Diving into the Reality of Consumers Booking Direct with Cruise Suppliers VS a Travel Professional
Written By: Tom Ogg, Co-Founder and Co-Owner – HomeBasedTravelAgent.com
Consumer complaints against cruise line refunds are as common as pizza in the buffet. I found this particular complaint so ridiculous I had to write about it.
So you can read the entire complaint, HERE is a link to the article.
A family in Roanoke booked a three-bedroom suite for their family of 7 on NCL’s Norwegian Jewel on a north bound Alaska cruise. They booked directly with NCL and also had NCL book their air. They also booked a post tour from Seward, Alaska at the end of the cruise. NCL booked same day air from Roanoke to Vancouver with a connection in Atlanta. The wife had heard that they should fly into Vancouver the day before the cruise and asked the NCL reservationist about it. The reservationist advised her not to worry about it on two separate occasions.
On the day of the cruise the family went to the airport in Greensboro to take their Delta flight that would fly them to Atlanta for a connection to Vancouver. Unfortunately, the Delta flight cancelled due to lack of qualified crew for the flight. Delta offered a solution in the shape of a flight on American Airlines from Charlotte to Seattle and then a short connection to Vancouver. They drove to Charlotte to catch the flight, but unfortunately it was delayed an hour which caused them to misconnect to their Vancouver flight.
This is where the complaint seems to take a turn. They supposedly “talked” with 4 Uber drivers to see if they would take them to Canada Place, but none had a passport. I use the Uber app all the time and there is absolutely no way that you can reach out to an Uber driver until you have made a ride request and a driver has accepted it. Then, and only then to you get a way to text or call the driver. I found this part of the complaint to be concerning based on the reality of the app itself.
They wrap up the complaint by sharing that NCL refused to let them join the cruise in the ship’s first port, Ketchikan or join the post cruise sightseeing that they booked without offering an explanation. The whole complaint was designed to make NCL look heartless and like a selfish company without compassion for their clients.
What Really Happened?
They Should Have Used a Cruise Professional
There is so much that went wrong with this reservation that it would make a great case study for consumers who book directly with a cruise line. Suffice it to say that if they had booked with a cruise professional none of this would have happened. Here are reasons why:
The Passenger Vessel Services Act and the Jones Act
The Passenger Vessel Services Act, (PVSA), 46 U.S.C. § 55103 (b), places the same restrictions on the coastwise movement of people. It is this act that prohibits commercial vessels such as cruise ships from allowing passengers to board at one U.S. port and debark at another U.S. port without calling on a foreign port..
The Jones Act, 46 U.S.C § 55102, provides that the transportation of merchandise between United States points is reserved for U.S.- built, owned, and documented vessels pursuant to section 55102, a vessel may not provide any protection of the U.S. shipping industry by ensuring that only U.S. built, owned and documented vessels are allowed to transport merchandise between coastwise points within the United States.
Established in the late 1880s (PVSA) and early 1900s (Jones Act) these laws were instituted to protect both American shipping and also ship building. At the time, the U.S. was experiencing a robust ship building market and law makers wanted to protect it by making it difficult for foreign ships built outside the U.S. to compete in the U.S. market. Unfortunately, they had just the reverse effect on ship building.
The PVSA regulates the transportation of passengers between two U.S. ports and requires that it be done on ships that are built in the United States and predominantly owned and crewed by U.S. citizens. This law protects the domestic maritime industry by preventing foreign-flagged ships from directly transporting passengers between U.S. ports.
Several itineraries such as a Northbound Alaska cruise are still affected by the laws, which still stand. Non-U.S. flagged cruise ships (virtually all of the entire cruise fleet) must include an International port of call. For a northbound Alaska cruise this would be the port of Vancouver, Canada. If you miss the International port, one may not join the cruises, as it will not include an International port of call.
A Cruise Agent Would Have Educated the Family
Dealing with the PSVA and northbound Alaska cruises is a very basic issue that every cruise agent in the United Staes is keenly aware of. The very second a northbound Alaska cruise is mentioned, a complete disclosure of the risks imposed by the PSVA would ensue. There is also another wrinkle in the Norwegian Jewel’s itinerary and that is that it does not actually call in Ketchikan like all of the other lines, but calls in NCL’s private port known as Ward Cove. If the family wanted the full day in Ketchikan’s wonderful sights and activities, they would need to have full disclosure about the reality of Ward Cove.
A cruise agent deals with all of the various lines that sail to Alaska and are quite capable of making suggestions to resolve issues in an itinerary, suggest travel protection plans so that in case something did happen, one would not lose the money they have spent, and also would act as a liaison between the traveler and all of the elements of a vacation.
Another huge reason to use a travel agent is when the flight to Atlanta cancelled. The Delta employee would never look for solutions that were non-Delta. If your travel professional had booked your air they would have been the agent of record and been contacted by Delta. At that point they would have exhausted every possible solution including all airlines and all potential connecting cities.
Booking Directly With a Cruise Line Makes No Sense
NCL does have a very aggressive direct sales force. They are under no obligation to disclose information about the PVSA, which they did not. Booking the air with NCL is another huge mistake as the family found out. Here are some reasons to avoid booking direct with a cruise line.
Limited Options: Cruise lines might not offer the complete range of available options or itineraries compared to what travel agencies or online booking platforms provide. Travel agents generally belong to cruise networks or consortia that may offer special rates lower than the cruise line.
Lack of Comparison: When booking directly with a cruise line, you might miss out on comparing prices, amenities, and promotions available through different agencies or platforms. This can result in potentially paying more for the same cruise. A travel agent will explore all competitive lines for better pricing, itineraries and amenities.
Less Flexibility: Booking through the cruise line directly may limit your flexibility in terms of negotiations, special requests, or flexibility in changing dates or accommodations.
Missing Out on Expertise: Travel agencies often have specialists who are well-versed in different cruise lines, ships, and destinations. They can provide valuable advice and guidance that you might not receive when booking directly. This is exactly what happened to the family. Understand that a reservationist for a cruise line is not an expert on cruising, but simply an employee that works for the cruise line.
Limited Personalized Service: Customer service might be limited when booking directly. Travel agencies often provide personalized service, helping with specific needs or requests before, during, or after the cruise.
Exclusive Deals through Agencies: Travel agencies often have access to exclusive deals, amenities, or perks due to their relationships with cruise lines. Booking directly might mean missing out on these additional benefits.
Difficulty Resolving Issues: If any issues or complications arise before or during the cruise, dealing directly with the cruise line might lead to slower resolution compared to having an intermediary advocate on your behalf.
Critical Support Before, During and After the Cruise: Perhaps the most compelling reason not to book directly with a cruise line is that as this family experienced, there is little, if any support offered by the cruise line when compared to the support structure of a cruise professional.
As you can see by the experience of this family, booking with a cruise line directly makes absolutely no sense. The fact that they lost $48,300 because of the incompetence of an NCL direct sales employee and a reservationist is absolutely disgusting when all the family had to do is to reach out of a local cruise specialist and they would have had the vacation of a lifetime.
So take the family’s loss as a motivation to reach out to a cruise specialist in your area. Find one you like and they will go to work for you. Since cruise lines commission cruise specialists, it won’t cost you a penny to have an expert in your corner taking care of you before, during and after your cruise vacation.