A bartender pours a martini cocktail. (Photographer: Caitlin Ochs/Bloomberg)

How to Earn Unofficial VIP Status at a Hotel With a Single Gesture

(Bloomberg) -- At Bloomberg Pursuits, we love to travel. And we always want to make sure we’re doing it right. So we’re talking to globe-trotters in all our luxury fields—food, wine, fashion, cars, real estate—to learn about their high-end hacks, tips, and off-the-wall experiences. These are the Distinguished Travel Hackers.

David Duncan is president and chief executive officer of not one but three Napa vineyards. He runs Silver Oak, which was co-founded by his father, Ray, in 1972. Renowned for its cabernet sauvignon, it counts Oprah Winfrey, LeBron James, and Matthew McConaughey as fans.

Duncan also presides over Twomey, a family passion project created by Ray, David, and his brother Tim in 1999; the winery specializes in merlot, sauvignon blanc, and pinot noir. His family also recently oversaw construction of Silver Oak Alexander Valley in Healdsburg, Calif., which was just named the first new-build LEED Platinum production winery.

How to Earn Unofficial VIP Status at a Hotel With a Single Gesture

Duncan doesn’t tally his annual mileage—or his elite tier. “I have no idea how many miles I fly per year, because I fly all kinds of different airlines,” he says. “And so I’ve become agnostic in terms of my status.” His favorite, though, is Southwest Airlines, where he always buys the same ticket (Business Select) so he can board early enough to sit in the same seat: the exit row 11F. “I like that the experience is always the same thing, it’s efficient, and the people smile.”

He lives in Napa Valley with his wife, Kary, a dermatologist, and their three children. 

In a hotel you can earn unofficial VIP status with a single gesture.

Always order a bottle of wine you don’t plan to finish. When I’m staying somewhere for a couple of days, I’ll sometimes order a bottle of wine from the hotel restaurant with dinner. Then I only drink a couple of glasses and give the rest to the staff, since I know you’re close to the price of a bottle on three glasses anyway. Servers and sommeliers appreciate the gesture, and they tend to treat you like a VIP for the rest of your stay. Often I’ll get in late when I come to New York, and so I’ll have dinner at the hotel. And if you leave them some wine, then the next day they come down and everybody in the restaurant is like, “Good morning, Mr. Duncan,” and they know who you are. You just get a little extra. It’s better than a tip, because it’s something different and unique. 

A certain souvenir will become a gift that keeps on giving.

How to Earn Unofficial VIP Status at a Hotel With a Single Gesture

I was raised in Colorado, so I learned that if you’re in a vehicle, if you’re outside, you wear sunglasses. And eyewear is the souvenir that keeps on giving: Eyeglasses are one of the coolest things to buy in other countries. They’re unique when you get them back home, and you get a lot of use out of them, vs. most souvenirs, which often become clutter. Relatively speaking, they’re not that expensive, either. A number of years ago, I was in Rome—on vacation, not working—for a week, and it was a bright, sunny day every day. So I bought a pair there, and they always make me think of that trip.

Staying fit and sleeping well on the road is simple if you follow this one rule.

Always ask for a hotel room on a higher floor. You’ll sleep twice as well, and you’re more likely to get a good room up top, since there’s a higher concentration of desirable rooms in higher floors. I’m an outdoors kind of person, too, so I like getting that natural light. And if I’m on the 10th floor or lower, I often walk up and down the stairs, because it’s a great way to exercise. You don’t break a real sweat.

Never leave home without this one item if you want to stay limber.

How to Earn Unofficial VIP Status at a Hotel With a Single Gesture

I always carry reflexology massagers in my carry-on. In fact, I always carry a little one around in my briefcase. I have one right now. I tend to get tight IT [iliotibial] bands and hamstrings, so I asked this hippie therapist guy in Saint Helena for stretches. He said if you’re on a long flight and stick a ball under your glute—particularly under your hip where your IT band attaches—and move it around, it does wonders on your lower back. And I used to have a lot of lower back problems, but I don’t anymore because I stay so much more stretched out. You can use [the ball] under your feet, too, if you take your shoes off. If you’ve been on your feet all day pounding the pavement, it’s a great way to stretch out. The passenger next to me will ask, “What are you doing?” And by the end of the flight, they get off the plane and say they’ll go buy one.

Need a bottle of cold white wine in an emergency? Hack your hotel room like this.

If you’re coming off a flight and need to chill a bottle of wine before dinner, there’s a couple of options. You can empty the minifridge and lay your bottle on its side. Because of a wine bottle’s shape, there’s more of the surface area exposed to the chilling surface than if it’s upright, so a horizontal bottle chills twice as fast as a vertical bottle. Of course, an ice bucket works best, and if you use that, twist the bottle occasionally every few minutes and it actually mixes up the wine—the liquid on the outside of the bottle is chilling faster than the wine in the middle. The laundry bag from the linen service is perfect to protect the label while the bottle chills.

How to Earn Unofficial VIP Status at a Hotel With a Single Gesture

Duncan’s favorite gourmet destination might surprise you.

We’ve been so spoiled in California, with freshness and all that kind of thing. But now you can get that kind of quality [almost anywhere]. And from a work standpoint, the places I really like to go are the Middle America cities: Kansas City, St. Louis, Little Rock. They call them the flyover states, but it’s such a misnomer. Some of those places are missed destinations, compared with New York, L.A., or Seattle. Look at the food scenes there: There are chefs that are trained [in New York or Los Angeles], and then they go back to their home state and are opening these chef-driven restaurants in places that you would never expect to get cuisine like this. Take Nashville, where I’ve had some amazing meals. One of them is an Italian place called Giovanni, and another is called 404, like the digits. The chef is always there, and it serves amazing Southeast-driven cuisine: bone-in rib-eye, grits.

How to Earn Unofficial VIP Status at a Hotel With a Single Gesture

Don’t skip ski resorts in the summer.

My dad founded Purgatory Ski Resort in Durango, Colo., so I grew up going down there. My No. 1 ski tip would be to go in the summer, because people who live in ski areas have a saying: You come for the winter, and you stay for the summers. It’s just beautiful if you want to hike and be outdoors. And it’s really fun. I’ve hiked Jackson Hole ski area during the summer, and you can hike to the top and then ride the tram down, which is the opposite of what you do in the winter.

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