Why would travelers ever plan a vacation on their own when their money will buy more with the help of a travel agent? At a time when booking trips online seems to be the norm, it’s a message that several travel networks are pushing.
How do these networks stack up against each other? Here is a breakdown of some top networks.
Affiliated hotels: More than 1,250 luxury hotels, both large chains and boutique properties; 900 of those can be booked through virtuoso.com.
Cost: Virtuoso doesn’t charge a membership fee to use its agents, but some charge trip-planning fees. Depending on the trip, fees can be $50 to several hundred dollars.
Cruises: 31 lines, with more than 500 select sailings a year. Travelers get an $800 credit to use either onboard, for a private car and driver at a port of their choice, or for a tailor-made excursion.
Hotel perks: Up to $450 of amenities at hotels, including daily breakfast for two, room upgrades (either guaranteed at the time of booking or on a space available basis) and early check-in and late checkout, when available.
Affiliated hotels: More than 1,030, both large chains and boutique properties, including four- and five-star hotels.
Cost: Signature doesn’t charge a membership fee to use its agents, but some agents charge fees.
Cruises: 30 lines. Benefits vary by sailing, but could include onboard credits, prepaid gratuities and shore excursions. Also, on a select 200 a year, travelers get a private guide and driver for a day at selected ports.
Hotel perks: Up to $500 of amenities at hotels, including daily breakfast for two, an extra amenity such as a $100 dining credit, room upgrades and early check-in and checkout, when available.
Affiliated hotels: Around 700, both large chains and boutique properties; the collection includes four- and five-star hotels.
Cost: Ensemble doesn’t charge a membership fee to use agents; some charge trip-planning fees.
Cruises: 26 lines. On more than 1,500 select cruises a year, travelers receive various benefits such as room upgrades, onboard credits and shore excursions.
Hotel perks: Benefits vary by property, but could include room upgrades, daily breakfast, spa treatments, and food and wine welcome baskets.
Affiliated hotels: More than 1,000 affiliated luxury properties.
Cost: The network is exclusively for American Express Platinum and Centurion cardholders — the annual fee for a Platinum card is $550. (The company doesn’t reveal the cost of the Centurion card.) In addition, some agents charge small fees.
Cruises: 15 lines. On sailings of five nights plus, travelers get an onboard credit of $100 to $300.
Hotel perks: The average value of benefits travelers receive at each hotel is $550, according to Tom Stein, vice president of American Express Travel. These include a space-available room upgrade, daily breakfast for two, noon check-in, when available, and a guaranteed 4 p.m. checkout, as well as an additional amenity that varies by property.