Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cruise Value Center Shuts Its Doors! What Next?

On Tuesday I reported a major discount cruise travel agency had gone out of business.  (http://goldringtravel.blogspot.com/2008/11/use-caution-and-common-sense-when.html ). Yesterday the word was out:  Cruise Value Center shut its doors.

Cruise Value Center, it is reported from a number of sources, failed to transfer $3,000,000+ in cruise passenger payments to the cruise lines and another $1,500,000 in travel insurance payments to Prime Travel Protection.  Obviously, this leaves quite a number of passengers without their cruises and/or without insurance.

What Should You Do First?

The first thing you should do is contact the cruise lines directly to be sure your booking is in place and paid for.  (If you paid  only a deposit, make sure that is in place.) 

Then contact the insurance company, if you used Prime Travel or some other third party insurer, and confirm your insurance is in place.

If you paid with a credit card and find either your cruise or insurance is not in place, but the charge has been made, have the credit card company work with you to either get the cruise/insurance or, more likely, obtain a credit for those amounts to your credit card.  (If you paid with cash, you may well have problem.  Contacting CVC isn't going to happen, so you may need to wait to be contacted...but more on that below.)

If the insurance is in place, but not the cruise, you may well have a claim against the insurance policy for the amounts you paid, but were not paid over to the cruise line.  (Word of caution:  If you were issued the insurance policy...not just billed for it...but CVC did not forward the money to Prime Travel, you may still have coverage!  Check with Prime Travel, your state consumer affairs department or your attorney.)

Where Do You Go From There? 

From what I understand, the bookings with CVC are being handled by Best Price Cruises; a Florida cruise discounter and one of the largest presences on the internet.  You will probably have to speak with Best Price Cruises to get any information on your cruises.  In this transition period, this may be harder than you think because of the logistics involved and the number of passengers affected.  But BPC is a big outfit and with new booking volumes down, they may have the staff on hand available sooner than later.

That said, while I have no knowledge as to BPC's financial situation, I am aware that a number of companies that have a large internet business are under huge financial pressures, so you may want to be sure, if you have a CVC booking that you are not "going from the frying pan into the fire".  (Maybe CVC's failure is BPC's saving grace?  Maybe BPC is solid as a rock?  I have not a clue!)

Also, you may now feel there is a benefit to knowing your travel agent a someone who actually cares about you and your booking.  The concept of "All I care about is the lowest price" may no longer give you sufficient comfort.  Limited communication by way of an occasional form email or disinterested phone call of 30 seconds may not be enough.  You have questions.  You have concerns.  You need answers.  You might even need a little bit of hand-holding.

While CVC technically controls your booking, you may ask to have your booking transferred to another agency.  You may have the ability to simply cancel your cruise and then rebook with a new travel agent.

I know there are a number of "big box" agencies that are in trouble.  Their model, as I briefly explained before, is to have a huge volume of lower priced cruises.  When that huge volume drops significantly there is a huge hole that simply cannot be filled.  While it is hoped that people will start booking more cruises soon, as the travel agents and cruise lines feel the pinch, not all travel agencies working with this "high volume/low profit" business model will survive.

Does that mean you should book directly with the cruise lines?  In most instances:  No.  There are strong travel agencies out there and they still provided many added values (such as complimentary Ensemble Experiences and cocktail parties, travel books with new bookings, etc.), information and discounts.  I believe now is the time to search out those agencies for they will work hard to earn your business. 

Goldring Travel does that every single day.  That is why our motto is, "Be Treated By Your Travel Agent As You Will Be Onboard!"  That said, I work with individuals and never hope to be a mega-travel agency.  I love doing what I do.  Alas, This Is My Yacht!