Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises (you know the separate cruise lines that are really becoming one cruise line) are implementing a rather draconian (heavy-handed) solution to the problem of extreme discounting.
First, what is this about? There is a real problem in the cruise industry where certain travel agencies are so discounting the price of cruises that there not only is a problem with price integrity, but the related loss of service quality. You know the situation: You booked an incredible price on a cruise using some online booking engine and then you have real problems because you cannot get a live person…or, possibly worse, you get a person who doesn’t know what they are talking about.
So while you got what you paid for (sort of), the cruise lines wind up with associated problems and the high quality travel agencies screaming about the cruise lines effectively endorsing the problematic actions that not only undercut the industry, but give the good travel agents a bad reputation.
Related to that, some folks have undertaken the practice of avoiding that problem by using a high quality travel agent to do all the hard work and then shopping the price with an eye towards transferring the booking to one of those cut-rate travel agencies. While reputable travel agents don’t poach other agency’s bookings, there are those out there that do…and ultimately the passenger, good travel agency and the cruise line all suffer.
For me, there are some better solutions; like addressing the troublesome agencies rather than essentially “throwing the baby out with the bath water”.
But it is what it is, so let’s down to the specifics: Effective May 1, 2012:
1. Oceania and Regent will not allow any travel agency to discount their cruises. You will have to pay the full, published, fare. So the only price reduction you will receive is if Regent or Oceania is running a sale. This is similar to what Silversea, Crystal and Azamara Club already have as their policies.
2. You will be able to receive amenities (onboard credits, upgrades, etc.) worth up to five (5%) percent of the cruise fare.
3. The up to 5% in added value is in addition to any group or Ensemble Travel Group (or other consortium) benefits that may be available.
As to the transferring of bookings to a travel agency there are some new rules you are going to have to be careful of:
1. If you book with one travel agency and decide to transfer the booking to another travel agency (or cancel and rebook with another agency) more than thirty (30) days from the Date of the Reservation (NOT the Deposit Date) the receiving travel agency will not receive a commission. This is clearly designed to stop the shopping of pricing from one agency to another. It is not relevant if the first agency is driving you nuts, made errors or insulted your dog.
2. You need to understand that if you transfer your booking from one travel agency to another travel agency within 30 days of the Reservation Date the new travel agency will probably be receiving a reduced commission, so that 5% added value discussed above may not be quick to be received. In short, find a good travel agency (like Goldring Travel) and stick with it.
3. If you book your cruise directly with Oceania or Regent you can still transfer that booking to your favored travel agency (Goldring Travel, of course!) and the agency will receive its full commission…if it is transferred within 30 days of the Reservation Date.
I don’t mind saying that the last bit is very disturbing. I cannot fathom a legitimate reason for Regent Seven Seas or Oceania Cruises to limit a client’s ability to transfer a booking to a travel agency if it finds that the service levels provided by the cruise line is not what they need or if they expand their cruise vacation into a multi-dimensional experience (air, hotels, shore excursions, etc.). Does that seem to be a way not only for Regent and Oceania to keep the commission on the cruise, but “persuade” you use its (their) hotels, air and shore excursions?
There are a few other aspects of the new policies that are “inside” issues and not appropriate to discuss here. But what I can say is that I am none-to-pleased with some of those aspects as well.
So, in summary: You are best to start looking for a great travel advisor rather than a cut-rate online booking engine. In the end, while imperfect, with the new policies you will get the best service and some of the added values out there. Goldring Travel fits that description perfectly.