Friday, April 16, 2010

Oceania Cruises Fined and Silversea Re-Writes Brochures - As I Said, "Free Air" Ain't "Free"

Over the past months, including virtually every person who has called or emailed me about all the "free air" promotions that have been tossed about by the cruise lines...from Oceania to Seabourn to Silversea to, well you've got the picture, I have been saying "There is no such thing as free air."

In fact, I had some rather heated discussions with Seabourn marketing department - which were successful!!! - demanding that only lazy travel agents and uneducated clients would be duped into believing the air was "free", so don't insult us.  Call it "Air Inclusive", but not free. See my article:  Seabourn Offering Free Air.  Is it Time?  Does it Matter?  Is it Free?

Similarly, I warned all that while you might think the credits for the "free air" told the whole story, you would be very wrong.  That is because on top of the air price/credit are all those air-related taxes; hundreds of dollars of additional taxes.

It is this latter point that - as I knew would be the case - Oceania Cruises was just fined for omitting from its marketing materials.  According to U.S. Department of Transportation, "The 'free' air fares, as advertised, do not provide adequate notice that certain taxes and fees, which properly may be stated separately from the advertised fare, must be paid by the traveler in order to obtain the 'free' air fare, nor of the amount of such taxes and fees".

Silversea Cruises had a similar practice addressed on the other side of the Atlantic and it was required to pull all of its freshly printed brochures to correct a very similar situation.

You will note that Regent Seven Seas also changed from its sickening mantra of "free", "free", "free" to "inclusive".  And as so many of you have complained to me - regardless of the still lackluster quality of the line - its "inclusive" prices are simply outrageous.  But, at least, it is correctly noting that nothing on a Regent cruise is "free", but rather is "included".

Now it seems that Iamboatman's comments over the past months, both publicly (here) and privately (with the cruise lines) were spot on.   And, while it created substantially more work for me as a travel agent - I refused to pitch the improper "free air" line that so many lazy travel agents did (and, alas, were actually the ones pressuring Seabourn- as an example - to offer it to combat Regent's now known to be unlawful approach) - I continued to make sure my clients received the best value.

BTW, there are some excellent values in some of the "Air Inclusive" promotions - such as Seabourn's Asia itineraries on the Seabourn Pride - but unless you utilize a travel agent that actually is working for you and has the ability to do it properly, you may well be spending thousands of dollars more than you need to...all because of being pitched "free air" that just isn't "free".

As for Oceania:  I still believe it is a wonderful product with great itineraries and a fantastic new ship, Marina, on the horizon.  I endorse the product and am pleased that its marketing is now in line with the consumer receiving accurate information in addition to a solid product.