Three Vital Cruise Purchase Tips

| Monday, 05 Nov 2012

A severe storm can wash away your entire vacation investment

Hurricane Sandy shows us how cruise, insurance and airfare purchase decisions can have consequences.

Remember the days when buying a car meant doing battle with a salesman at a dealership? You had to do your homework and negotiate the best deal; sometimes with a difficult personality who had a few tricks up his sleeve.

But today's consumer experts say it is best to buy a car on the Internet and then go to a local dealership to pick it up. You never haggle with a salesman, and you are shown the exact retail price, the cost of every option and then the final market price with any discounts they are prepared to offer. You can go to a car maker's web site, like Ford.com, to buy a car, or you can go to a web site like CarsDirect.com and compare many different brands. Either way you can pick it up at a local dealership.

Buying a cruise is now similar in many ways. You can buy a cruise at a cruise line web site without talking to anyone, or you can call the cruise line's call center and book directly through a sales associate. But this is like going to Ford.com to buy a car. These days travel agents still sell about 90% of all cruises. So, what are the bottom line differences and the advantages?

Are you aware of these nuance cruise buying factors? Tell us here: Cruise Forum

Selecting a Cruise

Which is better for buying a cruise, going directly to the cruise line or using a cruise travel agent?

When you buy a cruise through a travel agent you have the opportunity to compare the offerings of several different cruise lines. For example, if you want a seven day Caribbean cruise next February you can go to Carnival.com and choose from a dozen different ships, but if you go to a travel agent you can add in Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Princess, Celebrity, Holland America, MSC, Costa, Seabourn, Regent, and more giving you several dozens of cruise options.

Not only can you compare different cruise ships, but you could also find one cruise line selling cruises at a far more competitive price. So, when it comes to buying a cruise, I recommend using a travel agent. Keep in mind that the cruise line pays the commission, so the price for any one cruise will be the same regardless of where you buy it.

However, just like car buying, I also recommend doing plenty of research online to become an informed buyer. Then a good travel agent not only helps you in buying the cruise, but also works as an impartial set of eyes watching your vacation as it happens.

Are you aware of these nuance cruise buying factors? Tell us here: Cruise Forum

Airfare

Most people have to fly to their cruise. You have the option of arranging your own airfare, or buying it through the cruise line. Hurricane Sandy showed us the advantages of using a travel agent, but to ask that travel agent to book your airfare through the cruise line's "premium" air services. Most cruise lines offer these premium air services under various names like "Choice Air," or "eZAir," for a small service fee of about $15 per person.

An airline has no legal obligation to make changes to get you to your destination on time. If your flight is delayed by weather or even technical difficulties, the airline's only obligation is to make sure you get to your destination eventually. But if you book your air through the cruise line's premium air program they will make sure you get to the ship. This is not to say they will pay all of the resulting fees or differences if you have to fly to the first port of call, that is your responsibility, but they will do the work of changing the flights and cover some change or cancellation fees - depending on the program you select.

By booking this cruise line air program through a travel agent, you have more people to coordinate any needed changes. If you suddenly find out at the last minute that you could miss your cruise imagine how much easier it would be to only need one point of contact rather than trying to do it yourself - especially if you were stuck in an airport with restricted air tickets.

Trip Insurance

Hurricane Sandy reminded us that trip insurance can be worth its weight in gold. Many people with cruises booked during Sandy had no option to cancel the cruise and get a refund. Once you buy a cruise you are committed to taking whatever the cruise line offers. The cruise line has the option of changing the itinerary or even the departure date, moving it back or forward by a day or more. It could be a rough cruise to places you never expected to see.

In the case of Norwegian Gem, for example, many people were on a ship where the home port (New York) had been closed down, so their cruise was extended by four days when they were finally let off in Boston. The people who had booked their air through the cruise line were able to get updated air reservations automatically.

But more importantly, the following cruise was delayed by four days, so the cruise line shortened it to a five-day cruise rather than the original nine-day cruise. But many of the people booked on that cruise were from New York or New Jersey and did not want to leave their homes behind.

The people with trip insurance that specifically covered delay caused by weather were able to cancel their cruises with minimum financial damage.

My recommendation is to buy third party trip insurance policies from companies like Travelex or TravelGuard through your travel agent. You could buy insurance directly from the cruise line, but if there is a dispute with the cruise line does it make sense to have the party you believe is "at fault" in control of your insurance?

Are you aware of these nuance cruise buying factors? Tell us here: Cruise Forum

Recommended Articles