Travellers love the word “free” – it’s one of those buzzwords that invokes a warm and fuzzy reaction as dreams of just how far one’s holiday budget can stretch. That’s why it’s used so widely and on almost every promotion under the sun. More and more cruise brands are latching on to the “free” hook as well, particularly those in Asia and Europe.
But are these really good deals? Or is it more a ploy by the cruise lines to fill voyages they are struggling to sell? Let’s look at the key considerations you should keep in mind when being tempted by a free or reduced air deal.
If it’s important that you get to choose the airline on which you fly, this could be the first factor working against you. Most cruise lines have inked deals with a variety of airlines to ensure they can get as many seats as they need. Often, these are some of the world’s best and most award-winning carriers, so you’re not likely to be stuck flying on a low-cost airline.
In turn, this is where any loyalty you may have to one particular airline could be tested. If you’re set on flying one airline over another, ask your cruise line or travel agent if they can customise your ticket to suit. Sometimes, there is a modicum of flexibility for this, but you could be hit with a significant premium for that privilege. Best tip – go in with an open mind.
Another consideration is that if you don’t mind which airline you travel with, it could see you connecting your flights in a new city you haven’t visited before. Cities such as Dubai, Doha and Singapore are popular transit points on free air deals.
It’s also important to note that your cruise line may charge a fee to allow you to make a stopover during your journey. So if the aforementioned customisation fee for choosing your preferred airline is unavoidable, you might as well get your money’s worth and make multiple changes by also adding a stopover if you wish to break your air journey, request a specific flight time or even an airline that operates a preferred aircraft (such as an Airbus A380).
When looking at these additional customisation fees, also factor in that many free or reduced air deals may not include any taxes, fees or surcharges levied by the airline, so these costs will be transferred on to you. Add these costs up and you may find a regular airfare that can be the same price as the cruise line’s “free” or “reduced” air.
On the flip side, there are some significant perks for booking free or reduced air deals through your cruise line.
For starters, should you experience any unexpected delays or travel interruptions en route, your cruise line will be working proactively to ensure you are rebooked on new flights that still get you to your ship in time. The same can be said in reverse, for any issues that delay your ship’s return to the port of disembarkation which impact any onward flights you have booked to get home or to the next part of your holiday.
This service is complimentary and potentially could save you thousands in new airfares or amendment fees, should something unforeseen occur, such as bad weather hindering a ship’s return to port.
Your cruise line will also be able to assist should an airline lose your luggage, by keeping tabs on it for you and routing your bags to a port on the cruise itinerary once they are located.
Cruise lines also have access to significantly cheaper Business and Premium Economy upgrades, so if you like the idea of arriving in style to your cruise, keep that in mind. Special tickets where you fly Business class for long international flights and Economy for shorter sectors are also possible, as a better value option over paying full fare for the pointy end.Booking air through your cruise line also significantly reduces the chance of errors on your part, with cruise lines having preset programming in their systems which remove any flights which may cause you to miss your cruise.
These systems will only display and allow you to book flights which will enable the cruise line to guarantee you can reach on disembarkation day. This means you won’t miss your flight home after an amazing cruise experience.
Many air deals available through your cruise line will also allow you to fly into one city and start your journey home from another, regardless of where your cruise starts and ends. For example, if you wish to visit family in England before your cruise which leaves from Italy, most cruise lines will allow you to fly into London and out of Rome at no additional cost.
Of course you’ll need to pay for the cost of travelling from one city to the other, but it certainly opens up more pre and post-cruise extension options. This might be of particular interest to those keen to add a land tour or another cruise onto existing travel plans.