenever they wanted was huge. Between the four of us, we actually ended up experiencing four different cabins on our flights to and from Sri Lanka (there’s a long story behind that)—economy, premium economy, business class, and first class—and even economy (which I flew most of the way back to Newark, as I gave my 14-year-old my bu

Dining Pergola Ca di Pesa Italy villa

Rent A Villa In Italy For the Whole Family

Poolside and deck view.
Poolside and deck view. Photo: Homebase Abroad
countryside view
Countryside view. Photo: Homebase Abroad
outdoor side view
Outdoor side view. Photo: Homebase Abroad
dining room
Dining room. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Master suite sitting area
Master suite sitting area. Photo: Homebase Abroad
outdoor cooking
outdoor dining
Outdoor dining. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Dining Pergola
Dining pergola. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Cantina detail
Cantina detail. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Cinema night
Cinema night. Photo: Homebase Abroad
cinema seating
Cinema seating. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Bellavista suite detail
Bellavista suite detail. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Brunello suite sitting room
Brunello suite sitting room. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Brunello suite sitting room
Brunello suite sitting room. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Living room view
Living room view. Photo: Homebase Abroad
interior view Ca di Pesa Italy villa
Interior view. Photo: Homebase Abroad
breakfast nook Ca di Pesa Italy villa
Breakfast nook. Photo: Homebase Abroad
children's TV room Ca di Pesa Italy villa
Children's TV room. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Italy villa ca di pesa jungle room
Jungle room. Photo: Homebase Abroad
countryside view
Countryside view. Photo: Homebase Abroad


Hi Wendy,

I’m looking for a really special villa in Tuscany for a family reunion for my mom and dad’s 40th wedding anniversary. There will be 18 of us, ranging in age from three years old to 82. We want a great setting with fabulous views, and also a good base for making day trips to the hill towns. Can you suggest a village or villa for us—or a good resource for securing a rental?
Thanks for any help you can offer,



You’ve got a challenge, Margaret: The dreamiest villas in Tuscany tend to be restored farmhouses or castles filled with things that can be treacherous to toddlers or grandmas or both: slippery centuries-old stone steps, open-hearth fireplaces, wobbly antique furniture, spiky medieval-style door latches, etc. I know this from personal experience, having rented an ancient Italian farmhouse with my own mom and kids. I went to sleep every night worried my two-year-old was going to trip over an antique, go flying into a door latch, catapult down the stairs, and end up in the fireplace.

But I do, in fact, have a place in mind for you. Several years ago, when I was in Tuscany I was shown a rambling property called Ca di Pesa that is actually an historic borgo (medieval village). I’ve remembered it since because it struck that unusual note of being sophisticated enough for adults (it’s got a wine cellar where you can dine by candelight, for instance, not to mention a cinema and a bocce court), while also kid-friendly enough for tots (it’s got plenty of flat lawn and a freshwater pool with a child-friendly gate). It’s in an ideal central location amid the vineyards and olive groves of Chianti, near the charming town of Panzano, halfway between Florence and Siena. And it fits 18.

Two caveats: First, a lot of people who rent homes in Tuscany like to be able to walk into town, and while it’s only a five-minute drive to town, it’s a 3.6-mile walk—and not on a charming country path but just on the regular road. Second, the price tag is high, so it helps if you can fill the house. (Maybe you can scrounge up two more family members to make your group 20?) The price in May is $22,500 for the week—which sounds exorbitant until you do the math and realize it translates to $161 per person per night and includes a concierge and a welcome dinner.

So it’s a splurge, for sure, but then again, you did ask for “really special.” And, to this day, whenever I fantasize about the Tuscan villa vacation I desperately need, I think back to Ca di Pesa and look through the photos above. My favorite touch in the house? The jungle fresco in one of the bedrooms.



Snorkerling in Fiji

4 Pacific Islands for the Best Snorkel Vacation of Your Life


Hi Wendy,

What’s the best Pacific island for a 10-day snorkel trip?




Dennis, it depends where you’re flying from (some islands will be a lot more convenient to get to than others), what time of year you’re going (it could be typhoon season on some islands), what accommodations you have in mind (beach hut? overwater bungalow? boat cabin?), what island atmosphere you prefer (do you want a dining scene or to be removed from civilization entirely?), etc.

Assuming that money, time, and transport are no object, here’s a list of the top four from Meg Austin, a travel professional who has snorkeled all over the world and specializes in dive trips. These are her Pacific faves, in order of preference:

1. Fiji
“It’s the soft coral capital of the world,” Meg points out. “It’s got consistently good visibility (May – October is best), islands and hotels where the snorkeling is right there, and a local population that can make even the grumpiest traveler smile! Lalati, Koro Sun, and Rainbows End (miles of brilliantly colored corals) are the best reefs.”

Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Rarotonga, Cook Islands. Photo courtesy Tourism Cook Islands.

2. Rarotonga, Cook Islands
“It doesn’t have the infrastructure or resorts that Fiji has,” says Meg, “so it’s important to have the right expectations. This is a quiet place for snorkeling by day and reading books at night. Rumours Luxury Villas has bells and whistles. I like Palm Grove: funky, not fancy.”

3. Palau, Micronesia
“Palau is not for everyone either, but an avid snorkeler would be in heaven. The Rock Islands (especially Rock Island itself) and The Milky Way lagoon are both do-not-miss. Some would love Jellyfish Lake, others would not. Palau Pacific Resort is “water-focused” (diving and snorkeling) and would be my first choice; there is remarkable activity to explore in the sea there. Love the very colorful nudibranchs!”

4. Sipadan, Malaysia
“Sipadan, the only oceanic island in Malaysia, is known for its fabulous diving but is also great for snorkeling: I’ve sent divers with non-diving spouses there, and they’ve raved about the snorkeling.”

Dennis, choosing an island with world-class snorkeling is the easy part. Pulling together a world-class vacation—juggling the complicated logistics of South Pacific travel, getting to the most colorful reefs at the right times of day, sussing out the overwater bungalows with the best underwater creatures below, ensuring you waste no time or money—is the tough part. If you can provide more detail about your specific trip needs, send them to Ask Wendy and I can connect you with the right travel fixer for that world-class vacation.

singapore airlines suites

The Best Frequent-Flier Deals for American Express Points


Wendy, I have accumulated 2 million American Express points. How do I get the best bang for my buck redeeming them for airline tickets? Should I dump them all into a frequent-flier program? I am open to any and all suggestions. Thank you!


For smart advice on using AmEx Membership Rewards points, I’ve called in my old buddy Brian Kelly, a.k.a. The Points Guy. Brian’s been so successful at collecting and leveraging his own miles that he was able to give up his Wall Street job (which is what he was doing when I met him) to travel around the world full-time. He shares his hard-won knowledge on his website ThePointsGuy.com, and he’s got three nifty suggestions for you, Dee:

“Having 2,000,000 Membership Rewards points at your disposal is definitely a great position to be in. I would keep the points in your American Express account until you’re ready to plan a trip, but you don’t need to blow all two million on a single high-end round-the-world adventure (though you certainly can, assuming you have a few weeks to travel).

Instead, I’d suggest transferring the points to Membership Rewards partners as you need to use them, or, if American Express is offering a temporary transfer bonus to a certain program, it may make sense to transfer speculatively. For example, earlier this year, you could convert Membership Rewards points to British Airways Avios with a 40-percent bonus, so you’d earn 1.4 Avios for every point you transferred. If you had transferred all two million points, you would have ended up with 2,800,000 Avios, which is enough for a whopping 622 one-way short-haul flights on American or US Airways within the US (up to 650 miles), at 4,500 Avios a pop for coach.

Because airline-program devaluations can come at any time (and bonus opportunities can always pop up), it usually makes more sense to keep your points in a flexible currency, like Membership Rewards, until you’re ready to book.

If you’re looking to travel in style, another great airline transfer partner is Singapore Airlines. Singapore reserves the best awards in First and Suites Class on its 777-300ER and A380 aircraft for its own members, so you can’t book premium seats on long-haul flights using miles from a Star Alliance partner. This makes Singapore’s KrisFlyer miles exceptionally valuable. For every 1,000 Membership Rewards points, you’ll receive 1,000 KrisFlyer miles. You can experience Suites Class on the A380 starting at just 31,875 miles (or 31,875 American Express Points) for a one-way flight between Singapore and Hong Kong. Or you can travel all the way from New York City in Suites Class for 93,750 miles, plus about $300 in taxes and fees. Your 2 million points will get you and a friend to and from New York to Singapore in Suites ten times.

Finally, Air Canada’s Aeroplan program is another great transfer partner. As with British Airways and Singapore, you’ll receive 1,000 Aeroplan miles for every 1,000 points you transfer, and points typically transfer instantly (or within a day or two). Aeroplan is especially valuable for premium-cabin travel when compared to United Airlines, allowing you to fly between the US and Europe in Lufthansa First Class for 62,500 miles, rather than the 110,000 miles United requires. Note that Aeroplan does charge fuel surcharges on some carriers, including Lufthansa, so you may need to pay a few hundred dollars in fees in addition to the miles you’ll use for an award.

In total, American Express partners with 16 airline programs and four hotel chains, though you’ll generally get the most bang for your buck from the programs I’ve outlined above.”

Dee, I’m beyond jealous! Enjoy all those trips!

Annapurna, Nepal

How to Get Help in an Emergency When Traveling Abroad


“Wendy, thank you for your tips on what to do if an emergency happens when you’re traveling. I feel that a traveler ought to devise a ‘scheme B’ for getting out of the country in the event that ‘things go sideways’ due to political turbulence or unrest. You shouldn’t rely only on your country’s embassy. Shouldn’t you have a ‘scheme B’?” —Valerie


That’s true, Valerie. Fortunately, there’s an easy Plan B. It requires zero effort on the traveler’s part and should, in fact, be your Plan A: Use the right destination-specialist travel-planning firm to arrange your trip in the first place. The destination specialists on my WOW List are chosen partly because they can and will rescue you in any emergency. Toni Neubauer of Myths and Mountains, for example, operates stellar trips to Asia and is the Nepal specialist on my WOW List. To understand how Toni came to the rescue when the Nepal earthquake struck, read this review posted to WendyPerrin.com by Joe and Rowena Burke, who were in Katmandu, Nepal, when the quake struck on April 25. Here, in the Burkes’ words, is how Toni got them out of the country:

“Behind the scenes Toni Neubauer of Myths and Mountains worked tirelessly to coordinate our hasty departure. We were able to reach out to her several hours after the quake. She immediately sprang into action and somehow, through her extensive network of contacts in the region, booked us a flight the following afternoon. Booking the flight was miraculous, but it would have been meaningless but for Toni’s people on the ground, as we needed transport from our hotel.

Toni’s (and our) guide, Ananta Gubhaju, and his colleagues were there whenever we needed them. They safely transported us through the chaos at the airport and then waited there for more than 8 hours, having promised not to leave until our flight departed. When the flight was cancelled, they promptly returned us to the hotel, which welcomed us with open arms.

All the while Toni continued to work behind the scenes, anticipating that the flight might not work. She confirmed the original flight for the next day and booked a back-up. She maintained constant contact with our relatives stateside. It was unequivocally clear that she had established a reliable, professional network of wonderful people as a result of her years of travel to the region.

Her efforts, and those of her network, did not end when we safely arrived in Varanasi. Somehow she marshaled people who met us at the gate and whisked us through customs as we ran to make a connection to Delhi. When we arrived at the gate after the flight’s departure, there was no cause for concern. Within minutes we were booked on the next flight out, giving us an hour or so to decompress before we travelled to Delhi, where, once again, Toni’s people were patiently waiting for us when we arrived.

It was apparent from my first contact with Toni that Myths and Mountains is much, much more than a travel agent. Her organization knows the region and has an incredible appreciation of the needs of its clients and the idiosyncrasies of travel to the region’s special places. Her understanding of the area reflects her decades of travel and commitment to the region, as evidenced by her support of READ Global.

I will not allow our trip to the foothills of the Himalayas to be defined solely by the catastrophe that struck Nepal because Toni made it so much more. We spent 8 captivating days in Bhutan, where her contacts were absolutely fabulous. Her colleagues in Delhi and Agra made our short time in India a truly great experience that forever changed my perception of that country. And when we return to Nepal—and return we will—Toni will be the person who will get us there and who will get us back.”

So you see, Valerie, relying on a country’s embassy to get you out in an emergency is really Plan B. Plan A is to use the right destination specialist to arrange your trip in the first place.

Is a River Barge Trip Right for Your Family?


Hi Wendy, I have enjoyed reading all of your travel advice on your new site. Thanks! Can you give me your take on river barges? Our family of 12 adults is planning a river trip in France, and I have done some research on the barges. I wonder if booking the entire barge would be right for our family, rather than a typical river cruise. We enjoy good food, wine, travel and much needed time together. However, we do enjoy some luxuries as well. Any suggestions? Thanks! –Debbie


Debbie, I absolutely recommend opting for the barge. You’ll have just your family onboard—as opposed to 150 other people—and you’ll get to dictate your schedule and call the shots. You’ll get to see off-the-beaten-path villages and countryside that would be hard for you to see any other way (vs. on a river cruise, where the cities along the river are easy to access in other ways). And, if you choose the right barge, you’ll find excellent food, wine, and “luxuries.”

Read our Insider’s Guide to European Barge Cruises and you’ll get a feel for the biggest differences between barge trips and river cruises: First of all, barges ply canals, which are narrower than rivers and give you a more close-up view of the sights you’re floating past. Second, barges move much more slowly, which gives you time to really soak up the landscape and get perfect photos.  Third, barges are much smaller than river ships. They’re usually 8 to 14 passengers, as opposed to 160 passengers on river ships.

Our Insider’s Guide to European River Cruises should also be helpful to you as you compare the two modes of travel. My sense is that river cruises might hold more appeal for first- and second-time travelers to Europe who have a to-do list of famous landmarks they want to see (because river cruises cover a lot of territory and tend to include a hit parade of popular sights), whereas barge trips are more enticing to travelers who have been to Europe several times and now are looking for a more off-the-beaten-path experience.

The very best advice I can give you is to reach out to Ellen Sack, the most expert travel agent I know when it comes to barge trips. She’s inspected and tested them all, and she can work miracles for you. The best way to contact Ellen is via this trip-request form. That way she’ll know you’re a WendyPerrin.com traveler and make you a priority (she’s very busy).

Have a wonderful trip! I’m awfully jealous!

Photographing Lions in Botswana Photo by Susan Portnoy

Are Guided Photography Tours Worth It?


Wendy, I’ve been browsing through National Geographic’s guided tours, particularly the small-group photography trips. Do you have any experience with these? I’m typically an independent traveler, but the photography aspect sounds really enticing and I’m just wondering if you would recommend them. Thanks for your great site!  –Becca


Becca, I’ve heard mixed reviews. One great photographer I know, WendyPerrin.com contributor Susan Portnoy of The Insatiable Traveler, took a National Geographic photo tour to Morocco in 2010. She says that, although she had fun and it ran without a hitch, it was disappointing from a learning-about-photography perspective: “It was clear to me that they used one of the general itineraries, added a professional photographer to the tour, and called it a day. Nothing was altered to consider the special wants/needs of photography, especially where light was concerned, which is the crux of successful images. We were having breakfast in the morning when the best light was available, out in the field when it was harsh, and then in museums at sunset. After being on other photographic tours since, I am very aware of the things it lacked.” Check out Susan’s article Seven Questions to Ask Yourself Before Choosing a Travel Photography Tour.

Another great photographer and WendyPerrin.com contributor, Eric Stoen of Travel Babbo, has had a different experience. He’s taken three National Geographic photo expeditions—to India in 2008, Burma in 2013, and Ethiopia in 2014. He also did Nat Geo’s Tuscany Photo Workshop in 2005 and its Santa Fe Workshop in 2008, and he’s headed to Japan with them in November. Eric has also written advice that I’m sure you’ll find eye-opening: Photography Trips: What You Should Know First.

Whatever you do, Becca, be sure to choose a destination you’ve always dreamed of exploring and a photographer you like and admire. Good luck with your decision, and here’s hoping the photo trip you pick will be the first of many!

Auberge du Jeu de Paume, Chantilly, France

Great Paris Hotels for an Airport Layover at Charles de Gaulle


Hi Wendy,

You have great suggestions for the best hotels for a London (Heathrow) stopover. Can you help with Paris (Charles de Gaulle)? We’ll be en route from Africa to California, landing at CDG in the mid-afternoon and departing at 10:30 a.m. the next day. We’ll be tired and would prefer to stay near the airport rather than going into Paris. (We’ve been lucky enough to have seen Paris many times.) But none of the obvious CDG hotel choices look that appealing.



Jane, I presume by “obvious CDG hotel choices” you mean the Sheraton Charles de Gaulle (Terminal 2), the Hilton Charles de Gaulle (Terminal 3), and the citizenM across the road from the Hilton?  I’ve stayed at the Sheraton—because it’s conveniently located at the entrance to the train station where you can zip into the city center—and you’re right:  There’s no real reason to stay there unless you want to pop into Paris for an afternoon and evening.

Here are four alternatives, suggested by one of my Trusted Travel Experts for France, Jack Dancy of Trufflepig, who until recently lived in Paris and is now based in Burgundy. 

1.  The Auberge du Jeu de Paume is an estate in Chantilly that is a 24-minute ride from the airport. It’s a Relais & Chateaux property with a two-Michelin-star restaurant and a brand new spa. “The rooms look onto the gardens of the Château de Chantilly, which is truly splendid and which, in fact, houses one of the largest French Masters collections outside the Louvre,” says Jack. “The town of Chantilly itself is very lovely. Chantilly housed the Royal Stables, and there is still a superbly picturesque race course in the town. You can visit the Royal Stables and the ‘Living Horse Museum’ quite apart from visiting the château and gardens. And nearby is the equally pretty town of Senlis, well worth heading to for lunch and a stroll.”

2. The Château d’Ermenonville, close to the town of Senlis, is also a 24-minute ride from the airport.  (Take a taxi or have the hotel send a car to the airport to pick you up.)  Located in a forest, it works “for a grandiose quiet night in a château complete with moat,”  says Jack.

Should you feel like a little exercise between long flights, Jack can send a guide, with bikes for you, for an afternoon of biking in the Senlis area, through rolling countryside and the royal hunting forests. That way you’re sightseeing and exercising simultaneously–a nice way to spend a stopover.

3. Should you want to pop into Paris after all, stay just inside the Périphérique (the city ring road), in the 18th arrondissement (Montmartre) or the 20th, since these locations are only a 20-minute taxi ride from CDG.  “I like the Hotel Particulier Montmartre,” says Jack. “You reduce your travel time to CDG compared to a downtown hotel by anything up to 40 minutes at high-traffic times (i.e., when you’re leaving for your morning flight back to North America).  For a one-night stay, it can be fun to be up in Montmartre in particular because people often don’t want to dedicate a whole Paris stay to that neighborhood, but for a final night are happy to be a little out of town, especially with the added benefit of an easy departure.”

4. If you opt for the 20th arrondissement, “to experience a less touristy part of town,” Jack recommends staying at Mama Shelter.  “From both the Hotel Particulier Montmartre and Mama Shelter, you can get directly onto the Périphérique, avoiding all city traffic.”

For imaginative travel solutions in Paris or anywhere in France, connect with Jack Dancy via this trip-request form (so he knows you’re a WendyPerrin.com traveler).

Enjoy your stopover!

Rooftops in Venice, Italy

Is Venice Really Banning All Wheeled Luggage?


“I’ve heard a rumor that Venice is going to ban all roll-on suitcases starting in May 2015. Is this true? My husband and I will be visiting Venice then and hope we won’t have to carry our suitcases to our hotel or be held hostage by someone who insists on carrying them at a high cost. We travel light, but not that light.”


Anyone who has flown to Venice, taken a water taxi from the airport to the stop closest to their hotel, and then wheeled their luggage—over cobbled streets and up and down stone stairs and over ancient footbridges—to their hotel knows what an obstacle course that can be, especially since some hotels are hidden down tiny alleys and hard to find. Getting lost in Venice is one of the most fun travel experiences I know, but getting lost with luggage is not.

The good news, Sharon, is that the ban on wheeled luggage is a rumor. There were reports last fall that the Venice City Council was going to ban it (for visitors, not residents) and slap travelers who break the ban with a 500 euro fine. But then Venetian authorities clarified what had been a misunderstanding: They are not planning any ban or fine after all. But the controversy points to an ongoing problem: Twenty million tourists or so visit Venice annually, and all those wheels damage ancient stones (not to mention suitcases) and create a cacophony.

“Venice presents unique logistical challenges if you have more than a backpack,” says Brian Dore, one of my Trusted Travel Experts for Italy. You should absolutely check out Brian’s Insider’s Guide to Venice. I asked him to share advice for handling luggage in Venice, and he was kind enough to lay out your options:

“1. Water taxis and porters
Water taxis wait at the airport, but keep in mind that it is a fairly long walk to the water-taxi dock. You will need a cart to put your luggage on, and then you’ll need to wheel it to the pier. The water-taxi driver will tell you the fare based upon the address of your hotel (it’s more expensive if your hotel dock is on a small side canal, as opposed to the Grand Canal) and the amount of luggage you have. If you don’t want to walk to the water-taxi pier, car taxis wait just outside the airport exit and you can go immediately to the Piazzale Roma, Venice’s frontier for cars. From here, you can hire a porter to take your bags to a water taxi and then on to your hotel. The cost of the porter service is 2.50 euro per bag.

If you’re arriving at the train station, you can take a water taxi directly from the station to your hotel.

2. Public Transportation
If you want to save on the water taxi, you can take the public water buses to the stop nearest your hotel. This is advisable only if you can carry your luggage, such as a backpack. If you have actual luggage, with our without wheels, the vaporetto operator may make you wait for the next one if the water bus is crowded, and when you do arrive at your station, you then have to navigate the confusing maze of Venetian streets to find your hotel. Doing this with luggage—even one small suitcase with wheels—is difficult, as well as hard on your luggage. It’s not recommended; it’s worth paying for a water taxi. If you are traveling in Italy with luggage but can consolidate to a backpack for your days in Venice, you might consider checking the rest of your luggage in a locker at the airport or station.

3. Private Service
When our travelers arrive at any entry point, an assistant meets them with a waiting water taxi and porters, and it is prepaid—so there’s no wandering around to find service and no worries about being overcharged along the way.”

In summary, advises Brian, “if you can’t physically carry your bags, save yourself some aggravation and pay for help. There is value in convenience.”

Brian and his wife Maria Gabriella Landers can, in fact, make everything easier and more rewarding when you travel in Italy. Here’s the best way to contact them for a trip. Check out their fabulous blog Postcards from Italy too. 

Buon viaggio!

United Airlines Business First class

How to Find the Best Flight with your Frequent Flier Miles


Wendy, is there someone you recommend to make airline reservations using frequent flier miles? I have a ton of United miles and American Express Membership Rewards points and am looking for someone to figure out the best way for me to use them. We want to fly to Europe this summer in business class.



Francis, I get this question at least once a week. There are a few mileage-award redemption advisory services, but I’ve always sworn by Gary Leff, whose Book Your Award service, geared to travelers who want to fly in first or business class, has been put to the test by thousands of my readers over the years.

Gary is the blogger behind View From the Wing, a co-founder of the frequent-flier community MilePoint.com, and a one-time hilarious guest in a Colbert Report skit. His partner at BookYourAward.com is Steve Belkin, another mileage magician and the founder of Competitours, an Amazing Race–type travel company.

I’ve known Gary and Steve for years. Between them, they can figure out any first-class or business-class mileage ticket you need, taking into consideration your personal requirements (date range, maximum number of stops, etc.) and your available bank of miles, credit-card points, and other loyalty-program points. (And they’ll help you find more if you come up short).

They know which airlines offer the best award-seat value for which destinations. They come up with flights and routes that require fewer miles than you thought you were going to have to spend or that provide a few welcome layover days in a destination you thought you’d have to skip. And, if that’s not enough, once you’ve used your miles, they’ll teach you how to replenish your bank for your next trip. Their flat fee is $150 per ticket. They’re also insanely busy helping people like you so, if you do reach out to Gary and Steve, tell them I sent you.

Viking river cruise on the Danube

Which European River Is Most Interesting for a River Cruise?


Hi Wendy,

My wife and I are looking to go on a 10-day river cruise this year (our first). Which of Europe’s rivers would be most interesting? We have been told that some rivers can be on the boring side. We are not looking for a cheap option and are prepared to pay up to £2000 each. Hope that you may be able to assist.



Great question, David. I’ve sailed on the Seine, the Rhine, and the Danube, and, in my opinion, the prettiest of those is the Seine: There is more scenery that is pastoral rather than industrial, the river winds and swirls a lot more, and it’s also narrower and so the passing boats are smaller and more rustic and charming.

The Rhine has the most activity and the most transportation you can see from the ship (often you see trains go by along the riverbank); it’s like being on a highway of ships. But it’s also got the most castles. The Danube is very pretty in parts (especially the stretch from Durnstein to Melk that is famous for its vineyards and castles), but it too is industrial for stretches. All three rivers have a lot of locks. I’ve heard that the Mosel (sometimes spelled Moselle) is quite picturesque and, like the Seine, is relatively narrow and winds a lot. A couple of ship captains and river-cruise execs have told me it’s their favorite.

Of course, just as important as the river’s landscape are the cities and villages you stop in. I chose the Danube for my river cruise in November specifically because Danube cruises tend to hit at least four countries (Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary) and several important and gorgeous cultural capitals (including Vienna and Budapest). I specifically wanted to be in these big cities during their Christmas-markets season. Ships on the Seine tend to stop in more small villages than big cities.

David, you’re the perfect example of someone who would benefit by using the right travel agent who specializes in river cruises. You need an honest adviser who knows the differences among all the rivers and ships and can make sure you get exactly what you want and spend your money wisely. If I were you, I’d reach out to European river cruise specialist Tom Baker.

I hope that helps.

Happy New Year,

Cliveden House Hotel London

London Heathrow Layover: Great Hotels for a Stopover at LHR


Hi Wendy,

We’ve got a 20-hour layover at Heathrow in spring 2015. We’ll be landing at 7 p.m. London time, and we fly out the next day at 3 p.m. We’ll be staying overnight and would love a good rest and possibly to see Windsor Castle. Do you think there would be time for this?  If not, what would you recommend near Heathrow for an enjoyable stay?




There are several historic manor-house hotels near Heathrow. I’d recommend you dine and sleep at one of them, then the next morning head to Windsor Castle—you might even stop to see Eton College and the Magna Carta Memorial as well—en route back to Heathrow.  That’s my kind of airport layover!

The expert on London Heathrow layovers is Jonathan Epstein of Celebrated Experiences, one of my Trusted Travel Experts for the United Kingdom. Jonathan lays out these options at various price points (with all rates inclusive of breakfast and taxes):

Cliveden House: This estate dating from the 1600s is the former home of Lady Astor. You’ll feel like you’re sleeping in Downton Abbey. It’s got 376 acres of extraordinary formal gardens and woodlands, including a maze. If you book through Jonathan, you get a guaranteed upgrade at time of booking, as well as an historic tour of the house. Rates start at about $625/night.

Pennyhill Park. This has a world-class spa and a two-Michelin-star restaurant, Latymer, that’s considered one of the best dining experiences in the U.K. Rooms are large and full of character. Rates start at about $450/night.

Great Fosters. This country house dating from 1550 was one of Elizabeth I’s hunting lodges and comes with exceptional Tudor gardens. Rates start at about $300/night, but if you book one of Jonathan’s preferred rooms in the Main House for about $400/night, you get a complimentary transfer to Heathrow.

The Runnymede-on-Thames. This is a contemporary riverfront four-star hotel with a spa and both an outdoor and indoor pool. You can even rent an electronic riverboat and drive yourself down the Thames. Rates start at about $200/night.

If you really want to get to Windsor Castle, I might suggest opting for Great Fosters. That’s because if you choose Cliveden you’ll want to spend your morning exploring the gardens, and at Pennyhill Park you’ll want to spend it in the spa. Wherever you stay, though, Jonathan can have a driver pick you up in the morning and take you to Windsor Castle and Eton College en route back to Heathrow. Beats staying at the airport Hilton or Sofitel, eh?

If you connect with Jonathan via the black CONTACT button below his photo on his Insider’s Guide here, you’ll be marked as a WendyPerrin.com V.I.P. traveler, and you’ll get the priority status and trip-monitoring service that go with that. Enjoy your layover!

hotel des marronniers paris france

Wendy’s Favorite Small Hotels in Paris for 2014


Hi Wendy,

What are your favorite small hotels in Paris right now? Left Bank preferred. Budget generous but not outrageous.



Funny you should ask, Lary. I’m headed to Paris myself next month and need to book a hotel!

hotel duc de saint simon paris hotel room

The Hôtel Duc de Saint-Simon is one of my longtime Left Bank favorites. Photo courtesy Hôtel Duc de Saint-Simon.

One of my longtime Left Bank favorites—because it is well-located, charming, and a good value for your euro—is the Hôtel Duc de Saint-Simon, an 18th-century townhouse in the 7th arrondissement quite close to the Musée d’Orsay. A couple of four-star finds in the Saint-Germain-des-Près quarter are the Hotel d’Aubusson, in a 17th-century residence close to the Seine, and the Hotel de l’Abbaye Saint-Germain, an oasis near the Luxembourg Gardens. Another hotel I recommend in the 6th arrondissement—to those needing a budget-friendly three-star—is the Hotel des Marronniers, on a charming, quiet street dotted with art galleries. Rooms are small and the elevator tiny, but the garden courtyard is lovely for breakfast, and the hotel is just a two-minute walk from the Saint-Germain-des-Près Métro stop.

le pavillon de la reine paris hotel

Beyond the Left Bank, Le Pavillon de la Reine hotel is getting a lot of buzz. Photo courtesy Le Pavillon de la Reine.

Lary, next time you feel like branching out from the Left Bank, consider staying in Le Marais—a trendy neighborhood that is practically the new Saint-Germain-des-Près—at Le Pavillon de la Reine. A gem of a hotel right by the Place des Vosges, it’s getting a lot of buzz nowadays.

Readers, I’d love to hear: What’s your favorite hotel in Paris right now? And, since I always want to try new places, where should I stay when I’m in Paris in November?  Merci!

Isla Mujeres Mexico

An Affordable Christmas Vacation Idea


Hi Wendy,

We are hoping to go away over the Christmas holiday. We’re willing to spend some money, but don’t want to spend $15K just for a week in Hawaii with lots of crowds, if you know what I mean. We were originally thinking of Mexico—or, someplace warm and sunny that’s a little less expensive then Hawaii but where we could still have some adventure. We are really open to any non-ski destination, as long as it’s affordable and fun. We live in San Francisco and have two young boys, 9 and 6. Any recommendations?



Nancy, if I were you I’d go back to thinking about Mexico. There’s still availability and good value to be found during the Christmas/New Year’s period in certain pockets of the country. I spoke to a few trusted Mexico travel specialists, and here are some of your options:

* Colonial Mexico. “Haciendas and resorts in the Colonial interior—like Merida, Oaxaca, Cuernavaca—offer a festive atmosphere, great food, cultural and archaeological sites, and great weather, and there is still availability,” says Ada King of Connoisseur’s Travel.

* San José del Cabo. “This year Cabo has more availability during Christmas week than over New Year’s, says Julie Byrd, one of my WOW List Trusted Travel Experts for the Caribbean. Nonetheless, there are many smaller villas available both weeks, as well as rooms available at the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos over Christmas.”

* Oaxaca, Huatulco, Puerto Escondido, Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo, Puerto Vallarta. “Both the city of Oaxaca and the coast nearby—Huatulco, Puerto Escondido, and the coast in between—have space left and are a good value,” says Zach Rabinor, one of my Trusted Travel Experts for Mexico. “Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo and Puerto Vallarta also have availability and are exceptional value for coveted coastal destinations, including hotels and villas.” Zach adds that the following resorts in Mexico still have availability, “subject to dynamically changing conditions”: Fairmont Mayakoba, Las Alamandas, Viceroy Riviera Maya, Capella Ixtapa, Qinta Real Huatulco, Rosewood San Miguel Allende, and Viceroy Zihuatenejo.

Nancy, I could suggest a few other destinations that would be affordable, relatively warm over the winter holidays, and fun for both kids and adults simultaneously—San Diego and Charleston, South Carolina, both come to mind—but Mexico will be the sunniest. Zach Rabinor, who lives in Puerto Vallarta and has two kids of his own, is one of my Trusted Travel Experts on The WOW List, and I’d strongly suggest you contact him to learn current availability and the best pricing for your time frame, as well as to get his recommendations custom-tailored to your family’s needs. As a wendyperrin.com traveler, you’ll get VIP status with Zach, as well as my trip-monitoring service, as long as you contact him via this trip-request form.

Have a happy holiday, Nancy!