Saturday, January 29, 2011

What is a Luxury Cruise Experience? - Part I: "Nickel and Diming" - A Realistic Perspective

Having just completed a five day cruise on the lower end of the premium market, I think now is a great time to consider the factors that make a cruise a “luxury” experience. I am going to write this as a multi-part article because there is a lot to cover on this subject.

Please remember that not everyone wants, needs, is willing to pay, or can pay, for that “luxury” experience. So I am not going to be writing about why charging for things is wrong.  I will, however, comment about the cost of those things.  I will also make some comments concerning “luxury versus value” and “luxury versus style” along the way.

Let me start by stating that I believe the marketing of “Six Star Luxury” is as bogus as ‘No Nickel and Diming”. I do not recall any cruise line ever marketing “Three Star luxury” or defining what is considered “Nickel and Diming”; considering that nickels and dimes are never sought…only dollars over and above the cruise fare.  How about establishing some uniform standards rather than pushing one standard for one cruise line and another standard for another? 

That said...

What is this “nickel and diming” thing? I think the concept was developed in protest of cruise lines charging for what people think should be included in the basic cruise fare; something that irks you to pay for or to pay too much for. To me the concept should not be applied to paying for a bottle of water, but paying an absurd amount for a bottle of water ($1.50) and then getting hit up for a mandatory 15% “gratuity” on top of that…making that bottle of water cost a captive passenger $1.75 that you can pick up at Costco for about 11 cents (so you know it costs the cruise line less than that.)

Does it matter how you are paying that $1.75 or is it the fact that you are paying that absurd amount? This is the twist that many people don’t see. To me it is the fact you are paying the absurd amount…so the “nickel and diming” isn’t necessarily whether I am paying it ala carte, in a beverage package or included in my cruise fare. Let me give you three examples:

1. I was recently on the Celebrity Century and I had the ability to pay for a bottle of water ala carte or to purchase a beverage package which includes unlimited water (still or sparkling) for about $12.50 per day (which I think is very expensive) or a Premium Non-Alcohol Package for $18.40 per day, which also includes sodas, smoothies, specialty coffees, waters, etc. (To be fair, if you purchase a Classic or Premium Beverage Package and you have 4 or more alcoholic beverages you are going to receive all the water you want at no additional charge!)

2. Regent Seven Seas Cruises includes water calling it “free”, but its cruise fares are unquestionably the highest in the cruise industry…and, as I have previously, shown by up to over $300 a day more than a Silversea or Seabourn cruise. While it does include other items in its cruise fare, clearly the cost of that water is not “free” and, to be sure, is probably far more expensive than what it costs on Celebrity! I consider this “Nickel and Diming with Snob Appeal”.

3. Ironically, Regent’s sister company, Oceania Cruises, and Azamara Club Cruises – both of which explicitly market themselves as “not luxury” – provide water (and soda) but do not claim it is “free” in the same manner Seabourn Cruise Line, Silversea Cruises and Crystal Cruises offer it. In these instances you are paying for the water, but its cost is included pretty much seamlessly and without a significant premium.

So let me ask you, “Under which scenario are you being “nickeled and dimed”? To me it doesn’t matter if you are being charged $1.75 per bottle of water, $12.50 per day in a water package, or as a portion of a $300 per day excessive fare, you are being “nickeled and dimed”.

So you disagree and think I am being anti-mass market or anti-Regent Seven Seas (Boy have I heard that before), please keep this in mind, not so long ago the airlines included taking your luggage with you without additional charge, then it had to be of a certain size, then it had to also be within a weight limit, and now the airlines are charging $25+ for luggage with gamesmanship to make sure those two pieces don’t total the 80 pounds allowed (so weight is not the issue), but that the weight is equally distributed between the two bags.

Does the person who buys an economy ticket get “nickeled and dimed” or is he being charged ala carte? I mean, I only have a carry-on, so why should I pay for the fuel and labor associated with handling that guy’s bags? We can all agree, rationale aside, it isn’t free. Think about Example 1.

Does the person who paid five times the amount paid for the economy ticket and is sitting in first class actually get his luggage checked for free? Do you really think it is “free”? Nope. Think about Example 2.

Does the frequent flyer who paid for an economy seat, gets the extra legroom seat without extra charge then is upgraded without charge to first class on the day of the flight…and gets his luggage checked without charge, get his luggage taken for free? You bet he does! Think about Example 3.

Paying ala carte or paying a premium makes it, in my opinion “nickel and diming”, but the person paying the premium enjoys calling it something else.

Obviously, you can apply the same concepts to other things people have included in the "nickeled and dimed" category:  shuttles from the port into town, specialty restaurants, soft drinks, alcoholic beverages.  Remember I said "you can"; not "you must" because some folks do not drink alcoholic beverages or limit them to a glass of wine with dinner, others (like me) never drink soda and yet others never use the speciality restaurants.  Oh, how murky the term "nickeled and dimed" can actually be.
By the way, I have been receiving quite a number of emails asking me if I actually book cruises or if I would consider booking their cruises or if I would consider booking cruises on other than luxury cruise lines. The answer to all three questions is: YES. You can email me at eric@goldringtravel.com  or call me at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or internationally on +1 732 383-7398 or UK  on +44 20 8133 3450 or Australia on +61 7 3102 4685.