Researching And Booking A Cruise
Researching And Booking A Cruise
Dan Ilves (Dan Ilves, CTC, MCC) gives expert video advice on: What steps can I take to save money when booking a cruise?; Who can help me book a cruise?; What are the benefits and drawbacks of a cruise in the off-peak season? and more...
What steps can I take to save money when booking a cruise?
One way to save money when booking a cruise is to work with an expert who can guide you as to where there may be savings. You may want to go on July 5th, but maybe on July 11th there's a special offer that you may not be aware of. If you're flexible, an expert can guide you. Another factor could be your airfare. Sometimes the air price is more expensive than the cruise. On the west coast, to go on a seven-day Caribbean cruise, the air is often more expensive than the cruise, because of the deals and the discounts available. You can do a seven-day Caribbean cruise for $500 in some cases, while a round-trip air ticket from Los Angeles to San Francisco will easily cost you at least that much money, if not more. There's a couple of different ways to deal with air. One is to use the cruise lines air program. All the cruise lines generally offer air, but that may not be your best option, and sometimes booking an air ticket separate of the cruise lines program might be a better option. Again, whether you're searching yourself online for that air ticket, or you're allowing a travel agent, they can guide you and give you an indication of which way to go on that.
Who can help me book a cruise?
There's different ways that you can book a cruise. First, I would say, a travel agent. Not every travel agent is a cruise expert, just like not every website is a cruise expert. And, a lot of travel agents are specialized in the cruise industry. There's an organization called the Cruise Line Industry Association, CLIA is the acronym, and they actually certify travel agents who are cruise specialists. They actually have a program that you take, and you do a course of study, and you get certified to be an expert, and they have a couple of, I think three or four tiers of specialization. Generally, I suggest to consumers, find somebody they can talk to, that they can relate to, that they can trust. I've had the personal experience many times of dealing with families with young children when my kids were young, and I had the experience of cruising. And somebody calls me, or I meet somebody and they start asking me questions about cruising, I tell them about my experiences with my kids. They can relate to that, so there's a trust level, and, so, it's all about that. If you find somebody that you can trust and you work with them, hug them and keep them. There's a lot of value in that and I would say that even in the end if the price they give you is twenty or thirty dollars more, so what? Look at the expertise that they gave you, and the experience that they gave you, and the confidence that they've built for you to take that vacation, that's so important.
What services can help me find a cruise?
There are a lot of service websites that are less good - there are a lot of companies that have websites today, because everybody has a website today. There are better established companies that have been around for a long time. Many of them have brick and mortar offices and they're more invested in servicing the consumer. There are some online businesses that are simply motivated by a quick buck, and customer service is less important. What's important to keep in mind here is that we're talking about your vacation, and we're talking about your hard earned dollars for a vacation that you may only take once a year, and it's not worth risking that. I would really encourage consumers to be very cautious on who they do business with and make sure that people are either certified cruise counselors, or check how many years they have been in business, and if they're somebody they can call and talk to that keeps normal office hours.
Should I use an agent to book a cruise?
Consumers sometimes ask me if they should use a travel agent to book their cruise. And my answer is certainly, yes. And that's because I think there's a lot of value in working directly with a human being, who you can reach, who you can ask questions of, who can help you if you've got trouble. And if you come back from the cruise, and had something go wrong, they're there to help you. They're not going to just drop you. They're invested in you as a customer. The advantage of that, over booking on a website, that is not backed by travel agents, but is simply a booking engine to make a quick dollar, is there's nobody to talk to. And if you have questions, it may be hard to get those answers, from those people. And, in fact, we get a lot of phone calls from consumers that go and they book cruises online, and then they have all kinds of questions. And they call us and they want all the answers. And we try to help them, as we can. But, that's always a challenge with booking someplace where you don't have a personal connection.
How far in advance should I book a cruise?
People should book a cruise as far in advance as possible. The reason why is the most popular cruises will fill up. The category of cabins available, certain category that you want may fill up, so you may still be able to book the cruise but not get your first choice of cabin category. The location on the ship that your cabin is in, you may prefer a certain location, that may fill up. And for price reasons. As you get closer to sailing, if it's a popular cruise the price will go up, so by waiting you're not going to save any money unless for some reason the ship is not sold and there's a sale that's put in and you can find it and take advantage of it, and that does happen from time to time. But as a general rule prices will be less expensive the further out that you book.
What is the benefit of booking airfare through the cruise line?
The benefit of booking airfare through the cruise line is one of convenience. You don't have to mess with searching your own airfare. More so than that, when you book the cruise lines airfare, the cruise line will transport you from the airport to the pier where the ship is, and, at the end of the cruise, transport you back to the airport - what we call transfer service. It depends what part of the world you're cruising as to whether that's a big deal or not. On some cases, you can get in a taxi cab and spend ten bucks to get to the ship. In some cases it may be a more expensive proposition. So there's a convenience factor in booking the cruise line's air.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of a cruise in the off-peak season?
There really aren't drawbacks to taking an off-peak cruise. There can be a weather issue, but it's hard to measure that. In Alaska, for example, weather will be considered to be colder in May or September than in July and August, but who's to know the weather pattern? I've cruised in Alaska in September when the weather was better than in August. But it's a traditional analysis of it. There may be fewer people on the cruise, and some people are very taken to taking off-peak cruising because they figure the ship will not be as packed. If you go the first week of December versus during Christmas, I guarantee you Christmas cruises are all sold out. Completely. But the first week of December, chances are they're not. So there may be fewer people on board, and that may be very appealing to people. Certainly a key issue would be price. Off-peak cruises are going to be slightly less expensive than peak cruises. If you go the first week of December, it's not going to cost as much as going over Christmas holiday.
Are there any fees associated with booking a cruise?
In addition to the cruise cost, there are taxes and fees, and custom fees, and what have you. And that ranges, and people often see the two and three-day cruises for 199 dollars, and then they call to book it, and they say "Oh, but the taxes and fees are another 87 dollars;" so on the really short cruises, you still have to pay those taxes. So, you really need to find out what the total package price is beyond just being ennamored by what you see advertised - which is the minimum price. And, in addition to that, most people advertise the least expensive cabin on-board the ship, which is going to be an inside state room that is basically a cabin which has no windows. And that's fine for some people, but it's not fine if you're looking for a romantic vacation. After all, none of us have bedrooms in our houses that don't have any windows to them and no light - or natural light. A lot of people are party cruisers, and so they don't care - they just go to their room to sleep, so they couldn't care less if they have a window. So, again, these are all factors.
What is cruise 'trip cancellation insurance TCI'?
All the cruise lines offer their own insurance protection. Some of them are better than others, and they all vary. There's advantages and disadvantages to the consumer to buy one or the other. Most travel agencies and travel companies sell travel insurance that is separate of the cruise lines coverage, which is different. What are the pros and cons there? It requires looking into and comparing, because there are different coverages available there as well. The disadvantage of booking the cruise line's own insurance is if for some reason the cruise line goes bankrupt, that insurance is worthless. A lot of people will discourage consumers from booking the cruise lines coverage because, should that event happen, they have no coverage. Has that happened? Yes, it has. It doesn't happen frequently - big brand cruise lines aren't going to go bust tomorrow, however it has happened. The bottom line is, regardless of whether you buy the cruise line's coverage or a third party coverage, that you buy a coverage, because it's your vacation that's at stake, and in todays world things can go wrong and that can impair your vacation. It's very important for the consumer to have protection and coverage today - they must protect their vacation investment.