Presenting consumer awareness and the truth when it comes to understanding and purchasing a cruise or any vacation... Though many may not want to believe it.

Your cruise booking is safer with PAK-N-GO Cruises and Tours. Plus, you get the lowest available rates that are offered by the cruise lines, along with caring, personal service.



These are official cruise line confirmations. If you purchase a cruise and don't have one of these, your vacation could be in jeopardy.

With PAK-N-GO Cruises and Tours every customer receives a direct confirmation.

Buying on price alone?

Consider this before you purchase a cruise.

Which one preference is the most important to you: price of the cruise, or level of service and knowledge of the travel agent?

I always include this question in PAK-N-GO Cruises and Tours post-cruise survey. Most of our customers have checked off both. With PAK-N-GO Cruises and Tours, customers receive both. But what if you really had to choose one over the other?

Many cruise only agencies have incorporated "We offer the lowest price" marketing strategy. These agencies are willing to hand you back part of their paycheck to take whatever business they can get. Their goal is to sell volume and take whatever business they can away from their competition. Is this smart business? It may seem so to the consumer, but do you think they really honestly care about you as a client? Unfortunately the general public and misinformed media view purchasing a cruise the same as purchasing a car from car dealership and believe that we (Agencies) set the price. So many shop around until they find an agency that is willing to hand back the most money out of their pocket. Cruise lines own the cabin inventory, not travel agencies. (There are a few rare exceptions such as a full ship charter.) Cruise lines set the cabin prices, not the agencies. It is ironic that the cruise industry is the only industry where the public expects travel agents to hand back part of their paychecks to the consumer.

What are you sacrificing if you do take that low price?

...It could be a lot more than you think.

Unfortunately, it has become a buyer beware market when it comes to travel purchases. It is not just the on-line agencies, but the toll free and associated walk-in operations that promise you the best deal. But is that deal worth the possibility of putting your vacation at risk or getting something other than what you paid for?

The increased incidences of people being taken by fly-by-night travel agencies, bankruptcies or just plain negligence are on the rise. Not all of these agencies are unknown to the general public. Losses have been in the millions for some of these popular agencies. These companies are all riding the "dot-com" wave with the sole purpose of gaining market share and making money for there investors. Are these agencies gambling with your money, and their own futures? Many have gone bankrupt and other are involved with mergers to raise more capital. How long can an agency run without turning a profit?

Also be aware of agencies online that give you no real contact information or even tell you about who they are. Don't you want to know where your money is going?

Let's talk about the service one gets from these companies. Service to them means that someone may be there to pick up the phone--but can they answer your questions? While traveling I've heard many horror stories from people who have dealt with these companies. -- Do you think these companies really care about you and your vacation?

I will give you a few real examples of what can happen to your cruise transaction and then let you decide for yourself if you are willing to take a risk. I did not disclose the names of these travel agencies, but you might be surprised who some of them are.

EXAMPLE: Agency not following through with the proper paperwork.

During a question and answer session at a cruise show we did a young lady told us that she booked her honeymoon cruise via a large discount cruise-only agency. She paid her deposit, but when it came time for the final payment, there was no record of her ever making a deposit. I asked if she was given an acknowledgement directly from the cruise line. She never received one. She put her faith and trust in that agency, but the agency was sloppy and never made the deposit to the cruise line. She was lucky in her case because there was space still left on this sailing, but not in the requested cabin category. The agency blamed the cruise line. This situation happens more often than you think.

EXAMPLE: Large agency promising good service, but losing documents and performing improper follow-up.

I was chatting with a couple in a balcony cabin next to ours. I found out that they had received incomplete documents from their travel company. This particular agency is one of the largest cruise-only companies in the country (which, by the way, lost millions and was forced to reorganize, cutting its staff and service). First, the couple didn't receive their tickets. The wife called to inquire where the tickets were, and the agency said that the documents were late from the cruise line. (Lie #1.) The agency said they would check and call her back. (Lie #2.) Days later a follow up call was made to the agency to get help from another person. Finally the couple received the tickets--but that was all. I know that Holland America always sends out a nice packet for each and every cruiser, no exceptions. All this customer received was the document folder, but there were no immigration forms, shore excursion information brochures, etc. The agent told her that that was all the cruise line sent. (Lie #3.) In the end, the company was no help and sent this couple off on their cruise vacation with incomplete information. The above problem could have been resolved very easily with correct procedure and follow up.

EXAMPLE: A large walk-in agency with a toll free reservation center.

A colleague of mine is a former employee of this large agency that claims to be a "wholesaler" of cruises. (Remember: there are really no cruise wholesalers, only resellers. The wholesalers are the cruise lines themselves.) He told me of mistakes and forgotten customer payments to the cruise lines. These missed payments cause forfeiture of the customer's cabin, putting the cruiser out of their cabin entirely, or putting them under undue stress while the agency tries to resolve the mistake. Can you imagine making a final payment to an agency, then as your cruise vacation date approaches you realize that you still don't have your cruise tickets? And when you call the agency, you discover that your final payment was never applied to your cabin and your reservation was canceled or sold to someone else?

EXAMPLE: Agency bankruptcy (very common).

A cruise line representative told me this story, and I have heard similar stories from other major cruise line representatives. I often ask representatives for stories about bankruptcy situations, and I usually get an earful.

A distressed cruiser called the cruise line telling them that the agency they booked through went out of business. She asked that the tickets be sent to her. The cruise line representative could not find her on their system. The representative asked if she had an acknowledgment or a cruise line booking number. She said, "Yes I do. I have the paperwork from the agency I booked through." It was explained to her that the acknowledgement from the agency meant nothing, and that she would need the cruise line's official acknowledgment or booking number. Of course she had not been given that information, and her vacation was lost. She would have to pursue the problem with the bankrupt tour agency. Remember: there would have been a record of this booking if the agency had deposited and made payment to the cruse line directly. Our policy at PAK-N-GO Cruises and Tours it to make all payments directly to the cruise line and provide an acknowledgement with the booking number. Nothing goes into an agency fund--we don't play risky games with your money.

I would like to share a few points that could save your vacation. We work for you, our customer, and want to keep you secure and happy with your vacation purchase. We would hope that you would make your cruise vacation purchase through us. If you are one of our many valued customers already, you can apply these principles to other purchasing decisions you make such as hiring a contractor, purchasing a car, etc.

Following are important questions you should ask when shopping for a cruise vacation: If the person you are talking to is hesitant, won't answer or doesn't know the answer to these questions, say thank you, walk out or hang up the phone.

Again, one of the most important points I want to make is that it is extremely important to have the official acknowledgement from the cruise line. This, along with the cruise line's booking number, is the only proof that you are booked on a particular ship on a particular date. If any catastrophe or bankruptcy of an agency should occur, you will be able to take your official acknowledgement, along with the official booking number, and contact the cruise line or take it to another agency--either should help retain your hard-earned vacation. Keep in mind that an acknowledgement from a travel agency means nothing to the cruise line or tour operator. Only the official faxed or mailed paperwork from the cruise line is what matters.

An important note: many agencies charge fees or have hidden terms such as an extra cancellation penalty. This is something that you should find out before booking your cruise vacation. Never ever buy the excuse that the agency will not give you the booking number and acknowledgment for security reasons. If they don't want you to have it, there is a hidden agenda.

Of course we at PAK-N-GO Cruises and Tours provide all this important information and more, and we only use the policies as stated in the individual cruise line's brochures. We want your cruise vacation to be as stress-free as possible, from the day that you inquire till the day you return home. Yes, PAK-N-GO Cruises and Tours is human and may make mistakes, but we will admit to them and resolve them--we will never leave you hanging. After all, you are our valued customer.

I'm not saying that every transaction will go bad with one of these discount agencies. I just want to make you, the consumer, aware of what could go wrong, and maybe think safe rather than sorry. There are many agencies like PAK-N-GO Cruises and Tours that care about the customer, offer low prices, and want you to feel secure about your vacation booking.

K. Krenz, MCC

Please e-mail me your thoughts on this article. I'm also looking for true cruise vacation horror stories for a future posting.

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