Ernie, from your experience, is it best to let the cruise line take care of your air travel or best to make your own air arrangements separate from the cruise? We usually just buy the whole package (cruise/air) but after seeing some posts here, not sure if thats the best way to go. Your opinion on this would be appreciated.
It doesn't matter if you use frequent flyer miles or not. You will still get a much better airfare plus you will get to pick the flights you want. You can do this with the cruiseline as well, but you pay a premium for it. This is how the deal goes. The cruiselines book contracts with the airlines to get passengers from point A to the cruise departure location and back to point A. Nothing is specified about how many stops or what route or what time of day. Sometimes it works out fine. For example, I live in Miami and going to a cruise that leaves England, the shortest and most economical route is for the airline to fly me nonstop from here to London. No place really to stop enroute, but I have seen some ridiculous routing sometimes. Other times a husband will be on one set of flights and his wife on another, and both bad. I use Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz to find my flights. I come into the cruiseport a day early and I always use third party insurance to cover you from door to door. Check it out next time you cruise. Look on the back of your cruise brochure to see what your additional airfare will be, then check online and see how much you can beat their fare.
Rick... as you can see, this is a subject for much discussion and, frankly, there is no hard and fast answer. To an extent, it depends upon where your cruise is departing from. Far East, Eastern Med or South America I recommend Cruise Line air 100% of the time. A traveler needs just one missed connection or delayed flight on some of these itineraries, on air purchased on their own, to eat up any savings they EVER accrued on all the air they ever booked for themselves, and then some. Regardless of what you may read, the Cruise Lines have a lot more clout with the airlines than you do... or your t/a for that matter... by virtue of the $ business they give to the airlines, and you would be surprised at the help they can give you when things go wrong.
I know it is an unusual case, but the folks caught in Europe around September 11th who had their own air (not the cruise line's) had a much harder time of it than those with cruise line air (except for Princess passengers who were cared for by Princess regardless of where their air came from).
Domestically, it's a toss up. You can buy an air deviation from the Cruise Line for $50 or so and pick your flights and travel dates, so you can control the flights you get. You can read literally hundreds and hundreds of questions on these boards, over and over again, from people who have done their own air... "how much does it cost to get from FLL to MIA?"... "what is the earliest I can book a flight out of Miami?", "what's the latest I can get into Miami?", and so on. All these worries are gone when you have CL air and their transfers. So, it is not always an issue of money. Comfort, convenience and freedom from worry are also a consideration.
For most, a cruise is a once or twice a year affair... a major purchase generally costing several thousand dollars or more. Saving a few dollars on getting to the cruise and opening yourself up to the uncertainties of air travel on your own may not be worth it. It is very much a personal decision I would say. Personally, I always opt for the Cruise Line's air, without exception.
I think that's a very reasonable point of view, even though--for a variety of reasons--I never abide by it.
From looking at this board and seeing the same questions you referred to, it seems evident that many people who cruise are not frequent travelers and are therefore quite concerned about the most minute details (not that meeting the ship is minute!). For them, and for anybody leaving from obscure ports, CL air undoubtedly makes a lot of sense, even if it is more expensive.
On the other hand, if you're in the habit of scheduling your arrival at the departure port two or more days early, and especially if it is a heavily served air market, going on your own is a very reasonable thing to do. Yesterday I booked air to FLL from the Washington area on an introductory fare from JetBlue of $88 RT to meet a cruise that we'd booked six months ago. I'd been procrastinating, and I'm glad I did. But there's never any trouble getting to south Florida when you're going two days early, so you can afford to play it a little fast and loose.
We're also big fans of using frequent flyer miles to get to European ports. Again, we always go a few days early to buffer any irregularities. It's never failed us.
But I do agree that for many people, CL air, even at a premium, can be a good investment.
AR... I understand and agree with you, too, generally. It is a bit hard to suggest that the answer to the original question depends, in part, on the prior cruise experience and sophistication of the traveler as well as the other considerations we discussed.