MONEY Travel

If You’re Rich Enough, You Can Get Your Broker to Book Your Vacation

Brokerages including Morgan Stanley offer concierge services for ultrawealthy customers.

Financial advisers at Morgan Stanley, one of the world’s largest securities brokerages, do not typically arrange clients’ European vacations.

But when an ultra-high-net-worth client was planning a family meeting in Tuscany, Deanna Rodriguez, Morgan Stanley’s director of lifestyle advisory, did everything from reserving a villa that sleeps 20 to planning the family’s sightseeing agenda.

Rodriguez, one of two registered brokers at Morgan Stanley employed to provide full-time concierge services, is part of a broader trend of wealth managers offering luxury travel arrangements for select clients.

“I’m not your Cunard Cruise girl. You can get that from your American Express Platinum,” Rodriguez said. “We get called in because there are a lot of moving parts and it really needs to go off like a corporate event.”

Travel services are unusual at the large U.S. brokerages known as wirehouses, but several independent broker-dealers like HighTower Advisors have begun to offer in-house travel and concierge services because demand is growing.

Firms that offer in-house concierges provide more than just travel assistance. They may also help in arranging insurance and licensing for staff at a vacation home or appraise tangible assets like fine art.

In 2014, Rodriguez expects to provide travel accommodations and these other services more than 1,600 times, up from 1,397 in 2013 and about 1,000 in 2012.

The value proposition is hard to turn down: Who better than a trusted adviser to mitigate the financial risk of luxury travel?

“We saved one client $10,000 on center-ice tickets to the New York Rangers playoffs,” said Paul Pagnato, partner of the Virginia-based HighTower group Pagnato-Karp, whose firm employs two full-time concierges. They helped one client jump a wait list to get last-minute New Year’s Eve reservations at the Four Seasons in Maui and have assisted clients in the purchase of private planes.

George Papadopoulous, an independent, fee-only financial planner near Ann Arbor, coaches clients on how to maximize hotel points and airline miles through rewards credit cards and a software program called Award Wallet.

Papadopoulous, who estimates he has 3.5 million frequent flyer miles and manages more than 100 different hotel and airline rewards accounts for himself and his family, said travel advice is one way he distinguishes himself.

The industry “is changing and we’re trying to differentiate ourselves to become more valuable,” he said.

Rodriguez, Pagnato and Papadopoulous all cautioned that these services are not right for every client. For Rodriguez, the ideal user of her services has substantial wealth, a dearth of time, and appreciation for travel with a purpose.

She recently planned a five-day, $56,000 trip to the Galapagos Islands for a father who wanted to encourage his son to use their wealth to support environmental causes.

“Part of it is economic, but the biggest part is educating the next generation,” she said.

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