Travel Insurance – No Wonder It's a Mystery

Written by admin on March 13, 2006 – 4:27 pm -

Do you worry  about travel insurance and its intricacies?  People want to know about the following:  trip cancellation coverage (for myriad reasons), what if they become sick while traveling, repatriation insurance (you can’t blame someone for wanting to be home if struck by a major illness) and/or insurance coverage if they’re too ill to be transported home. These questions are just the tip of the iceberg.

If you think there are easy answers, try Googling “trip insurance.” You’ll be amazed by the number (more than 50,000) of Internet Sites that pop up. Some policies are clearly better than others — it’s a question of defining your specific needs.

If you’re a road warrior, it’s probable your employer has a blanket insurance policy. If not, before signing the contract, stipulate that you require it in your benefits’ package. Travel insurance is not a perk; rather, it’s a necessity; read the fine print. You don’t want to be stuck in a country where the medical facilities are less than optimal only to find out you’re not covered for any and all situations. Giving your all for your job is one thing; dying is another.

If travelers become sick – and I don’t mean a cold — will the policy: pay for hospital costs abroad; transport for a family member to be with them; upgrade patients from tourist class to business class, if indicated, once they’ve recuperated and are well enough to return home? One friend recently broke his leg while vacationing in New Zealand and was required to have immediate surgery then and there. The insurance policy not only paid for an airline upgrade, but for a nurse to accompany his wife and him back to the U.S.  The company took care of all of the arrangements and the nurse ran interference at airports, insuring wheelchairs and porters were on hand to expedite the New Zealand – Washington, DC voyage.  When someone is in medical extremis, it shouldn’t be expected that the person or the family can anticipate all of the factors entailed in such a trip.
The insurance was expensive but cost nothing compared to what AIG (American International Group) had to fork over to get the patient home. In addition, it paid for their having to prolong a trip that certainly didn’t end up as a vacation.

If doctors in your country of residence, as well as the country you are visiting, all agree you’re too sick to be moved and the operation must to be done ASAP, will the insurance policy cover the cost of the surgery without your being out-of-pocket until you do the paperwork?  If you’re in a place where medical facilities aren’t adequate, can you be jetted to the closest first-rate medical center?  If you’re forced to miss work, will you receive any compensation?

Some issues to consider before enrolling (and we cannot stress enough, again: read the fine print!):

  • Do you need trip insurance for one trip or for multiple ones?  Your answer to this will dictate what type of policy is needed.
  • Are you traveling as an individual or as a family?
  • Do you need trip insurance if you get sick before the trip; or if a member of your family (such as a parent) falls ill or whose physical situation deteriorates?
  • If you’re over a certain age (75 is usually the cut-off), travel insurance will cost substantially more and undoubtedly will require a physical exam. Pre-existing conditions may be excluded. You’ll find you’re paying a lot of money in the event you break your leg. Buyer beware.
  • Will you be in a country for more than a month and require quasi-expat insurance?  Will the insurance company pay for translation service and/or send you abroad with a medical dossier?
  • Are you insured for evacuation in the event of a terrorist threat?
  • Under what conditions, will and won’t a medical jet land in specific countries?

Where and how to find insurance:

Check with your credit card company(ies) and see what’s included if you buy a plane ticket using a specific card.  For example, Starwood Platinum American Express charges those who have enrolled in its insurance program a fee that covers insurance situations and pays a hefty premium in the event of death.  This holds true when renting a car.

Study your existing medical policy and see what it includes (and does not include) if you’re out of the country. Ditto for your car insurance coverage.

Credit cards offer myriad premiums –it’s worth a call to the issuing company; and, yes, again, read the fine print on the flyers that many people toss in the trash which accompany newly issued pieces of plastic.

If you’re reserving via a booking service or travel agency, many offer cancellation policies and/or trip insurance.  It’s another way of generating income and, if needed, is a blessing.

Three recommended insurance sites are:
Med Jet Assist

I keep a Med Jet Assist policy going at all times. I hope I’ll never have to make use of it. But it’s cheap considering the peace of mind it creates.

Posted in Around the World |

Let’s Do Breakfast!

Written by admin on March 13, 2006 – 4:16 pm -

Power breakfasts have been around for a long time in the US. But in France, they’re a relatively new phenomenon which is growing as people are trying to fit more into the workday. Even very elegant breakfasts take less time and cost less than lunch in a comparable restaurant. For one, there’s (usually) no booze. Plus, this is a stellar way for women alone to entertain and/or conduct business. It’s hard to “get in trouble” after breakfast unless it’s the beginning of a romantic day!

When extremely senior French business executives and clients used to meet, more than likely they’d opt for lavish lunches.  Those were the days when people felt they had three hours to sit and savor sumptuous meals accompanied by panache of wines and possibly a digestif. You’ll still see plenty of over-the-top business lunches in Paris’s very best restaurants. But that’s usually when people are into negotiating the final intricacies of a contract or sealing a deal. And even though wine consumption is dramatically down in France, working after extended lunches presents its own challenges.

Now, classy breakfasts are becoming more accepted in the world of Paris “let’s do” business. An executive confided that breakfast is a more expedient way of deciding whether or not there’s business to be done. Gerard said, “Drinks after work may be tricky – most especially if the person isn’t from Paris. At a certain hour, it may be problematic if you have to invite the person to dinner. You may want to if you smell potential business. But if you have other plans, it’s awkward.”

So for “impress you – impress me” breakfasts, here are a few suggestions:

Please note: all of the dining rooms have enough space between tables so if you want to do something “vulgar such as discussing money,” you can do it in privacy.  You’re paying not only for the breakfasts but for the ambiance and the training of the waiters in discretion.

Plan on paying approximately 35 Euros (for a continental breakfast) or more (40-50 Euros) if your guests eat a full American breakfast.  Naturally, you can opt for a champagne breakfast (a specialty at the Ritz) but there goes the budget.  Prices vary from one place to another but factor in that you won’t have to pay two Euros for the International Herald Tribune and more than likely, there are complementary issues of the Financial Times.

Hotel De Crillon: Les Ambassadeurs’ refined cuisine is prepared by one of greatest chefs in France, Jean-Francoise Piège. The dining room is nothing less than palatial; a mini-Versailles with a lighter touch. Round tables facilitate conversations and there’s nothing wrong in contemplating a business proposition with a view of the Concorde and the Assemblée Nationale

The Hotel Plaza Athénée pays special homage to breakfast.  Its pastry team, headed by the ‘2005 World Pastry Champion’ Chef Christophe Michalak,   prepares homemade pastries such as the Kugelhopf and sugar tarts to accompany coffee, tea or hot chocolate. As is true in all of the palace hotel/restaurants, you can opt for a continental breakfast or an American one which includes items such as eggs and more.

The Four Seasons Hotel George V Paris is another grand hotel that makes a statement. No one can help but be impressed by any meal here and breakfast is no exception. The hotel’s flowers are some of the most beautiful in the world and have set a new standard in floral arrangements. Le Cinq (a 3* Michelin restaurant) is clearly another room that shimmers as if you’re in a palace. Steps away from the Champs-Elysées, it’s conveniently located for business (or pleasure)

Walk into the Hotel Meurice from the Rue Rivoli and you’ll know you’re in Paris as you overlook the Tuileries Gardens and have a glimpse of the Ferris wheel.  Besides being one of the most elegant dining rooms in the City of Light, the breakfast is as memorable as the décor. Be prepared to be pampered and given enough space to do business in privacy.

Meet me at the Ritz has a certain je ne sais pas quoi. The Espadon Restaurant has entertained the crème de la crème and them some. Sitting under the trompe l’oeil ceiling of this dramatic dining room can make anyone feel powerful or for that matter, glamorous.  This may be the right ambience for discussing a make or break deal – or a potential romance.  If it’s not a go, you can walk around the Place Vendome for added inspiration.

Hotel Le Bristol, most especially the winter dining room, reeks power.
Located on the Rue Faubourg St-Honoré, a stone’s throw from the Elysée Palace (the President’s home), don’t be surprised if you see politicians and high flying business types immersed in heavy conversation. Some hotel guests are such regulars that the hotel’s operators act as their personal assistants tracking the regulars’ comings and goings.

The Hilton Arc de Triomphe Paris is the newcomer on the scene. Many business people and others stay here. Just a short walk from the Champs Elysées, it’s a convenient stop for people who want to be sure they’ll have access to business services and be in a central part of the city. The Safran restaurant offers a breakfast where you’ll spot diners from all countries reviewing papers while (rather, if) they’re eating Eggs Benedict. The hotel has extensive conference facilities so if you’re meeting bound.

If you’re looking for a less formal meeting place, consider the Les Orchidées at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme. It’s an open space lounge located in the center of the hotel. The décor is modern and the room is spacious with seating areas composed of sofas and chairs covered in sumptuous custom designed silk and cotton chenille fabrics.  It’s a good place for an exploratory business rendezvous.  If you’re a lover of modern design, this may well be the hotel for you.

If you want to experience a Parisian institution, all you need to do is walk into the lobby of the Hotel Raphael that was built in 1925. It has been a favorite among the French who appreciate the tradition of this family owned hotel; something that’s rare in these days of chain hotels. The dining room is very elegant and the food is considered comme il faut. Expect to see many regulars since some people eat there each week day – and have been doing so for years.

So what do others do who aren’t indulging in “power breakfasts”? Before heading to work, many grab a café at the bar next to their offices for a last minute caffeine fix. More likely than not, they’ll stand at the bar. The morning routine is pretty much the same. They walk into the bar, shake hands with the person manning it, a coffee is placed in front of him or her and money is left on the counter. They might eat a croissant or a tartine (a piece of baguette with a smear of butter but rarely anything else.

The money is rung up by the person manning the cash register. More likely than not, it’s a woman.  This certainly isn’t conducive to conversation about anything meaningful and frequently, you get a tobacco fix (whether you’re smoking or not) since many offices have the non-smoking mandate. And off they go to work.

Posted in Around the World |

The Art of Packing Light

Written by admin on March 13, 2006 – 4:05 pm -

One of the most frequent questions Bonjour Paris readers pose is what they should pack when traveling. There are no hard and fast rules except that less is better. And that takes substantially more planning. If you’re able to survive with a carry-on suitcase, (and do check the airline’s specific regulations), traveling is, hands down, easier. Consider the following scenarios:

  1. Your baggage is lost;
  2. Air-handlers are on strike;
  3. You have a tight connection;
  4. It’s impossible to get a porter or even a chariot (cart);
  5. Hopping on and off trains is much easier if you’re not overburdened;
  6. Hearing the conductor announce that when you stop you have only two minutes to disembark, can strike fear in a loaded-down travelers’ heart. It can look like a Marx Brothers’ replay as passengers toss suitcases from the train onto the quai in a race against time.

In order to be efficient, you need to plan ahead:

If you’re Paris-bound, don’t count on the weather. With the exception of summer months, pack a set of silk underwear that can be worn under everything. It takes no space in suitcases, and is often a blessing when the chill factor sets in.

Assemble a “mix and match” wardrobe. Each item should coordinate with the others, to be dressed up and down. Squelch the urge to pack a knockout dress that can only be worn once.

Select clothes you know and love and ones that don’t wrinkle. Although you can always borrow an iron (or have items pressed), there are so many “travel-perfect” clothes being manufactured these days. If you’re a frequent traveler, they’re worth the investment.  Bonjour Paris highly recommends the clothes offered from Magellan.

Color coordination is essential. For women, it means wearing the same shade of clothes with a few accents. I’m always comfortable in black or beige. A city wardrobe can consist of two skirts or dressy pants, a pair of casual pants, a jacket to be worn with all of the above, and three shirts or sweaters which can be made to look dressy with different costume jewelry or patterned silk scarves.

I always wear a colored shawl over the coat that I wear on the plane.

Pack a small fold-up umbrella. More than likely, it will come in handy.

Men are less “packing challenged.” If they’re traveling on business, one dark suit is invariably enough. Add a navy blazer, a pair or two of gray pants, three dress shirts, plus a couple of casual ones, and call it a day.

When it comes to shoes, it’s not a good idea to buy new ones unless you’ve had sufficient time to break them in. There’s nothing more miserable than not being able to walk.  Bring a maximum of three pairs: a pair of casual ones, good walking shoes and a dressy pair for evenings.  Wear the heaviest ones on the plane.

Many people pack more underwear than they’ll ever need. Bring three pairs of light ones that dry quickly. You can wash them and hang them in your bathroom overnight. You don’t need to sport detergent. The hotel bath gels do the job. Ditto when it comes to nightgowns, robes and pajamas. If you’re staying in hotels, check to see whether or not they offer robes.

Another suggestion:  Invest in a selection of different colored plastic bags. Pack your “essentials” here.  They can be squeezed into a suitcase and identified at a moment’s notice. If you’re running short, use every-day plastic kitchen bags as a supplement.

Not having to grope for socks and/or stockings, underwear, ties or scarves, medications, bathroom amenities, etc., facilitates unpacking and makes life more orderly.

The choice of a suitcase is another consideration. Hard-sided ones with rollers have been extremely popular. But they’re not as flexible and weigh more before placing an item inside them. Recently a new variety of duffle bags with rollers has come out, and they are definitely worth a look-see.  They are more pliable when it comes to fitting into an airline’s overhead bin.  But do clothes end up more wrinkled?

Some people swear rolling clothes is the way to go. Others, most especially men, swear that method spells disaster.  You might want to include a (light) travel iron in your suitcase to be on the safe side.

For serious packers, pack two days before your departure and resist the urge to stuff anything more in the suitcase.  That’s the real challenge!

Tags: ,
Posted in Around the World |

London Bound and Living the Life of Luxe!

Written by admin on March 13, 2006 – 4:03 pm -

In spite of being president of a website about France, it would be a lie if I said there weren’t times I have a hankering to hear English being spoken all around me. Not that I necessarily understand the “Queen’s” English but not everyone’s perfect. It’s nice to go to the theater and take a walk in Hyde Park, hit Fortnum and Mason, visit the “old Tate,” the British Museum and wander in and out of the Mews that evoke twinges of nostalgia for Boston.

Last weekend, I climbed aboard the Eurostar between the two cities. Passengers need to remember to bring passports since they’re traveling across two countries’ borders. This feels somewhat strange since the train ride takes only 2 hours and 40 minutes. But as the train races along, you’ll see definite changes in scenery within France and once you cross through the “Chunnel.”   Looking out the window gives an abbreviated bird’s eye view of how different the neighboring countries are when it comes to housing, agriculture and scenery.

The trip will be 20 minutes less when the new UK terminal opens in 2007. To buy a ticket, access:  Rail Europe There are so many options when it comes to tickets (the same as planes) but if you choose to spoil yourself and travel business-premier, you’ll be served a full meal at your seat. You can even specify the menu in advance if you have special dietary needs or preferences. If you’re holding a rail pass, you can travel throughout the EU for a fraction of what it costs were you buying individual tickets.

Arriving in London always comprises an element of culture shock. Climbing into the ever so British traditionally black (or sometimes, covered by ads) cabs, that are being modified to conform to EU emission standards, makes visitors realize that life in London isn’t cheap unless they use public transport. All taxis accept credit cards as if the drivers are accustomed to hearing people gasp at the last click of the meter. And if you don’t immediately adopt the habit of looking in both directions of the road, you could be dead before you arrive at the hotel to check-in.

But one doesn’t pull up to the ever so elegant The Dorchester trailing luggage behind you. Guests have to make the right appearance since this is one of London’s extremely elegant palace hotels. It’s the type of place people gravitate if they’re doing big-bang deals or want to see and be seen.

The rooms (with the exception of the top floor where the bigger-than-life roof deck suites are situated) have been redone with taste and elegance. Some of the public areas are still in the process of being renovated. But the work is slated to be finished by the end of the year.

Renovation is quietly taking place and the Dorchester will have a new super-ritzy spa in addition to a new bar and a tres chic store within the complex. In the meantime, guests luxuriate in the lobby where breakfast is served (the smoked salmon is some of the best ever and a relative bargain at 13 pounds) to high tea and cocktails.  The atrium/lobby (with its comfortable banquette seating) attracts people from all over the world in addition to neighbors who wouldn’t let a day go by, when they’re in Mayfair, without stopping by for a cup of tea or one thing or another. During breakfast, I sat next to a woman who religiously comes to the Dorchester for her breakfast kippers once a week.

The Grill dining room has been renovated. It’s very red and reminscent of King Arthur’s Knights. People may not love the décor but hey do love the standing rib roast and Yorkshire pudding…..served from a silver trolley and ever so traditionally British.

The rooms are glorious and large. If your taste runs to elegant chintz, contrasting upholstery and conservative and yet not stuffy décor, you’ll like it here. There are patterns on top of patterns but none are the “in your face – the decorator was here spending billions.” The hotel’s design wreaks tradition and cabinetry that weren’t retrofitted circa yesterday. Rather, it has been lovingly restored from when the property was converted into a hotel 75 years ago.

Enough details about the hotel.  What type of people stay here?  Nigel Bolding, Director of “The World’s Best Hotels” says that people are traveling more and demanding higher levels of service as well as accommodations. This is especially true of business travelers who can’t take the chance things will go wrong when they’re conducting business. The number one request among business travelers is requiring high-speed Internet. My guess would have been gym facilities but no. And it’s not as if you can jog everyday in London.

Bolding explained there’s a new influx of rich clients to go around. Russians and people from other countries have and spend money when they travel. This is certainly true for the Japanese and Americans aren’t bad when it comes to dropping big bucks. It’s not as if many New York City hotels are actually cheap.

Studies have been done showing that people spend a larger proportion of their incomes traveling and the trend is definitely on the rise. 2006 appears to be the year that Italy will win the tourist tally  – but that could change since so many bookings are being done on-line via the Internet and people aren’t planning anywhere as near as far ahead as they used to in the past.

What’s essential is that people are traveling and seeing different parts of the world and it’s becoming easier to go from one country to another without spending days in transit.

Get up and go — and you don’t have to stay in a “palace” hotel even though it’s nice!

Tags: , ,
Posted in Around the World |