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  #1  
Old September 6th, 2018, 06:14 PM
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Angry "Crap" when trying to book cruise line airfare

I don't get this. My next cruise (including addon stays) is June 12-23. We fly on June 12 from Gainesville, Florida (GNV) to Budapest, Hungary for a cruise on the Danube River with AMA Waterways. (I am traveling with my mom.) A phone call to our travel agent got her excited: an offer to flyl for only $981. I don't t hink it was a good flight anyway but the way everything played out is (in the travel agent's words) "st-crap."


This is how it went down: Mom called TA. The TA said she will see if deals for Une 2019 airfare are available from the cruise line. She found one that is too good to pass up and thought we have to get to her office immediately. When we met the TA just 20 minutes later, she said, "This will go quick." In reality, what went quick was the deal for $981. Less than half an hour after a person at AMA Waterways offered a flight at that price, someone at the same phone number said the ticket price is $2,000. Delta sells that flight for over $1,800. The TA said AMA Waterways has done this to her before.


Why does this happen? The cruise line has a contract with the travel agency. Anyone who is involved in booking international flights should know travelers need to be at the agbent's desk and making the decisions about airfare. This is not acceptable to the TA or her clients. It sounds like a breach of contract. Has this happened to anyone else?
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Old September 6th, 2018, 07:03 PM
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First, it sounds to me like your agent is not all that familiar with international airfare, nor how booking airfare with AMA Waterways works.

IF, and that's a big if, this was something that needed immediate attention, you should definitely not have to hurry up and drive to your agent's office. There's absolutely no reason why you could not have done this on the phone to say yourself time and trouble. In 16 years of owning my own agency, I have NEVER required a client to come to my place of business, unless they want to.

This is what I hate about alot of agents in that they either pretend to know something they don't know or they don't know how to provide good customer service.

Anyway, back to your problem; it's really too early to look at airfare, unless of course there really is a great deal that shouldn't be passed up. Experts will tell you that the best time to book airfare is 57 days prior to departure. Personally, when I'm flying to Europe, I'm not one to prescribe to this way of thinking. Normally, I'll book about 3 months or so before flying, but I'm also watching fares to see what's going on. I use Hopper, but there are several good ones out there.

A couple of things to keep in mind; the river cruise companies are known for offering 'free' airfare, but this is a gimmick to get your attention and make you think you're getting something for nothing. There is nothing 'free' about any of this. Call them up and ask them what the cost is for a cabin with airfare. Then ask them for the same cabin without airfare and you'll find that rate to be cheaper. So, where's the 'free' part?

Another thing to think about is that most airlines do not pay commissions. So, any agent selling airfare by itself is going to charge you a booking fee. If you're booking a cruise or tour, then usually they won't charge you that fee. However, some cruise lines, including river cruise lines, will pay the agent a commission if they book the airfare through the cruise line. Usually, that airfare is going to be more than independent air, so it encourages some agents to tell you it's better to book the air through the cruise line, when in actuality it isn't. Just one of those 'tricks of the trade' that some agents use to make more money.

I'm not saying that there is anything wrong or not, but just trying to give you some information to help in your search. I like to use kayak.com for my research on airfare - there are others that are easy to use as well. After I find what I'm looking for, then I'll normally book it directly with the airline.

Sometimes it's cheaper/better to book two one-way flights instead of a round-trip flight. For example, if you live in an area like Washington, DC, there are 3 airports to consider, so check them all. It may be better to fly out of one airport and then fly back into another airport on your return trip. Obviously, not something that's available to everyone, but the same holds true when flying to Europe, among other places. We once flew to Frankfurt and then took a train to Amsterdam, instead of flying directly into Amsterdam. Saved us about $500.

Yes, sometimes you can find a really good deal that's too good to pass up. If you do, the by all means go for it. If the price goes down, notify the airline and most of them will refund you the difference in a future air credit.

But the bottom line is that when booking something like this, it's always best to use a reputable agent, because if you have any problems, their assistance can be invaluable. Plus, it makes your life much easier and may even save you money.

Good luck and let us know how it goes.

Pete
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Old September 7th, 2018, 01:13 AM
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I certainly do use a reputable travel agent. Every year she is honored as one of the Top 15 travel agents for her company in a 14-state region. She is paid by one company: her employer, by the hour.


Booking a domestic flight over the phone would not be a problem. Mom does not even use her for that because land trips are booked through the airlines. We book flights to Europe throiugh the TA because of the higher risk when a flight is missed and all the immigration business (not to mention the prices). We had questions about upgrading to business class, for example, because a main cabin economy seat is not good for sleeping on the plane. It turned out AMA Waterways only sells main economy class tckets.


Why is it better to wait until there are only three months left before my trip? I thought booking earlier is better so we can sit in front of the wing.
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Old September 7th, 2018, 01:46 AM
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Didn't say it was better, just said I personally don't wait closer to flying than about 3 months, which goes against what the experts say I should do. That's why I always watch the rates, so I'll know what the going prices are and if they go down, I'll buy. It's a game you have to play, because prices could also go up or down based on oil prices. Best thing is just to find a price you feel comfortable with and get it.

Glad you have a good agent; that's the important thing as you have alluded to.

And FYI.... you'll love AmaWaterways!

Pete
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Old September 7th, 2018, 01:55 PM
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Obviously prices are important but the first thing we look for is always departure times. I have to take into account when I need to be at the airport if it's from Tampa, Orlando, or Jacksonville. For international flights, I look carefully at layover times in Atlanta both ways because Gainesville is a regional airport.


BTW do you think it is inappropriate to request wheelchair service for tight connections? It is not something I would want to do but the worst thing that can happen is we miss a flight because of my walking speed.
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Old September 7th, 2018, 08:34 PM
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If all other options are not available and you truly have a walking problem, then there's nothing wrong with requesting wheelchair service. Personally, I don't like to fly to Europe with connections that are less than 2 hours. Just too many things can go wrong, including luggage not being able to get on your plane. I don't like to fly, so I don't mind 2 to 3 hour layovers - gives me a chance to stretch and relax. I'm 6'1" 210 pounds, so I don't fit in those airline seats that are made for people no bigger than 5' and 100 pounds. We got to fly non-stop from Dulles to Beijing roundtrip on a 777 in first class - needless to say, I'm totally spoiled now! But coach seats and I are definitely not made for each other, especially for flights lasting more than a few hours.

Anyway, leave yourself plenty of time, if possible. It'll make for a more relaxing trip with less worry. Unfortunately, I know many times with tight schedules the way they are, this just isn't feasible. Just make sure you get some good travel insurance whenever flying out of the U.S. And remember, best price or biggest name is often not the best policy. So, work with your agent to find a good policy for you. As I always say, you hope it's a waste of your money, because if you need it, it's usually not for a good reason. But if you need it, you're damn glad you've got it.

Pete
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Old September 7th, 2018, 10:16 PM
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I am 5-3, 117. No problem with the size of economy seats. But Mom does not like to sit next to me on a plane, so she considered booking higher class seats before realizing the prices for business and first class tickets are out of her budget. The cruise line only sells economy airfare, so now she has ruled out those options.


Meanwhile the TA is not selling any more AMA Waterways cruises in an attempt to force the cruise line to stop telling her lies about $981 airfare from Gainesville to Budapest. It is not even just about the money at this point. The travel agent feels disrespected.
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Old September 8th, 2018, 12:12 AM
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It's not just AmaWaterways - they all do it!

As I said earlier, the old 'free' airfare gimmick is something very prevalent in the river cruise industry.

But it's not unusual for the person they were talking to at the cruise line simply made a mistake.

They did a study a few years ago and, after alot of research, they found this out about who you're talking to when you call the cruise line or one of these bit online sites;

1) They work in a call center
2) They've worked for the company for less than 6 months
3) They are not certified travel agents
4) They've never been on a cruise or to any of the ports
5) Their #1 priority is not customer service. Their priority is to sell and do so quickly, so they can get on to the next person.

People go to work for a cruise line or a large agency thinking it's easy, they'll make alot of money, and they'll get alot of travel perks.

They find out rather quickly that nothing could be further from the truth.

It's not easy, unless of course the agent only wants to sell and not provide any service, so they don't care that the cruise they're selling you is something you won't like because it's nothing like what you wanted. Plus, the paperwork and accounting can really irritate some people and it can get to be overwhelming at times, because they have to be very careful and accurate. Don't want to cause problems for people spending lots of money and traveling great distances.

They also find out quickly that they don't make alot of money. And contrary to what many people think, they also don't get alot of great perks.

Unfortunately, this is just a fact of life of the industry that many people have delusions over.

As I always tell people, when you call the cruise line or these large online sites and you don't like the answer, hang up and call back. Eventually, you'll get someone who may give you the right answer. If you do, then get their name and make notes. Chances are when you call back, they are not working when you need them or they no longer work there.

So, in all fairness and knowing the cruise line rep may have been new, it's not unusual to get incorrect information. Unfortunately, it happens all the time and I can't tell you how frustrating and infuriating it can be!

Pete
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Old September 8th, 2018, 11:10 AM
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Who did this study?


At any rate, the TA is open to booking our flights through Delta directly. It is probably going to end up that way for us. She slammed the brakes on selling AMA Waterways cruises until the issue is resolved. That should force them to do the right thing in theory, but she is one travel agent and many others can continue booking Ama cruises.
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Old September 8th, 2018, 08:03 PM
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If I remember correctly, I thought it was CLIA, but it could have been one of the many travel agent groups I belong to. I thought it was very interesting and definitely made sense. Call any of the major cruise lines and ask the rep some of those questions - you'll find out that study is pretty accurate.

As for making a difference, yeah, not so much. There are over 25,000 agents in the USA and Canada alone and together they make a difference, but not so much for one agent or even one agency. And this is more true when dealing with European companies - they just handle things differently than we do. And it's not just AmaWaterways. Welcome to our world - we deal with problems like this all the time. But that's why I like our corporation - we're a small mom & pop company, but at the same time, we're part of a major corporation with over 2300 agents nationwide. So, when we have problems, they tend to listen to us more than others. But as one agent complaining - yeah, not a big deal to them.

Pete
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Old September 9th, 2018, 01:12 AM
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How vcan you call Cruise Planners a small company if it has thousands of travel agents? My idea of a small mom and pop company is only those two people and sometimes kids in the family do all the major operations, not delgating a lot to others with the same job titles. But I know you seem to do all the work.
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Old September 9th, 2018, 03:13 PM
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Cruise Planners is a national corporation with franchises all over the country. So, while they are a major corporation, we own our own franchise and therefore, our own company. It's like any other franchise corporation.

I like to say we have all the best of both worlds. While we have all the backing, training, support, contracts, connections, and credibility of a very honored corporation with great standing in the industry, we also have our own small mom & pop business taking care of our own clients and conducting business how we see fit.

Some agents within Cruise Planners choose to grow their business, have thousands of clients, and sell millions of dollars of travel every year. They're constantly busy, have people working for them, not always available when you need them, and maintain banker's hours. While others, such as us, choose to remain smaller and provide a more personal service to our clients. We only have about 3200 clients around the world, so we stay busy, we're not so busy that we can't spend time with our clients and are always available for them. Plus, I get to spend time on forums like this providing information that hopefully will help people enjoy their cruising experience without alot of problems. Just something I enjoy doing, because I know the types of problems we've encountered in our travels. I honestly hate for people to get bad information and therefore make bad decisions that end up in a bad experience. All of us spend thousands of dollars in hopes of providing ourselves or our families with a memorable much-needed vacation. And we all want that experience to be as wonderful as possible. Unfortunately, alot of first-time cruisers get overwhelmed with all the information and end up making the wrong choices.

Some agents choose to work for a big agency, where they are an employee working for a company. Their clients are not actually theirs - they belong to the agency. So, if/when they leave the agency, they cannot take their clients with them and the clients are assigned to another agent, who may or may not really know what they're doing. And most of these agents are not certified travel agents - they're just an employee, as I mentioned, and usually don't receive much training or support. They'll have quotas they have to meet, they're constantly being pushed to sell more, and quite frankly, it's not very glamorous and they don't make alot of money, which is why, on average, they usually don't last very long. I have several friends who are in this situation and we're constantly comparing notes. I'm also very good friends with a gentleman who owns a store-front agency and has about 10 agents working for him. He's always telling me funny stories!

Whereas in our situation, which we absolutely love, we are our own small business and our own boss. We still have to abide by the rules and policies set forth by the corporation, but we control our own destiny, as we do not work for them. We are certified travel agents, have done all the training (continue to do so, as things change all the time), and we have to pay our own taxes, fees, and licenses. We've owed our own company for more than 16-1/2 years and we have many clients who have been with us since we first started. But the best thing is, should we ever decide to leave Cruise Planners and start our own independent agency, we can take all our clients with us, because we own that right.

There are good things and bad things about working for an agency versus being part of a consortium. Anyone who's thinking about it should definitely do an enormous amount of homework on the matter. After working for others all my life, I wanted to do something where I didn't have to answer to anyone other than me. Having been involved with travel for more than 20 years before I started my own company, this seemed like a great fit. Plus, having spent 6 years on the Navy and having a daughter who's been in the Navy for 12 years, and having been on several cruises, it only seemed natural I to get involved in being a cruise specialist.

Quite frankly, I take my business personally. I wouldn't want it any other way, because I love what I do, I love my clients, and I really try to live up to my business philosophy; I want to treat others like I would like to be treated if the roles were reversed.

But yes, while we are part of a major nationwide corporation with over 2300 agents, Nancy and I are a small mom & pop business, which I'm proud to say is Vietnam Veteran owned and operated.

Pete
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