Virgin 'Jaunt' customizes trips, offers more agent pay

Travel Weekly executive editor and Great Britain reporter Donna Tunney traveled on a Virgin Vacations' London Jaunt itinerary and sampled some of the program's a la carte add-ons. Her report follows:

LONDON -- One of the best things about Virgin Vacations' London Jaunt, from a travel agent's perspective, is its simple package tour structure with add-ons that allow it to be customized for each client.

And the majority of add-ons are commissionable, rolling into the basic package and included in the 10% pay level.

Our group was invited to try the three-night program in January, when air-inclusive prices began at $399 per person, double.

The basic package included roundtrip air, meet-and-greet service in London, three nights' hotel, a London City Guide, a Welcome Abroad carry-all bag, discount dining coupons from the Maxwell Restaurant Group and a breakfast coupon from McDonald's to be used on the day of arrival.

The rates rise to $619 per person from April 1 through May 31. During summer high season, from June 16 to Sept. 2, the same package starts at $849 per person.

Our group was booked into a five-star property, the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington. Using that property upped the cost to $819 per person; the price rises to $1,069 in high season. There is a wide range of hotels from which to choose.

Depending on a client's goals, an agent can gear the Jaunt's three days of activities toward culture, history or just an easy good time. Here's a rundown of the add-ons, with per person costs:

  • The Original London Sightseeing Tour on a double-decker bus, $19.
  • Historic Palace Central London Pass, including Kensington Palace, $49.
  • Medieval Banquet held in the Tower of London, $65 Sunday to Thursday and $69 on Friday and Saturday.
  • Standard Theater Ticket, Monday to Thursday, $38.
  • Deluxe Theater Ticket, $95. (Offers a greater selection of musicals.)
  • Pub Lunch Pass, $15.
  • Tower of London Pass, $22.
  • Entry to Mad-ame Tussaud's and the London Planetarium, $22.
  • Bateaux London Dinner Cruise. Rates vary, with the most expensive being the dinner cruise with drinks, $109.
  • The London Go See Museum Pass, $32 (not commissionable).
  • London Underground Travelcards, $23 (not commissionable).
  • Private Car Tours. Several are offered. A half-day to Windsor and Hampton Court Palace runs $250.

Our group was offered several add-ons, including the pub lunch pass, the deluxe theater ticket, the bus tour, the historic palace pass, Tussaud's and the planetarium, and the Bateaux dinner cruise.

The pub pass comes in the form of a voucher that is turned in at the pub of choice. It's good for a one-course meal and a half pint of beer, cider or soda. Participating pubs are listed on the back of the voucher, which provides handy information like the nearest tube stop, plus the address and phone number of each pub.

We used our theater add-on to see "Mamma Mia," the show that features the music of the group Abba.

I found the most valuable add-on in the Bateaux dinner cruise. We boarded at Embankment Pier and enjoyed a leisurely three-hour cruise up and down the Thames. I've been on several Thames River cruises over the years, and Bateaux provided the best food and the nicest vessel, compared to the others I'd seen.

Cigar and cigarette smoke appeared to annoy some passengers, but in London, as in most of Europe, smoking rules are considerably more lax than they are in the U.S.

A good set of add-ons for the first-time visitor, in my view, would be the sightseeing bus tour, which helps folks get the lay of the land; a standard theater ticket, since most of the best theater in London is not found in the highly publicized musicals; the pub lunch; the Bateaux dinner cruise, and the Underground Travelcard.

Those items would add about $200 to each client's tab and provide each with the essential experiences someone new to London ought to have.

My suggestions for repeat visitors would include the medieval banquet at the Tower of London and a private car tour providing a half-day excursion outside the city.

Clients should also take full advantage of the discount coupons that are provided with the basic package, such as the dining offers from Maxwell's.

We tried Navajo Joe, which serves southwestern U.S. cuisine. The food was excellent and the atmosphere great for younger visitors looking for a lively restaurant/bar.

Virgin Vacations offers a wide range of vacation options throughout the U.K. and to several cities on the Continent. It also has introduced a barging product line that is launching this spring.

Bonus commission rates on Virgin's air-inclusive packages are frequent; the company offered 13% pay twice during recent winter promotions, for example.

Virgin Vacations uses Europe Express, based in Seattle, as its ground operator.

Agents can order the Virgin Vacations brochure by calling (800) OK-VIRGIN.

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