Under the pretense of “aligning with our clients’ preferences” Carnival Cruise Lines has expanded their fare categories from 4 to 7. Is this really an alignment with what customers want? Throughout the sales process, we have been trained (and rightly so) to keep it simple. We do not quote every hotel in Paris for an FIT. Even the cruise lines suggest giving the client two to three choices of cabins to keep them focused and moving towards a closed sale. If so, why is Carnival introducing 4 new fare categories to cloud the already cloudy pricing for a cruise?
As it is, agents have a difficult time explaining the NCFs and the port fees and taxes. In fact, the cruise lines can’t even explain it legitimately to the agents beyond “it’s a portion of the fare where you don’t earn a commission.” Now, on top of that, we will need to discuss the differences between Fun Select and Fun Select Plus, Past Guest, and four types of savers—Early, Easy, Super, and Instant. Reading through this list I wonder if we are selling cruises or a majority stake in the Seven Dwarfs!
And the changes are substantive. In fact, it took Carnival six pages to explain them all. Some fare classes have tighter restrictions. Others incur a change fee to make changes. Others still have price protection, while others do not. I find it hard to believe that our mutual customers were demanding convolution?
There are few things worse than sitting next to someone on an airplane who paid substantially less than you for essentially the same ticket and same service. The airlines have made their pricing too convoluted with the fare codes. Then they tossed in baggage fees, premium seat fees—the consumer was (and still is) confused and has essentially laid down for the airlines to do what they will.
Are the cruise lines far behind? We now have a fee to have priority check-in, a fee to eat in a specialty restaurant, and a fee for drinking all the booze you can handle. Are there more on the horizon? A fee for towels poolside? A fee for a telephonic wake up call? A fee for paying with a credit card? An entertainment fee? A fee for better seats in the theaters? A tendering fee? I imagine they are all in play in cruise line board rooms at some level at this point.
But the difference between the airlines and the cruise lines is that air travel is a commodity and cruise travel is an experience. Or at least it always has been an experience. According to Anne Banas, executive editor of Smater Travel (in an interview with ABC News), “Public opinion of the airlines is at an all-time low. People feel completely nickeled and dimed, and many are limiting the times they fly or are foregoing flying all together.”
I fear that if the cruise lines keep moving away from an all (or mostly) inclusive experience, they will ultimately lose market share. Customers call the shots today, not Madison Avenue; and if the buying process is too complex or costly, they will go elsewhere.
The cruise lines, appear to be testing the waters in terms of what today’s cruiser will tolerate. I may be wrong, but I think they might be losing sight of what exactly sets them apart from the commoditized forms of transportation. What do you think of the new fare classes?