Meet the new travel agents (aka travel networks)

  • Shivani Vora
  • The New York Times
6:00 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018 Travel

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, and what does it cost travelers, if anything, to take advantage of their perks? Here is a breakdown of some of the top networks.  

— Virtuoso  

(virtuoso.com/advisors)  

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 complexity of the trip, fees can be $50 to several hundred dollars.  

Cruises Thirty-one lines, with more than 500 select sailings a year. Travelers get an $800 credit to use one of three ways: 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. All affiliated hotels also offer extras for their Virtuoso guests which vary by property.  

— Signature Travel Network  

(signaturetravelnetwork.com)  

Affiliated hotels More than 1,030, both large chains and boutique properties; the collection includes four- and five-star hotels.  

Cost Signature doesn’t charge a membership fee to use its agents, but some charge fees as much as several hundred dollars.  

Cruises Thirty 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. Some properties, like the Ritz Paris, offer additional benefits including round-trip airport transfers.  

— Ensemble Travel Group  

(ensembletravel.com)  

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, but some charge trip-planning fees.  

Cruises Twenty-six 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.  

— Fine Hotels & Resorts 

 (AmexTravel.com)  

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 trip-planning fees.  

Cruises Fifteen lines. On sailings of five nights or more, travelers receive 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.  

— Andrew Harper Travel  

(andrewharper.com)  

Affiliated hotels Five hundred. The majority are 40 rooms or less.  

Cost It is $395 a year. In addition, advisers charge a $250 “commitment” fee, which is applied to the cost of the trip once travelers book.  

Cruises Yes, around a dozen lines. Travelers receive $100 onboard credit on every sailing.  

Hotel perks Benefits include daily breakfast, room upgrades upon availability or at booking and an additional amenity valued at $100 that varies by property.