Pricing Travel Takes Creative Turn On Airlines, Cruise Lines

When it comes to pricing travel, common complaints from air travelers concern fees charged for checked luggage and changes to tickets after buying. Cruise travelers are often surprised to find out that the advertised price they see is not the total price. Both want more options, flexibility and pricing that fits their needs. Several travel companies are making moves to give them just that.

American Airlines recently rolled out simple three-tier pricing aimed to take the unknown out of the equation, make comparing prices among airlines easier and perhaps adding value.

“This will eliminate the fear about what-ifs,” Rick Elieson, managing director of

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said in a Miami Herald report. He said it will encourage customers to compare airlines by quality and reward those, “like American, that invest so much in its product.”

Now, American Airlines lowest and refundable fare brackets are divided into three options:

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Choice fares are the same as how tickets are done now and will be the lowest fare. If someone wants to check a bag, they pay for it. This is the basic fare. This is no doubt the fare to compare with other airlines.

Choice Essential fares add $68 per round trip but include one checked bag, no change fees and early boarding.

Choice Plus fares add $88 per round trip, and include the Choice Essential benefits plus bonus miles for frequent fliers, standby privileges, a free drink and other perks.

Will other airlines follow American? Probably, as disclosure, transparency and a traveler-friendly system of pricing and booking seem to be the direction travel companies are headed.

This year, we saw a new U.S. Transportation Department (DOT) rule that requires airlines to include all taxes and fees in their advertised fares, among other consumer-friendly features. Cruise lines have no such rules and commonly do not include taxes and other fees in advertised pricing.

But in what we believe to be an unprecedented move, Princess Cruises began advertising the total price per person, including port charges, taxes and government fees, in advertising for their Season of Saving sale, running through December 21.

“These cruise fares include government fees and taxes so you can see what each voyage actually costs from the start,” says Princess Cruises on its website. “It makes planning your next vacation easier and saves the surprises for the pleasant ones you’ll discover on your cruise.”

Reaching further, Carnival Cruise Lines added new pricing options this month with what appears to be something for everyone.

Some time ago, Carnival came out with their Early Saver Fare, a restricted fare that was guaranteed to be the lowest price, no matter what. Throughout the life of a booking, if the price went down, the difference went to the buyer in one way or another via the Early Saver Fare’s price protection quality.

Like a discounted airline ticket, the Early Saver Fare came with some restrictions too. Topping the list was that the deposit was non-refundable and any changes incurred a $50 per person, per change administrative fee. It was the best price but not for everyone. A traveler with uncertain travel plans? This was not for them.

So Carnival increased the number of fare codes they offer from four to seven, adding additional fare codes that allow more flexibility, options and the ability to find a better fit for each individual traveler. As booking a cruise is more complicated than booking an airline ticket, more complicated are the Carnival fare codes as well.

Some Carnival fares are available far in advance of sailing. As time grows closer to sailing, other fares with different rules, aimed at those who are entering the booking arena are introduced then fall off as time marches on.

Winning at the new Carnival Cruise Lines fare code system seems to be a lot about timing and determination.

For example, those who need or prefer to book at the last minute might like Carnival’s new Instant Saver Fare, available 30 to 45 days prior to sailing.

Choosing this option, the cruise line requires that full payment is due at the time of booking and is 100% non refundable, among other restrictions. But someone booking further in advance will have a different selection of fare codes to choose from.

Available between five and three months prior to sailing, Carnival’s Super Saver Fare has a non-refundable deposit, no changes can be made for any reason, there is no price protection and the cruise line selects the passengers stateroom on the day of check-in at the pier.

Aimed at travelers who missed out on the Early Saver Fare because they waited too long to book, the Super Saver Fare is offered closer to sailing but with more restrictions.

Significantly new to booking procedures on some fares is that the cruise line (rather than the passenger) selects the cabin at the time of pier check-in. Now we’re into that “determination” comfort level and passengers who need or want to have their stateroom at a certain location on the ship will not like this qualifier. Those prone to suffering from motion discomfort commonly look for a stateroom location closer to the middle of the ship, where the laws of physics say the ride is smoother.

At the end of the day, those booking Carnival Cruise Lines may want to consider travel insurance more seriously in response new restrictions and use the services of a travel agent that works with this system daily to be sure they select the right pricing option.

[Photo Credit- Flickr user Simon_sees]

Creative Airline Pricing, Cost Cutting A Sign Of The Times

Recent airline pricing changes have brought some lower fares through some creative re-categorization of seats with mixed results. Before, buyers of air tickets could count on the good seats being in first or business class and the bad seats in coach. Now, airlines are breaking it down further with seating options that offer seats a bit better and worse than the standard fare.

Delta’s new sub-economy ticket most likely gets penny-pinching travelers a middle coach seat, formerly known as the worst of the worst, at a discount. The fare is non-refundable, no changes can be made and seating assignment happens at the airport.

“If you like sitting in middle seats and having your travel party split up, you’ll love Delta Air Lines‘ new Basic Economy class,” says the Orlando Sentinel’s Ed Perkins.

Going the other direction, US Airways offers ChoiceSeats, which are for sure not a middle seat and are mostly window and aisle seats towards the front of coach. Some may have more legroom via a seating configuration change or their location in exit rows. All get priority boarding, eliminating a fight for overhead storage space.

I took the bait on US Air’s ChoiceSeats from Orlando to Amsterdam last week thinking, “Hey, for $50 the extra legroom will surely be worth it.” On the first leg of that flight from Orlando to Philadelphia my hunch was right. The airline had reconfigured seating to have two rows of seats where three were previously, allowing for a good deal of extra space.But on the next long leg from Philadelphia to Amsterdam I had no such luck. All “Choice” meant was priority boarding and no extra space. Oddly, seating diagrams on both flights looked exactly the same.

Talking with a passenger who had flown using US Air’s “Choice” option before, I was told with an eye roll, “It’s kind of a crap shoot. Sometimes there’s more room, other times not, just kind of depends. Wait ’till they bring dinner.”

Sometimes it’s hard to hear correctly at 39,000 feet, but I was not real sure why this guy threw in the comment about dinner. Later, I found out.

The choice was chicken or pasta. When the flight attendant came by I asked, “What should I choose, Chicken or Pasta?” Her answer: “Your best bet is to go out for dinner.”
This was dead on accurate.

Was it a big deal? No, not really in the grand scheme of things. The flight arrived early and my luggage made it with me. That should be good enough.

Airlines are cutting back on non-essential services and making moves like offering different categories of seating in an attempt to provide rock-bottom low fares. If they can do that while maintaining and improving on-time service and luggage handling, this should be good enough.

“Airlines are finally catching up with what their promise is, which is getting you there on time 80 percent of the time with your bags,” said Dean Headley, a business professor at Wichita State University in an ABC News article. “They realize that people are paying a lot more money, and the system is more complex than it was, and they have to do a better job,” he said. “To their credit, I think they are doing a better job.”

Flickr photo by redlegsfan21