Written by: Kuki
In the way way back history (whatever that means), booking your air transportation and your cruise with the cruise line was a pretty good idea, and pretty common.
The cruise lines had contracts with some of the major airlines, and their offered pricing for the air portion of your travel was quite competitive as well.
In the mid 1990s, when I first started cruising, I rather routinely used this process when cruising, and was quite pleased with the result.
By the early in the 21st century, the costs of air transportation from the cruise line’s Air/Sea departments seemed to be rising quite dramatically. I’m not quite certain what caused the changes, but it seemed the cruise lines had decided to attempt to make their Air/Sea departments profit centers, rather than a service to encourage cruise bookings.
There was likely a confluence of things that changed the equation; the airline industry changed, with low cost carriers severely impacting the business of the larger established airlines; the airlines cutting out travel agent commissions; 9/11 impacting changes to not only the airline industry, but also putting a squeeze on cruise pricing (as it took lower prices to encourage a more fearful public); the growth of the Internet and it’s functionality for booking airfares; the economic collapse in 2008 putting further stresses on travel.
Whatever the cause, it became easier to go online and price shop for required airfare. Meanwhile the cruise lines began placing many travelers on airlines with seemingly with less thought given to easy routing itineraries. One would often find out they were booked with multiple stopovers, and less than desirable flight times. If you wanted to have the ability to easier routes, with better flight times the cruise lines would supply you that service, but for a fee.
It didn’t take long for me to begin to advise (and listen to my own advice) that it was much better and less expensive to book your own air, if air travel was required to get to a cruise. The only exception to that rule of thumb that I found was on one way air fares, where “open jaw” tickets were required because you were flying to one city, yet returning from a different city… such is necessary on repositioning cruises, full transit Panama Canal cruises, or occasionally on cruises in Europe, the far east, etc.
It does seem, to at least some degree, there is a move by some of the cruise lines to rebuild and upgrade their Air/Sea Departments. And, as in very common in the cruise industry, once someone starts an initiative, if it seems to be working, it’s not long before the other cruise lines are following. In my opinion that’s very likely going to happen here as well.
In early 2013 Celebrity Cruise Line introduced changes to their “Choice Air” program. http://www.celebritycruises.com/genericHtmlTemplate.do?pagename=celebrity_choiceair
Some descriptions of their program listed on their site…
“You have the flexibility to search different airlines and flights, so it’s easy to find exactly what you want. And, we save you time by filtering out flights that won’t work with your cruise”.
“We have experts on hand monitoring your flights, and if any delays or cancellations jeopardize your travel plans, we work quickly with the airline to get you on the next available flight to get you to your ship”.
“We guarantee the lowest airfare available**. If you find a lower fare within 24 hours of booking, we’ll award you 110% of the difference to spend on board your cruise—a benefit no other cruise line offers”.
“We have Celebrity Air Agents available 24/7 to help ensure your air travel is as carefree as your cruise. Just call. They’ll do whatever they can to help”.
Sounds pretty good, right?
I have to say I have not yet personally used, or attempted to use, these updated policies, so can’t offer an opinion as to its actual practice. But, at least in theory, it sounds very practical and useful, while still offering pricing equal to what you can find on your own, while providing services accompanying the airfare portion not available to you if you book your air independently.
While I haven’t seen the other cruise lines reacting with same policies for their Air/Sea Departments yet, I do think it’s a matter of time before they at least follow similar paths.
Princess Cruise Line has updated their department policies for their “eZAir”. On their website they describe: ”Competitive airfare pricing – See real-time airline inventory from multiple carriers at competitive rates in a side-by-side layout for easy comparison”.
I am certainly not yet suggesting it’s time to simply just trust the cruise line’s Air/Sea Departments to take care of all of those needs without checking against the prices you can find booking the air portion independently. I still say verify, verify, verify yourself!
However, I am suggesting checking their options and pricing is once again a viable option, and could well be worth that effort. I no longer warn against booking air through the cruise lines in any circumstances, with the exception of “open jaw flights”. Now it may actually save you money, and smooth the process of getting to your cruise.
Now “Free Air” from the cruise lines is a different topic entirely… that’s for next week.
- A View From The Kuki Side of Cruising -