It happened again today. Someone called with a price they had seen online and asked if we could match it. He had a real low-ball price from an ad he had seen on the Internet. To his credit, he had the courtesy to ask what our price would be. So he at least tried to keep some money local by booking with us.
When I gave him “our price,” it was substantially higher. That’s because we always quote the full price, including port charges, government taxes and fees. We also advise people that the price we give does not include gratuities and trip insurance. I explained to him that the “lead-in” prices you see in ads are always for the lowest price interior cabin. Sometimes they are for resident or senior rates that you might not qualify for. They seldom include the port charges and government taxes. So since we try not to mislead people, our prices appear to be higher.
Once last year someone came in with a price that we really could not match. When Kelly asked if he could travel two weeks later, the price we had was actually $600 less than the online sale price he came in about. So it pays to shop around, and, yes, that means calling a local travel agent. (By the way, the cabin price without the port charges and government taxes and fees, is what agents are paid commission on.)
So what are the hidden costs of cruising? As stated above, prices we quote do not include gratuities for your room stewards and waiters. These run approximately $10 per person per day. Then there is the fuel surcharge, which runs around $7 to $9 per person per day. As yet, the cruise lines have not reinstated the fuel surcharge, although they reserve the right to do so at any time. And once one line says they are going to do so, the others all follow like dominos. They can impose the surcharge even after final payment has been made.
Naturally transportation costs, such as airfare to the embarkation port are not included, although we can certainly quote you a figure. You can book air through the cruise line, generally more expensive, but guaranteed to get you to the ship or they foot the bill. You can book air with us for a $30 service fee, since no airlines pay agents commission now. Or you can book air yourself on the Internet. A word of warning: all airlines with the exception of Southwest will charge a hefty fee to change a booking, whether it be date or a misspelling on a name. Our air prices through the consolidator are often less expensive than some Internet sellers of travel and most people would rather give us the $30 service fee than deal with the hassle of booking air themselves.
That brings us to the “optional expenses” that you can incur on a cruise. By all means, you do not need to purchase any of the following:
• Alcoholic, carbonated beverages, specialty coffees, bottled water — Tea, iced tea, coffee, water, juice are available at no charge. Or you can purchase a soda or alcohol package with some cruise lines to lower costs if you are a cola-drinker.
• Specialty dining — While this is a nice 3-4 hour experience, we always felt that the food in the dining room was very good.
• Bingo and the casino — These are the biggest moneymakers for the cruise lines. Payouts are not regulated as they are on land. Some cruisers believe that the slot machines pay out at the start of a cruise, and then when you are hooked, they dry up toward the end of the cruise.
• Photos — These are taken at every opportunity, but you do not have to buy anything.
• Internet packages — These are priced by the minute, and connection times at sea are very slow.
Laundry — You can rinse out your own in the sink if needed; most Holland America and Princess ships have coin-operated laundry services.
• Gift shop purchases — logo clothing, trinkets or forgotten toiletries, medications and other necessities are all pricey.
• Auctions — These are the biggest rip-off at sea; should you get a steal on a reproduced “masterpiece,” there’s always the frame and shipping home to pay for.
• Shore excursions — Cruise lines use the same vendors that you can book with online; or you can be really adventurous and grab a tour on the dock. This is OK for Alaska and Hawaii, but I would not recommend it for foreign countries that might not have as stringent vehicle inspection laws as the U.S. or might not have English-speaking guides. One good thing about booking shore excursions through the cruise line: if you are delayed returning because of a breakdown or accident, the ship will wait for you, and all the other passengers booked with you on that tardy excursion.
• Travel insurance — This is one additional cost that we strongly recommend. You can purchase this through the cruise line, but if you need to cancel your cruise, you might only get a future cruise credit. If you can no longer cruise, or if the cruise/tour company goes bankrupt, you are out of luck. We always recommend third party trip insurance. And, yes, they did pay for re-booked flights, delays, hotels and food for passengers stranded in Europe because of volcanic ash. And did you hear that Iceland expects the neighboring volcano, Katla, to erupt at any time, and this one will be huge. We have had customers who were hospitalized the day before their booked cruise was set to sail. One lost everything. The one with travel insurance received a cash refund for the total cost of her trip. Which would you rather be?
When cruise lines were discounting fares like crazy last year, we often wondered how they could afford to sell cabins so cheap. The truth is that cruise lines rely on you purchasing many of the above optional items. The cabin fare makes up only 10 to 25 percent of the cost of a cruise.
We recently came back from a 7-day cruise to Mexico. Because of the turmoil in that country, we had decided not to get off the ship while in port. It was just a totally relaxing vacation, good food, good shows, played a lot of trivia, watched movies, and borrowed books from the library. No cost for any of the above. We met two couples that were on the same cruise, round trip from Los Angeles, for a total of two and three weeks. That might seem strange, until you consider the cost. There’s no way you could book three weeks at a hotel in a major city and eat for what they paid for discounted back-to-back cruises. They could choose to get off in ports of call or not, as the mood struck them. While they had to disembark in Los Angeles at the end of each cruise, they could leave their luggage in the room. I admit clothing for three weeks would be a problem, but on Princess and Holland America you can make use of their coin-operated laundry facilities. Gee, I can’t wait until I’m retired to cruise for three weeks at a time. The only thing better would be three weeks cruising to Alaska.
Give us a call before you book anything online. We will give you our best price. Our affiliation with host agency Americas Vacation Center provides us with access to many group rates, which provide discounted pricing and possibly on board credit. Visit us online at www.travelpayson.com. Cruise Port Travel is located at 900 W. Driftwood Dr., Payson. Call us at (928) 472-7878 or toll free at 877-949-7678.