by Chris Owen
Travelers booking cruise vacations go about it a number of ways. Some click-to-book with a third-party website, others book directly with the cruise line. Some seek the help of a general travel agent while others use a Cruise Travel Expert. At one time or another, all of them get booked. Almost immediately after booking, without fail, most look back and wonder if they got the best value. Here are some good tips to insure you have the best value.
1. Concentrate on value, not price. Too many people focus on simply the lowest price without regard to what comes along with it. One of the most common mistakes made is to pick a ship, sailing date and category of cabin then go shopping online. There are way more variables in the equation that need to be considered to get the best value.
2. Use a Cruise Travel Expert You can start with a standard travel agent, one who books any sort of travel. But as soon as possible, that person needs to be identified as an expert on cruise vacations. There are a lot of them out there and with the major changes happening right now in what makes a cruise vacation, you need someone singly focused on cruise vacations.
3. Book a value-oriented fare. The exact same cruise you click-to-book online probably has a number of different fare codes, much like an airline ticket. The problem with booking online is that consumers can’t see these codes, only travel agents can. If travel agents know what to do with them or not depends much on if they have reached the Cruise Travel Expert level or fall short in their everyday working knowledge.
Carnival Cruise Line’s Early Saver Fare, guaranteed to be the lowest published fare by the cruise line, is probably the best example of guaranteed value down the line. Much like a restricted-fare airline ticket, the Early Saver fare booking can not be modified, changed, canceled or re booked without paying a penalty. What scares too many people off of this fare is the “non-refundable” deposit which is not nearly as restrictive as it appears. True, if you cancel, even before final payment is due, you’re not going to get that deposit back. But Carnival allows you to use it toward a future cruise booked within two years, minus an administration fee.
4. Ask for the choice: Upgrade or price reduction Travel professionals booking your cruise vacation are often in a quandary when lower prices come along on a sailing they have booked for a client. Most often, the client does not even know the price went down.
Regular travel agents, paid by commission from the cruise line, are sometimes hesitant to lower prices which lowers their commission. They are not required to do so.
Cruise Travel Experts are also paid commission by the cruise line. One of the qualities that defines an agent as an expert is that they know the name of the game is value and what that might mean to you is important. Often, cruise lines will grant a complementary upgrade instead of a price reduction. The choice should be yours, not the agents.
5. Keep monitoring pricing and special promotions. When the booking is made is actually the beginning, not the end, of the pricing game. Watching for special promotions, discounts or offers that come along after booking and can be applied to your sailing is a good first step to insuring maximum value. Click-to-book website reservations will not consider added value offers down the line. Your Cruise Travel Expert will and so should you.
6. Get on the ship early That may seem a no-brainer but arriving at the port early for embarkation, being one of the first on the ship, can add great value to your overall cruise experience. The cruise is a limited-time vacation and getting on board as soon as possible allows you to learn your way around the ship before it fills with other passengers. Later, while others are bumping into walls, trying to figure out where everything is, you will have toured the ship, had lunch and settled in to have a fabulous vacation.
7. Research, Research, Research A lot of effort is done deciding on a ship and sailing date but often, cruise travelers fail to keep that research momentum going. As soon as the booking is made, attention should be focused on ports of call, memorizing the ship’s deck plans and learning as much as possible about how the cruise line operates. This mistake is most often made by people who have cruised before. Those new to cruise vacations most often do their homework but not in an organized manner. On most itineraries, you will be in any given port for one day and one day only. Some itineraries have overnight stays, but most are a matter of mere hours. Make the most of them by studying up on where you will be going and what you might be doing. AOLTravel guides are a no-brainer on this hunt.
8. Grease some palms You paid at least hundreds if not thousands or tens of thousands of dollars for this vacation. A $20 right up front slipped to your cabin steward will almost guarantee that they perform at peak efficiency. The same for the dining room’s Maitre ‘d or others who you will see frequently throughout the voyage. An understated green hand shake with the simple words “Take good care of us and we’ll take good care of you” sets the tone right up front. You seriously do not have time to go through the mediocre service/complaint/resolution process like you might on land. Cheap fares often bring cheap people to the ships and tips that make up the bulk of the crews pay suffer. They will appreciate your effort.
9. Say hello to the Captain A kind word to the master of the vessel never hurts anything. If you happen to see the Captain walking about the ship, walk right up to him and introduce yourself. Tell him “Thank you for this wonderful ship, the great crew and for all you do to keep us safe at sea” If that sounds corny, it is. But it has a world of impact on the number one person on the ship. Most people see the Captain walk by and think he is too busy to talk. He’s not. If he were too busy he would not be walking around the ship. He would be on the bridge, preparing to launch the Photon torpedos.
10. Go early to everything Like getting on the ship early gives you an advantage over those who come later, you will have many other opportunities to either stand in a line and wait or be one of the first to experience whatever it is you’re doing. While it’s not necessary or maybe even possible to do everything offered on a cruise vacation, the activities, shows or events you choose to attend should be looked at individual experiences and made the most of. Going early gives you the best seating for shows, best pick from buffets or sales and allows you to interact with crew members at their peak time of performance.