Sunday, July 27, 2008

Getting upgrades on your cruise

I get questions from our clients or prospective clients and also other sources. Today there was one that I thought was interesting and worth sharing my thoughts on. Here is the response as I posted it and the question:

How do you get a free upgrade when cruising? Should I book through Orbit's or the cruise line?

First off, I have my own thoughts on upgrades. Most of the time, to me as a professional, upgrades are a marketing scheme.

Going from an inside to an inside or oceanview to an oceanview to me is not really an upgrade. Sure it is a higher category and would normally be a little more cost if booked into that category, but it really is just a different deck, It's still the same "type" cabin. Now going from an inside to oceanview or oceanview to balcony would be a true "upgrade" in my opinion.

So to answer your question, there is no way to guarantee an upgrade and any agent who tells you that is simply lying (unless they are paying for it for you). The cruise lines offer it to fill cabins and when the promotions say 2 cat upgrade, it's simply that they are not gettiing people to book into the category they are moving you to so it is marketing. It's like car dealors offering $1000 cash back. Are they really giving you cash back or do they have it built into the price already or giving you less of a "discount" then they would without the $1000 back?

Is it a bad thing for you to get a cat upgrade when booking if that is the promo? No. You are still getting a higher category without the higher cost. But I think the question is more about after booking than when booking the cruise.

Another way people get upgraded is again due to marketing. Lets say they have cabins available on the ship and using a 1-10 scale (1 lowest), they have cabins in category 4 available. Cat 4 is a higher cost than cat 1,2, or 3. they would rather be able to advertise the lower price but they first have to move people out of the lower cat so they actually have it available to sell.

Booking a "guarantee" basis can also get you an upgrade (their idea of one anyway for the same reason above). On a gty, you are getting what you pay for or better. Using Carnival for example, booking a cat OV (oceanview gty) means a minimum of a 6A which is the lowest cat oceanview. Normally the OV costs a little less than the 6A so you do save money on the price of the cruise You get assigned a cabin at a future date when they see which ones they can not sell for the higher price.

But they might move you to a 6B (one deck higher) to free up the 6A to sell later on. Past passengers usually get priority in the "pecking order" of who gets upgraded and also those who booked earliest.

Lastly, booking with a cruise line direct will not help you get upgraded any more than booking with a cruise specialist or reputable agency. In fact, having an agent working for you, might improve your chances just a little. Cruise lines do like to take care of the customers of National Accounts since we give them so much business. It's still not a guarantee you will get upgraded but it doesn't hurt your chances either.

An having one person to work with throughout the process (before, during and after booking) is a big advantage for the consumer. You will never have that with Orbitz or any online company as they are really just order takers, they do not have the expertise or incentive to worry about you after you book. A cruise specialist is looking for repeat and referral business from you and becomes more involved to assure you choose the right cruise and get the best value for your money. they are your advocate and really do work for you.

So thanks to the person, whomever you are that asked this question in Yahoo. Maybe you will get to my BLOG one day and if you ever want a good cruise specialist to work with and for you, go to our website and get in touch with me. Be sure to let me know you are the one who asked this question. It just might get you a nice bottle of wine on the cruise we book you on.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Need more copies of ship photos?

On the Carnival Fascination this past weekend, I learned something new (maybe I knew it but forgot or never thought about it since it never came up before) and thought it was worth sharing. Many of you probably knew this already but here goes.

Since we had a grandson visit us for a week, we decided to treat him to a cruise as an early birthday present (any excuse to cruise works for us ). One of the things we have been doing since our very first cruise is buy the Welcome Aboard picture. In fact, if you visit our website and the page where you can meet us, that is the first one from the Royal Caribbean Majesty of the Seas in Dec 1997. Helen wishes I would change it but it is so significant to our last 10+ years cruising, and how we became Cruise Specialists, I just will not do it (and she doesn't know how to so I get my way on this one ).

When we went to buy the photo on this trip there was only one copy printed. We needed one for our collection and we wanted him to have one since he would never have the "first cruise Welcome Aboard" picture opportunity. I never really paid attention to the fact that there is a number on the back of the photo and we could simply order an extra copy. We ordered it Sunday evening and picked it up Monday morning. It was that simple!

So if you ever are in the situation of needing additional copies of ship photos, you can get them. Can you order after you leave the ship? I'm not sure but I guess on our next cruise I will ask since I just asked myself the question.

A simple thought but maybe will prove worthwhile for someone in the future. Happy sailing.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Disembarkation day

We haven't had a lot a questions lately, at least none that I thought would be an interesting topic, until one last night about the disembarkation at the end of the cruise.

The question was "what time should I have my driver pick us up when we get back?"

Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to this one. Although the ship is scheduled back in port the last morning at a certain time, things can happen where it is both a little earlier or later. Then the process of "clearing" the ship which is a Customs and Immigration thing. Most of the time this is fairly routine but things happen here too.

Then it is the actual process of disembarking the passengers. First, luggage must be taken off ship and put in the terminal. The cruise lines assign you a number or color or some such designation so that they are not having 2000+ people trying to exit the ship at the same time. It can be a little chaotic (said toungue in cheek) with that many people looking for their bags, finding a porter, and then going through the customs and immigration process.

By working smaller groups, the process becomes much less aggravating for you the passenger. So how are these groups determined? Normally, passengers with earlier flights booked through the cruise line get off earlier. There is a simple reason for this. The bus that takes these people to the airport is also the bus (s) that are going to be bringing people back to the ship for the next cruise who are getting in during the morning hourson their flights. People who purchase disembarkation tours (those with later flights) need to be off the ship to start the tour. These jtours end at the airport and these buses actually are the ones that bring people back from the airport with the flights getting in late morning or early afternoon. It's all a timing thing.

Normally last is people who have made their own arrangements after the cruise, which are many. So you still all can't get off at the same time.

The question about "what time should my driver pick me up?" is therefore a tough one to answer and be sure we as the agent are going to advise our client correctly. 9 - 10 AM is pretty safe time for planning. Most limo drivers know the drill and may even have a waiting place (diner or something) close by.

What you should do is have the driver's cell number (if you know who your driver is) or the company number and call to confirm your pick up and then call again when your color/number is called and you are ready to leave the ship. Alternately, you can call when you get into the terminal and have your luggage in hand.

We do this with many of our clients when we are going to meet with them at the airport or after their cruise. We also try to arrange a certain "meeting point" especially at a port terminal. It is going to be crowded and a little "crazy" that morning so my best advice is be patient and don't make the last day of your cruise so stressful that you need a nother vacation right away. (What am I saying? Better yet, make it stressful, get home, have a drink and call us to book your next cruise right away .)

Seriously, you've relaxed all week on the cruise so be patient and it will work out OK.

I had another thought after posting this a little while ago. When we personally drive to the pier or make our own arrangements for air, we don't mind waiting for a later disembarkation time. We can sleep a little longer and relax with a nice breakfast and actually delay getting "eveicted" from the ship.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Book your cruise vacation early

This is something I've talked about before - booking early - and now there is even more reason to plan ahead. getting to the embarkation port.

We all know that booking early makes sense for both best pricing and best choice of categories and cabin locations (especially if you are looking for more than one cabin next to each other).

But on the news this morning, they were talking about air fare increases again. In fact, the 21st attempt at raising air fares due to fuel costs. All the legacy airlines have just added another $20 round trip to the prices except US airways. If you are going to have to fly to the port of embarkation, you not only need to commit (deposit) your cruise but you also need to purchase air for the trip and not wait.

With less planes in the sky since airlines are cutting back flights, there are less seats to compete for so lower priced ones go faster. Higher cost of air means higher cost of your vacation.

Even several cruise lines now are changing their air/sea policy. They may quote you are pricing when you book and deposit but that air price is not guaranteed until the bo0king is fully paid.

For the most part, we have always helped our clients find air independent of the cruise line anyway since it will normally be lower priced but when we do use their air (expecially for cruises that depart in one port and return to another or one way to Europe for example) the cruise line is usually a better choice.

Does this mean it might be better to fully pay for your cruise earlier too? Normally 75 days out is when the booking must be fully paid. But think about this - even if fully paid and cancelled before the final payment due date and the cancellation penalties begin, you can still get a full 100% refund of monies paid. So now even paying the balance due earlier may be advantageous when using cruise line air to lock in air pricing.

It's just something to think about.