In Part 1 & Part 2, I covered the steps that led me to consider my first cruise and the education I received trying to navigate my way through the complex process of booking a cruise without destroying my wallet. Cruise Hacking has proved to be a whole new animal with some elements of Airline and Hotel Hacking, but with a whole new vocabulary to learn. In this last installment, I’ll cover my lively and informative phone conversations with NCL’s customer service agents, the details and lessons learned, and how I finally booked and paid for my first cruise, ever.
Sometimes Square One is the Place to be
When I tried to book my cruise, I was greeted with the screen seen above. All of my research was worthwhile. I just didn’t have a valid reservation to use it on. And, no matter what I did, I could not find the same deal (a balcony cabin for ~$520 including all taxes, fees and 2 Free at Sea packages).
I’m a total fan of online transactions. They force the buyer and seller to be specific as to the terms and conditions of the sale. The buyer might not choose to read all of this information, but you usually get it or have easy access to it. Customer Service Representatives just don’t have the time to tell you everything, and they will ONLY tell you answers to the questions that you ask. At this point, though, I really didn’t have any options. I had to call the 1-800 number to find out what happened to my reservation. So I did.
I learned a lot talking to the CSRs at NCL. It took 15-20 minutes to coax out the necessary information, but they helped me crack the code surrounding cruise bookings. The first thing I learned was that the type of fare I was trying to book was called GTY. GTY means “this is the very least you will get for your money.” So If I booked a Balcony GTY, I would receive a Balcony cabin, and possibly an upgrade.
Next, I learned about the two letter codes they used for all of their cabins. The first letter of the code designated the type of cabin:
I = Inside
O = Outside
B = Balcony
M = Mini-Suite
S = Suite
I had booked a Balcony, so my code was B and another letter. I described what I had booked to the CSR and learned that the second letter indicated where the cabin was located deck-wise. A meant the highest decks and Z meant the lowest decks. In theory, SA was a suite on the top deck and IZ was an inside cabin on the lowest, bookable deck.
There was one exception to this rule – if the second letter was an X, that was a cabin that was not eligible for any of the Free at Sea packages without paying extra for them. I described what I had tried to book and she said it would have had to have been a BX. Free at Sea – except for me – is seems! This contradicted the screens I had seen and captured, but no amount of discussion was going to change the CSR’s mind.
Tell Me What You’ll Sell Me
I swallowed hard and asked the CSR what it would cost to get a Balcony cabin with 2 Free at Sea options. Free at Sea is always cheaper to buy when you book the cruise. The add-on costs are much higher. A BD GTY (Guaranteed Balcony – 4 decks down from the top – Pretty much the lowest balcony) was now going to run about $800 before service charges!! I had now traveled from the comfortable territory of “From $279” to the not so cheap land of “more than $800”. You know that weird kind of tunnel-vision and creeping warmth you get when things start to go badly? Well, I had it. I thanked the CSR and hung up the phone – fast.
Time to give up? No way. I thought my way through things and came up with a new plan. The American Express Platinum card comes with its own travel benefits including 2X Membership Rewards points, plus free add-ons that come with any booking through them. So I gave them a call. Turns out this was a good move.
I ran through the details of my failed booking directly with Norwegian and had the AMEX Travel Agent see what they could offer. Long story short, I WAS going to pay $888 for my cruise but this is what I received:
- BD GTY Cabin as described earlier
- No single supplement
- All taxes and port fees
- Free at Sea – Ultimate Beverage Package (If purchased separately – $79/day. Total value – $553)
- Free at Sea – 250 Minutes of Wifi Internet (If purchased separately – $125)
- All prepaid service charges (This c $100. They charge 18% on the value of the Ultimate Beverage Package.)
- $200 onboard ship credit – good for anything
- Dinner for 2 at their French Restaurant
This worked out to about $300 more in total value than the best deal that Norwegian would give me directly. This was as good as it was going to get. Not as cheap as I had first hoped, but still a very good deal for a single traveler on a 7-night cruise.
- Cruises have more in common with hotels than airlines. For the price you see, you get a cabin and meals in some of the restaurants.
- Cruise lines will discount their fares significantly. The goal is to get you on the boat, and then sell you more goods and services.
- Read everything you can before you book your cruise. If you’re not comfortable with what you’re buying, you should not be buying it.
- A good cruise consultant can help you cut through the mountain of proprietary information. I didn’t use one but would consider it the next time around.
- Last minute booking of cruises is where the greatest value can be found. That’s 180 degrees out of sync with the airlines’ approach, but similar to what happens with some hotels, particularly through Priceline, Expedia, etc.