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Holland America And ‘Flight Ease’

Even the name is enticing…Flight Ease. Whatever happened to “flight ease?” Those were the days, weren’t they? Was it simply a victim of terrorism, or was it an economy that became consumed with bean counters, who creatively came up with ways to separate us from our money?

Now, Holland America is introducing Flight Ease.

Boeing-CaptainmHere’s why:

“Planning a cruise vacation from start to finish should be a seamless process, and Flight Ease ensures that our travel partners have the most advanced tools to coordinate their clients’ air and cruise itineraries.”

Well, Holland America is right about one thing…a cruise vacation should be seamless from start to finish.

And seldom is.

In attempting to make it so, Holland America is providing access to a website that is more intuitive for cruise connecting, by allowing travel professionals to:

• choose the best flights for clients based on a number of factors that include price, travel time, duration
• use a logic-driven calendar based on ship embarkation and debarkation times
• review more detailed schedule displays
• use an easy booking flow process

Now, there are lots of search engines to find flights, and this one is designed to drive business to travel agents. But if it really does make getting to your ship “seamless” — or even close — it will drive business somewhere else.

To Holland America.

– photo by Captainm

Today at portsandbows.com: Why we find a Mekong river cruise so-o-o different

Star Princess
10 nights
October 4, 2015
Vancouver (return): Los Angeles, Catalina Island, Santa Barbara, San Francisco
Inside: $639
Cost per day: $63

Why Cruise Travel Agents Are A Good Idea

Our colleague at Ports and Bows, Phil Reimer, probably posts more cruise deals on line than any unbiased cruise writer in the business. And every time he does, accompanying the listing is his sage advice:

Check with a travel agent who specializes in cruises.

The reason is twofold. 

One is that the travel agent can do all the work for you, once you provide a couple of preferences…such as where you want to go, what kind of ship you like and how much you want to spend. In most cases, this spadework is usually done at no cost to you, as travel agents earn commissions from cruise lines.

Two is that cruise lines discount cruises for travel agents and agree to some perks. They will certainly be different from perks the cruise lines themselves promote in selling cruises, and sometimes they're better. Sometimes, too, travel agents include perks of their own.

So don't take our word for it…take Phil's. He is expert at such things.

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: Two Holland America ships on the move

Carnival Imagination
3 nights
August 21, 2014
Los Angeles (return): Ensenada
Inside: $169
Cost per day: $103

Finding The Best Perks Just Takes Time

You might say we're a little slow. Last week we got a Costco card. It seems everybody we know has a Costco card. You might also say now we can be more a part of those conversations.

With the card came some perks, some of which told us about other perks.

Like cruising.

Since you already know something about cruising, then you also know there are lots of places you can get cruise perks. Travel agents. Websites that sell cruises. The cruise lines themselves. Memberships in other clubs, such as "M Life" in Las Vegas. And obviously, Costco.

Now that we are members, some of the things we can access by booking a cruise with Costco are on-board credits, cabin upgrades, specialty restaurants, entertainment that you would otherwise pay extra for on the ship…that type of thing.

We've seen perks like this mentioned in a myriad of places, but the Costco deal started us thinking about how you wade through them for the best deal. So here, at no charge, are two suggestions you may or may not already know about:

1. Before researching perks, decide on a cruise line, a ship, a departure point or a destination — or all of the above.

2. Once you narrow your options, check with a cruise travel agent to see what they have to offer. Search websites that sell cruises that match your decisions. Compare. All these places have different perks, and different configurations of perks. While it takes some time, that's the only way to find the one that best suits you.

Everybody has an opinion about the "best" place to book a cruise. We have three that we generally check out for the best deals: VacationsToGo.com, iCruise.com and CruisesOnly.com

At the very least, they're a good place to start, and just because cruise lines discount their pricing for agents doesn't mean it isn't worth checking out the cruise line's website, too. It may not be cheaper but, like we said, the perks are all different.

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: The end of a 15-day European river cruise

Caribbean Princess
14 nights
June 21, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): Princess CaysSt. ThomasSan JuanGrand TurkFort LauderdalePrincess CaysOcho RiosGrand CaymanCozumel
Inside: $1,199
Cost per day: $85

Travel Agents Find Carnival Customer Reading Preferences a Little Offline

Just when you think everything is going digital, it's not. Just when you think people who cruise can find everything they need to know online, they can't. Just when you think the travel agents who sell cruises are happy simply to send their customers to "www…" they aren't. Agents have told Carnival they want a BROCHURE.

At the risk of offending people who want to save every tree, printing a brochure isn't exactly a sign of the times. It may be a sign of the cruising times, which means cruisers like to leaf through pages and not screens, or it Carnival-WWell copymay be a sign of the "older demographic" that's always associated with cruises.

But Carnival?

These are the funs ships, the young ships, the hip ships. Travel agents, who are the front line of selling cruises, are responding to what their customers want. Not only that, the research compiled during Carnival's Quarterly Travel Agent Survey revealed what the cruise passengers want in the brochure.

Some of their preferences may surprise you…

• Detailed itineraries by DESTINATION. They care more about where they're going than where they're coming from…debarkation over embarkation.

• Deck plans and stateroom photos. Is there a cruise ship anywhere that doesn't have its deck plan, and photos of its staterooms, on the company website?

• Ship overviews and onboard highlights. Again, all online.

• An at-a-glance ship deployment grid. This probably is quite valid, because it's not always easy to figure out, quickly, which ship is going where and it can sometimes be frustrating to navigate a website trying to find where your favorite ship goes.

Meanwhile, print companies everywhere are likely celebrating what the travel agents are saying. And yes, Carnival will print the desired brochure.

Carnival Splendor
8 nights
December 11, 2013
New York (return): Port CanaveralNassauFreeport
Inside: $339
Cost per day: $42

Shifting Tides of Celebrity Market

We knew it would happen eventually, of course. Celebrity Cruises isn't focusing on us any more. They want our kids.

In a meeting with loyal travel agents last week, two Celebrity executives tried to define the market their agents should chase. The clients most likely to want and enjoy the "modern luxury" Celebrity ships offer were categorized as:

• Culture Seekers
• Metro Trendsetters
• Golden Nuggets

Except for the "nugget" part, the last category is about as close as we come. The PowerPoint presentation accompanying the speeches went by quickly but somewhere along the way some figures jumped off the screen.

An age demographic of 35-plus… household income $100,000…net worth $500,000…

Now, to be fair, it's not that Celebrity doesn't want those of us who don't fit these profiles. Like all cruise lines, Celebrity will take anybody who can afford to be on their ships. However, it defines the market that affords this cruise line the best opportunity of having their ships — as the executives put it — "perform" well.

The travel agents who listened attentively were on the new Celebrity Reflection, arguably the nicest ship on the seas these days, as it sails Eastern Caribbean itineraries from Miami. They are being guided to selling Celebrity cruises to affluent clients, people who care more about the adventure and the quality of services than the cost.

The clients are the "Culture Seekers" who will pay more to see and do more…the "Metro Trendsetters" who have to squeeze short vacations into their high-paying urban job schedules…the "Golden Nuggets" who are looking for luxurious ways to spend their nest-eggs.

Do you fit…or is it your kids?

Carnival Fascination
5 nights
January 19, 2013
Jacksonville (return): Freeport, Nassau
Inside: $249
Cost per day: $49

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