By Chris Barnett
March 4, 2010 -- Wine consultant and author Leslie Sbrocco claims her dad would "roll over in his grave" if he knew she held Platinum Executive status with American Airlines. Her father was a United Airlines captain for 25 years during its glory days.

"I don't fly United very much today and it breaks my heart," she admits. "The fleet is outdated, business-class service isn't good and the airline has become complacent. United Airlines, in my mind, will always be about the pristine aircraft my father was flying and it isn't anymore."

Sbrocco travels the globe four months and a minimum 150,000 miles a year launching a multi-media business called the Thirsty Girls Club. It encourages women in their 20s to 50s to "drink more wine, have fun and dream big."

As the "head Thirsty Girl," Sbrocco plays the loyalty games and leverages the perks of the frequent flyer programs. About 70 percent of her travel is on American now and, as a Premier Exec, she gets into American's Admirals Club gratis. She also flies Air New Zealand ("business class is fantastic"), Air France and Virgin America. (Full disclosure: She was a consultant to the carrier and chose its wines.)

Sbrocco books her own flights on the American and Virgin Web sites but also uses Expedia.com and Kayak.com. She prefers aisle seats in exit rows in economy and doesn't mind paying extra cash or miles. At 5-feet, 10-inches tall, she wants the legroom and feels airlines have the right to sell premium seats the way hotels charge more for bigger rooms.

The "thirsty girl" is a working girl in flight. She totes a Toshiba laptop, an iPhone and a Kindle ("adore it"). Being raised in an airline family, she dresses up for flights but within reason: no sweats and no suits. "I wear a pair of knit or stretch black pants, T-shirt, sweater and a thick cashmere wrap." She bought the latter item in Italy and uses it as a blanket or a pillow on board and as an accessory at a black-tie event.

Sbrocco beats the checked-bag fees with a Samsonite four-wheel roll-aboard and two foldable nylon bags from Duty Free. She uses one as a purse.

Her hotel of choice in New York is Kimpton's The Muse on East 39th Street. Room rates range from $179 to $400 a night, depending on all the factors that drive rates these days. (Again full disclosure: She consulted on Kimpton's Wines of the World program.) Otherwise, she favors the Radisson on Lexington Avenue and East 49th Street. It has "attentive service and clean, nice rooms for about $250 a night. A real treasure of a find," she says.

Her "avoid at all cost" hotel? Manhattan's Helmsley Middletowne on East 48th Street near Lexington Avenue. "It's not clean. It's rundown. It's terrible," she gripes. "With a name like Helmsley, I was just disappointed. Go to the Radisson."

Elsewhere, California-based Sbrocco likes the Altis Belem Hotel in Lisbon, Portugal ("free Internet, contemporary, elegant"); the InterContinental in Wellington, New Zealand ("great location"); and The W Hotel in Santiago, Chile ("a W with no attitude").

Restaurants at the top of her list include Farina in San Francisco's funky but foodie-packed Mission District ("amazing and fancy enough for a casual business dinner"); Logan Brown in Wellington ("all local ingredients"); and the restaurant in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Author of The Simple and Savvy Wine Guide, Sbrocco is working on her third book and is host of the PBS series "Check, Please." She's got plenty of other irons in the fire, too, but she always obeys her own travel rules.

She soaks every night in a bubble bath with a glass of wine and doesn't sweat life on the road.

"I travel Zen mode," she contends. "I'm patient. I can't change the weather. Can't change a delay on a mechanical. I can change a room I don't like. Otherwise, you gotta let it go. You'll drive yourself crazy if you get too uptight."

ABOUT CHRIS BARNETT Chris Barnett writes about business-travel tactics and strategies that save time and money and help minimize hassles. He is based in San Francisco and has written for a wide variety of major newspapers and national magazines. Barnett on Business Travel is syndicated by Creators Syndicate.

THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Chris Barnett in the spirit of free speech and to help encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Barnett. This material may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Chris Barnett.

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