twins in zodiakIMG_5288

The twins enjoying a private trip on the water. Photo credit Dana Zucker, Triathlon Traveling Mom.

Many times when we travel, if the option to have a concierge level of service is available, we jump on it. I am often asked if it really makes a difference and in my opinion, without a doubt!

What is Concierge Travel, you ask?  Well, I have put it into 3 categories:

Hotel Concierge/Club Floors

Many hotels these days dedicate certain floors as concierge, club, or VIP, for their reward card members, frequent guests, or those willing to pay for the upgrade.  This level of service includes many extras, such as keyed access, a lounge, upgraded rooms, food and drinks, early and late check-in, and staff members available to assist you.

Concierge Travel Companies

These are my all time favorite!  When I book, I often look for smaller boutique companies to assist me with arrangements. I basically speak to a member of the team, tell them my needs and wishes, and they plan the entire trip for me and take care of all the details. This is not a tour or “every minute planned” activity, but arrangements and recommendations based on what I want.

5551934111_b3d3c9964c_m

The Great Wall of China. Photo credit Mandarin Journeys.

Recently, while booking a trip to China with Mandarin Journeys, a boutique travel company booking Asian trips, I said I wanted to see not only the Great Wall, but to immerse myself in the culture and beauty of the land. I now have a homestyle cooking class planned, all my accommodations booked, and a local guide, who can help me avoid any long lines at attractions and assist with language issues.

Hiring a Concierge Service

Often, when we rent a home instead of staying at a hotel, we contact a local concierge service to assist in all our pre-arrival needs and then for little things like reservations and equipment rentals.  This allows us to spend the time vacationing and not food sourcing or on the phone.  Our concierge in Kona is so wonderful.  She makes sure our kayaks and snorkel equipment are at the home for our arrival and arranges for a local farm to have all of our fruits and veggies stocked.  Wow…

So, now that you know the types of concierge travel, here are some factors to consider when weighing the costs vs benefits to determine if it’s of value to you:

Safety

I often travel solo. My hubby does not like to travel as much, so I’m often on my own.  Also, when the twins were younger, we would arrive a few days earlier than my hubby and/or stay longer.  Being on the concierge floor or having that local contact and driver is key.  It’s like having a “friend/neighbor” who is there for you and looking out for you.

Experiences and Excursions

One of my favorite ways the concierge supports us is with their honesty about what to do and what not to do, as most have experienced these first hand.  Through a pre-trip call, you can explain what you and/or your family like and they can gain invaluable information to properly plan for your trip.

We like to get off the beaten path and love to stay away from crowds!  The concierges we have worked with have been able to plan early arrival into museums and private or behind the scene tours through their connections.  Many resorts, like Disney Animal Kingdom, offer special tours only available to those at the concierge level.

Food

danakona2photo

Our house in Kona fully stocked. Photo credit Dana Zucker, Triathlon Traveling Mom.

This is the most important role concierge services have played for us!  They have taken in our packages in rental homes before we arrive and arranged for deliveries, so when we show up in the middle of the night, we are set to wake up and have breakfast in the morning.

We also love to eat at the best local joints and who better to let you in on these joints then a local!  Also, we often find that when we finally have time to make reservations, they are booked, but usually the concierge can get us in.

The only caveat here is you have to be careful that you don’t get sent to places they send every other guest to.  This is where making contact ahead, being friendly, and specifically stating what you’re looking for comes in handy.

Costs

I have discovered over the years that these are the biggest considerations:

  1. For hotels, booking the concierge floor is generally more expensive if you are not at the “club” level. Weigh what you receive versus what you will pay on a regular floor and decide if it makes financial sense. For instance, complimentary breakfast can be a huge savings, plus free drinks and snacks, and wi-fi.
  2. When working with a concierge service to book experiences, you do not pay them, but they generally charge around $50/hr, plus the cost of goods for running your errands.
  3. We do tip our hotel concierge and the amount depends on the level of service we’ve received. For folks we see more often, we even send holiday cards or a little treat.

    tmomconciergeIMG_0370

    A concierge ready to assist. Photo credit Dana Zucker, Triathlon Traveling Mom.

  4. Excursions or experiences are many times set up as groups and my family does not do groups well. So, we work with our concierge to set up private tours. Although the cost may be a bit more, the value is priceless. On a recent snorkeling tour, we had a private zodiac that even went places the big boat couldn’t and was $150 more, an hour longer, and way better!
  5. Some people are shell shocked by the sticker price of concierge travel companies.  But, often the prices are pretty close to what you plan yourself.  An added bonus and money saver are the company’s ability to work around crowds. Recently, for $200 more, a travel planner in Rome saved my twins four hours of standing in line; allowed them to see more by booking a private tour of the major attractions; and the expertise and history lesson of the private tour guide was invaluable. Plus, the companies take care of EVERYTHING. Receiving that e-mail, “Book your plane ticket, we will take care of the rest” that I recently received from Mandarin Journeys, allowed me to get back to work and not worry!

So, before you just assume the word concierge is directly associated with $$$$, think again, and really look at the value and experience it can provide.  We have done all three categories and it has been well worth it, either paying for itself or in experiences that were priceless.