Bundling, Unbundling Travel Services For Convenience, Savings

travel services
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Bundling travel services can often be the best value when compared to buying individual services in an a la carte sort of way. Buying airfare then adding on a rental car and/or hotel package is a good example of saving travel funds via bundling.

Unbundling, on the other hand, is where fees for everything from checked luggage to exit row seats on airlines came from, generating millions in non-fare income. In a bit of a turn in a different direction, some travel service providers are introducing new bundles that can add up to savings for frequent travelers.

This week United Airlines announced a $499 offer that gives air travelers annual subscriptions that guarantee more legroom and no-charge checked bags. Exclusive to those booking through United.com:

  • The Economy Plus subscription starts at $499 and includes seats typically paid for as an upgrade for flights in the continental United States. Make that $599 to include all North and Central America flights and $699 is the price for Global access.
  • The Baggage subscription starts at $349.00 giving you and up to eight companions traveling on the same reservation up to two bags checked per flight for free. The program does not waive oversize/overweight bag charges.
  • The United Club subscription gives access to more than 45 United Club locations complete with complimentary snacks, beverages and Wi-Fi. The cost: 65,000 miles or $500 per person.

The world of cruise travel saw an unbundling of sorts with the advent of specialty restaurants, charging passengers an extra fee for a fine dining experience. The nature of a cruise vacation still swings towards more inclusive travel than, say, a land vacation. But optional extra charges can add up fast, even doubling the total price of a cruise vacation

In a similar move to United’s subscription plans, Royal Caribbean International has a variety of dining packages on various cruise ships. On Allure of the Seas, for example, passengers can choose from the following packages:

  • Central Park Dining Package, at $70 per guest (regularly priced at $90), includes Giovanni’s Table Italian Trattoria, 150 Central Park fine-dining restaurant and Chops Grille steakhouse.
  • Chef’s Dining Package, at $130 per guest, includes the five-course, gourmet Chef’s Table and wine pairing, 150 Central Park and Chops Grille
  • Choice Dining Package, at $80 per guest, includes Chops Grille, Giovanni’s Table, Izumi and Samba Grill Brazilian steakhouse

Bundled dining packages are also offered by sister-line Celebrity Cruises in a Specialty Dining package with three, four or five dinners.

How to Travel on a Budget

A Tiny Cruise Line With A Big Impact

cruise lineLike them or hate them, travelers have heard of cruise lines that travel around the world on city-like ships, ply the rivers of Europe or sail from convenient home ports around North America. Some have ships designed to be destinations in and of themselves, while others have purpose-built vessels with a shore-side focus, stopping at world class destinations. Between the brands of Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Corporation alone, millions of travelers take to the sea each year. A comparative handful of cruise travelers choose small, boutique lines that sail just a few ships to many of the same places with their own signature travel experience.

Lüftner Cruises, a family-owned Austrian company, is one of those tiny cruise lines. Lüftner operates Amadeus Cruises, a luxury river cruise line with just six ships that sail along Europe’s Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers in opulent luxury on voyages lasting four to 15 days.

Just launched, 443-foot Amadeus Silver is their largest and most luxurious river ship ever. The 90-cabin vessel is adorned in first-class interior furnishings, luxurious accommodations, authentic Austrian programming and an environmentally-friendly design.

Featured on the Amadeus Silver is Café Vienna, a traditional Austrian coffee shop serving Sachertorte specialties. An open-air lounge named the River Terrace is located in the ship’s bow and has special glazed windows to protect passengers from a windy or rainy day. The ship also has a two-story fitness studio, two restaurants and a sundeck with a golf putting green.

Passenger cabins are a roomy 172 square feet and have innovative French balconies with drop-down windows affording panoramic views. Spacious suites are 258 square feet and have walk-out exterior balconies with seating areas.

On the ship, activities include folklore shows, lectures on the history of the Rhine-Main-Danube canal and Bavarian evenings with live music. Off the ship, city excursions showcase the region’s rich cultural diversity and feature concerts in Vienna, wine tastings in Wuerzburg and castle tours.

Lüftner Cruises also has an uber focus on the environment, earning certification by Green Globe, the global travel and tourism industries’ certification program for sustainable tourism as well as Atmosfair, a climate protection organization with a focus on travel.

“We are well aware that tourism always impacts on the environment despite increasing efforts to offer environmentally-friendly travel arrangements,” said Dr. Wolfgang Lueftner, Founder and Owner of Lueftner Cruises in an Eturbonews report.

On board Lueftner ships, cruise travelers have the opportunity to positively impact the environment. Passengers can, and do, choose to offset their own CO2 consumption with a donation and are given the option to pay a suggested climate protection levy of €2 per day per cabin.

[Photo Credit – Amadeus Cruises]

New Quantum Of The Seas Cruise Ship Is A Quantum Leap Forward

Quantum of the Seas

When Royal Caribbean International debuted their Oasis-class ships, complete with dual Flow-rider surf simulators, a zip-line across the deck and a host of other over-the-top features, they created an at-sea travel experience like no other. As the world’s largest cruise ships, twin sisters Oasis and Allure of the Seas are so big that the vessel is divided up into neighborhoods. Either can only call at ports designed to handle the massive ship and those who have sailed the 225,000-ton ships agree; there is nothing quite like them – until now.

Now, Quantum of the Seas has arrived.

Today, in New York City, Royal Caribbean revealed details on the line’s new Quantum class of ships. A big secret that Gadling first reported in 2011’s, “The Secret is Out: Royal Caribbean to Build New Class of Ships,” the vessels were code-named “Project Sunshine” and very few details were given. We knew they would be smaller ships, weighing in at 158,000 tons, and carry fewer people, a mere 4,100, but that was it.

Fast-forward to February of this year and names for the new ships, Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas, were revealed. At the time, Royal Caribbean President and CEO Adam Goldstein simply said, “The new ship will be such a leap forward in terms of vessel design and guest experiences that we thought the name Quantum of the Seas was perfectly appropriate,” and left it at that.

Today’s reveal begins to put a face on the ship and define what the new Quantum-class will be about.%Gallery-185758%

Continuing to focus on families and occupying their time, how about some bumper car action while cruising the Caribbean? Quantum of the Seas will have that, roller-skating, a full, regulation-sized basketball court and more. But the big features, those designed to satisfy Royal Caribbean’s trademark “wow” factor will no doubt redefine cruise travel as never before.

Those who thought pro-quality, rock-climbing walls were impressive will like RipCord by iFly, a skydiving wind tunnel like the ones professional skydivers use for practice, mounted on the back of the ship. Looking out of the ship-mounted RipCord tunnel, visitors will be able to see the ocean as they simulate free fall. Pretty impressive.

Moving from impressive to bizarre (but in a good way), we have North Star, a jewel-shaped glass capsule that careens visitors 300 feet over the side of the ship on a breathtaking journey. This is where Royal Caribbean shows its depth and how well it understands the nature of big ship cruise travel.

Included as part of the cruise fare, North Star will be available at sea as well as in port, and Royal Caribbean promises that no two “flights” will be the same. Premium packages also will be available for sunrise and sunset flights, or a private flight, which looks to be good for marriage proposals and wedding ceremonies. All packages include a pre-flight reception, in-flight Champagne toast, a commemorative flight certificate and a post-flight brunch or dinner.

Coming back down to earth, briefly, Quantum of the Seas will also feature some multi-use areas that transform throughout the day, utilizing space efficiently.

Two70° is a multi-level great room named for its 270-degree panoramic views via floor-to-ceiling glass walls, three decks high at the stern of the ship. By day, Two70° brings a modern and comfortable living room space for guests to sit back and relax. At night, the space gradually transforms to a venue featuring spectacular, mysterious and unexpected entertainment via new technology that immerses the audience through a combination of live performers, including aerialists, as well as breathtaking video and digital scenery.

SeaPlex will be the largest indoor activity area at sea. This transformational sporting and entertainment venue will begin the day with activities like a circus school with a flying trapeze and a full-sized basketball court. At night, its bumper cars and roller skates deliver the fun and excitement. Not into either? Guests can dance to music orchestrated from a floating DJ booth, which hovers above the activity below.

The two-story Music Hall will have live performances, DJs, theme night parties, billiards and more.

Known for well-appointed, roomy staterooms on their newest ships, Royal Caribbean is making no exception with Quantum class vessels. Averaging nearly 10 percent larger that those on previous Oasis class ships and crafted using Royal Caribbean’s new smart design concept, each stateroom features customizable layouts and larger storage solutions.

Remember Disney Cruise Line’s Virtual Porthole cabins? The inside cabins will feature Virtual Balcony Staterooms, interior cabins with real-time (simulated) views of the ocean.

Further smart use ideas on Quantum feature Family-Connected staterooms that use three different cabin categories that produce separate bedrooms and bathrooms for everyone. New studio staterooms, some with balconies, will appeal to solo travelers. New Junior Suite categories expand the possibilities of the popular mini-suite option and the top-end Loft Suites are even bigger.

Quantum of the Seas will still have popular venues like the adults-only Solarium, an outdoor pool, a rock climbing wall, FlowRider surf simulator and other standard entertainment and dining venues too. But more new features are yet to be announced.

The new Quantum class ships debut in the fall of 2014 with Quantum of the Seas, followed by sister-ship Anthem of the Seas in spring 2015, sailing out of the New York Harbor from her homeport of Cape Liberty on seven- to 12-night itineraries during the winter 2014/15 season.

[Photo Credit – Royal Caribbean International]

Cruise Line Brings Dining From The Sea To New York City

cruise lineEach cruise line seems to have its own focus and Celebrity Cruises is no exception. On board their “Modern Luxury” ships, Celebrity Cruises chefs create relevant, unforgettable dining experiences.

To take that message to New York City, perhaps to those who have never sailed before, Celebrity is coming to town with a pop-up restaurant featuring favorites from their onboard menus along with items that reflect the culinary feel of Manhattan.

Celebrity’s own James Beard-featured chef, John Suley, will be on hand for the event, which is open to the public with advance reservations.

To be held at The Kitchen NYC on January 29, 31, and February 1, 2013 for lunch ($40) or dinner ($75), the fresh-from-scratch meal also includes the services of master mixologist Junior Merino, aka The Liquid Chef, on hand with special (and included) concocted libations.
Proceeds from ticket sales will support the Celebrity Cruises Scholarship at The Culinary Institute of America, with a $10,000 donation guaranteed. Attendees will also be entered to win a Caribbean cruise for two on a Celebrity Cruises ship. Reservations are available from noon to 1 p.m. for lunch and 5:30 to 8:45 p.m. for dinner at celebritycruisespopupnyc.eventbrite.com.

This is not a first for Celebrity Cruises. Their pop-up restaurant debuted in San Francisco in 2012.

Want to know more about pop-up restaurants? Check out this video:


5 Ways To Save On A Cruise Vacation, But Should You?

save on a cruise vacation

People who talk about how to save on a cruise vacation, often compare them to “floating hotels,” a way of thinking that can easily make cruise ships come out ahead financially. Just the all-inclusive nature of a cruise makes sailing popular. We get it. The issue is not which is a better value but how to save on cruises themselves. We understand it’s a good deal, but how do we maximize that value on a cruise vacation?

Buy far in advance- Cruise lines appreciate passengers who book far in advance and say so with lower prices. Passengers gain not only from that attractive pricing but also from a far better selection of cabins when booked a year or more in advance. Some fares are only offered by cruise lines right after releasing a new schedule of sailings or within a certain amount of time before sailing too.

Buy at the last minute- Travelers who are able to just drop everything and go to sea by booking 30 days or less in advance of sailing can find some great bargains too. These passengers need to be flexible not only about when they can sail but about their cabin location as well. By the same coin that makes buying in advance a good idea because of a superior selection of cabins, those who buy at the last minute need to be comfortable in less attractively located real estate.Be loyal- Cruise line packages and benefits for those who have sailed with them previously are considerable and can add up to real savings. Past guests are often the first to be offered special fares or discounts that will be available to the general public later. On board, past guest benefits are considerable, ranging from a welcome-back gift to special parties, wine tastings and other events exclusive to frequent cruisers.

Consider restricted fares but only if you’re sure- Most cruise vacations can be bought far in advance then canceled any time before final payment without penalty. Restricted fares lock in pricing, often at a rate lower than all others but require a non-refundable deposit and no other changes can be made without a hefty fee. This is not the fare for those who might change their minds later but can be the very best value for those with solid plans that are not apt to vary throughout the life of the booking. Traveling with the elderly, those with medical concerns, on a strict budget or even teens who might not think cruising is cool by the time the sailing rolls around, this is a great way to waste travel funds.

Cram as many people as possible into your cabin. It works. Some cruise lines have standard-sized cabins that will accommodate up to five people. Cruise lines base their world on double occupancy (two to a cabin). Solo travelers often pay twice as much but cabins with three, four or five pay far less as cruise lines commonly discount the third or more passengers in a cabin.

That’s good to know if on a really tight budget but begs the question: “Just because we can fit five in a cabin, should we?” In many cases the answer is a resounding “No!” I remember one time as a travel agent when a client called me from their fabulous cruise ship upon boarding then checking out their cabin. This lady was hoppin’ mad at me for allowing them to book four adults in a small, inside cabin, even though I’d warned her about the drawbacks.

Four people in one cabin means four people needing to use the shower and/or restroom at the same time to get ready for dinner. It’s trying to find a place for four people’s luggage, bodies and personal time. Add in that these were four very large people who barely fit in the third and fourth upper bunk bed-like berths and all of the sudden saving that money up front was not nearly as important.

That’s a very common flaw of cruise traveler buying habits too. Up front, there is a lot of concentration on price, much like they might spend on an airline ticket going from point A to point B. The travelers for whom this is a problem just want the rock bottom low price no matter what it means. After they get that price, some of those same people bounce back almost immediately, now concerned about their cabin location, type or even the ship and sailing date.

Those are the lucky ones. They still have time for a reality check to think about what it will be like in that obstructed view balcony cabin that saved them a few bucks. That’s time to consider if the loss of a perfect view for their cruise of a lifetime is worth it. To many, once they think about it, they realize that they would indeed not care for that and change.

Others wait and find out the hard way that their click-to-buy wonder deal was not all that much of a good value. It’s all about taking a realistic view at the price of a cruise, our personal travel budget and how those two can play nice with each other. Getting it right can make for a rich travel experience. Getting it wrong is just a waste of time and travel funds.


[Photo Credit: Chris Owen]