The problem with booking airfare through the cruiselines is that they are working for their own benefit and not necessarily yours. That means that they will book through the airlines that they have agreements with and not necessarily the most direct or timely flights. Many times the flights that the cruiseline books are not direct flights and are flights that come in late late morning or early afternoon. In spite of this, the cruiseline will ALWAYS charge the prevailing rate on airfare. Carnival will charge somewhere in the neighborhood of $500-600 for airfare to and from NYC to Florida. I can book my own flights for less than $250.
The airlines are fully aware of when cruiseships are scheduled to leave from what city and they price their flights accordingly. Therefore, the early morning flights are more expensive on days that cruiseships are leaving from any particular city. The same goes with late morning or early afternoon flights out of the same city on debarkation day. For this reason the cruiselines almost never book their passengers on the most ideal flights. Those that are direct, arrived mid/late morning and those that leave late morning/early afternoon.
Now, the guarantee that you will make your ship is fine if you are a few minutes late. However, if you are booked on a flight that is scheduled to arrive in the debarkation city at 2:00 for a 4:00 ship departure (this is what the cruiselines do because they don't want you on the ship too early) and your flight is two hours late, the cruiselines will not hold the ship for you. What they will do is rebook you on a flight to get you to the next (first) port of call and maybe pay for an inexpensive hotel room near the airport. Hence, you can very well miss one, two or perhaps three days of your cruise while you wait for the cruiseline to make arrangements for you to catch the ship. The cruiseline is fined if they do not pull out when they are given clearance. For a large group or a large number of passengers who are delayed, the ship MAY wait an hour or so. However, generally, they do not wait much longer than that.
What I do is ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS book the first flight of the day for the day of debarkation. Some people come in the day before but for me that involves too much work. Hotel, transportation to hotel, a meal or two, transportation from hotel to the ship -- way too much work and added expense. By booking the first flight of the day, I select the airline that (1) has the best price; (2) best track record; and (3) has several flights scheduled behind mine that will still get me to the ship on time. I live in NYC which is a major hub so I usually have any number of airlines to chose from. Also, barring extreme weather conditions, the first flights of the day are the ones that are more likely to leave on time (or close) and not be cancelled.
On my next cruise, I am booked on a 6:30 a.m. flight to get me to my ship's city at 9:30 a.m. I can't get on the ship before around noon so I have plenty of time to get my luggage and leisurely get to the port before they begin boarding. Also, if I show up at the airport at 5:00 a.m. for my 6:30 flight and there are problems, I have 11 hours to find another flight and get to my destination. I am usually flying from NYC to Florida which is a two hour flight and just about every major airline flies from NYC to Florida.
Lastly, I have learned to invest less than $100 on travel insurance.
(cruzin' solo by design)
Freedom ('09), Imagination ('08), Victory ('08), Destiny ('08), RCCL Navigator ('08), RCCL Majesty ('08), Glory ('07), Liberty ('07), Fantasy ('07), Destiny ('06), NCL PofAm ('05), Fascination ('04), Victory ('04), Fascination ('04), RCCL Voyager ('03), Fantasy ('99)