Unless you live close to an embarkation port, you'll likely need to fly to meet up with the cruise ship you're taking on your next holiday. And while booking cruise airfare isn't usually a time-consuming task, missing a few details during the process can lead to headaches, delays or higher costs later.
- Lowest cost is always best
- The cruise line will always charge you more for flights
- If you book through a cruise line you won't get to choose your flight
- Arriving on embarkation day will save you time and money
- If you want to stay longer you shouldn't book through the cruise line
- Booking airfare on your own gives you more control
1. Lowest cost is always best
If you're looking for airfare on your own, it can be tempting to jump at the lowest price. Before booking, however, you'll want to carefully read the fine print. The cheapest basic economy fares will charge you extra for luggage and to pick your seats, earn you fewer miles and prevent you from making changes to your flights once booked.
And sometimes they won't even take you to the right city -- many no-frills airlines use seconadary airports way out of the city centre or sometimes even in a different city -- to keep costs down. So you may end up paying more for a taxi to the port than the cost of your airfare!
2. The cruise line will always charge you more for flights
This is not the case at all -- cruise lines work closely with airlines to secure a certain number of seats on their aircraft in advance -- and will always get a deeply discounted rate from the airline. Some cruise lines will even offer to give you credit onboard if you book a flight through them and then find a cheaper ticket option. Note that Marella is part of the Tui group which includes an airline, and includes flights in the cruise fare.
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Another value that cruise lines sometimes offer involves arrival support. If you book the flight through the cruise line and then experience a travel delay, the cruise company might help you rework travel arrangements or meet up with the ship at the next port city. Read the fine print or ask a cruise consultant about these options before making a purchase, as the details and services provided can vary depending on the cruise line.
3. If you book through a cruise line you won't get to choose your flight
For some cruises, you may have little say in the flight times. Other cruise lines, however, offer a programme that gives you more flexibility. For instance, during a set time period before a cruise, you might be able to search for a flight and select the one that best fits your schedule. You could include some preferences, such as if you want to arrive a day early or leave a day later -- and the arilien you want to travel (so you can accrue those loyalty points)
The easiest way to learn how the cruise line schedules flights is to ask for the options available. You might find some programmes offer a greater number of selections but cost more. You could also discover that the best price and your preferred travel times are available when booking through a cruise line.
4. Arriving on embarkation day will save you time and money
Pulling up just before a ship leaves might seem like you'll save on lodging costs, as well as any meals or drinks you consume while waiting. If you miss the ship, however, you could lose out on the holiday you paid for or run up higher costs trying to reschedule the trip.
In general, when flying to a port city, you'll want to avoid cutting it too close. The ship will leave at the scheduled time, regardless of who is onboard. One thunderstorm could delay a flight, or heavy traffic might turn a 30-minute trip from the airport to the port into a two-hour ordeal. To be safe, you might opt to arrive a day in advance. This will allow extra time in case there are unexpected issues on the trip.
This is especially true for Florida sailings, where you should always arrive the day before. The flight times from the UK are such, that you would be cutting it too fine to fly from the UK on the day of the sailing. Plus you get to spend a night in Miami or Fort Lauderdale, which is always fun!
5. If you want to stay longer you shouldn't book through the cruise line
After a cruise, you might opt to remain for several days in the disembarkation port city before or after your cruise, which will allow you a bit more time to explore and relax. Cruise lines make this easy with pre- and post-cruise tour packages and hotel stays, often bundled with your air/sea arrangements. You don't need to research hotels, arrange transportation or put together an itinerary, as the cruise line will handle the arrangements for you -- often at a much more reaonable price than you could do yourself (again, Marella offers this through the vast collection of Tui-owned hotels throughout the world).
Note: However, going this route means you might have to pay an air deviation fee if you're not booked into a cruise line tour or hotel and that you give up flexibility and independence in your post-cruise travel arrangements.
6. Booking airfare on your own gives you more control
Purchasing tickets on your own might seem like an option to have more say in travel times and preferences. You can choose your preferred airline for earning frequent flyer miles, use your status privileges to get a good price or perks or even pay for the flight with miles. You can choose your routing and flight times for the best possible travel experience.
But when unforeseen problems arise, you might feel less in control than you thought. What happens if a flight is delayed and you miss the ship leaving? Or if, during hurricane season, your ship is stranded at sea and you miss your flight home? It's on you to try to rebook your travel plans, sometimes with the frustration and expense of doing so from the ship or an airport in an unfamiliar city.
However, if you buy a ticket through a cruise line's air department, help is often available in unexpected situations. For instance, the cruise line might offer to help make sure you meet up with the ship, even if your flight gets delayed due to weather. Or it could help you rebook flights if plans change, due to mechanical or weather issues, during the cruise. And while itinerary-altering problems are rare midcruise, they do happen, and you might prefer the peace of mind afforded by cruise line air.