When is a Rock Bottom Travel Price Not a Bargain?

Let's face it – we are all price shoppers. In this day and age, everyone tries to save money any way way they can. But in this economy, sometimes when a deal seems too good to be true – it usually is.

On Oct. 25 another large discount cruise operator suddenly closed up shop with no word of warning to their clients. The company website is blank and a voicemail tells customers that all bookings have been turned over to the cruise lines and customers should contact their cruise line.

However, according to a few fellow travel agents (who have been contacted by these clients looking for help, even though they booked with the discount) and from postings made on some cruise boards, some of these clients paid in full for their cruises but the Supplier never sent payment to the cruise line. Thus – the customers had no booking or had a booking half paid for. One customer said he paid for a Celebrity cruise in full in May for a January departure, but the cruise line had only received $ 900. Many others have found that no payments were made to the cruise lines and they have no booking at all and the cruise lines will not honor the prices that discount quoted the clients.

This is the third or fourth large online discount that has gone out of business in the last 18 months – with the same story from each of the discounters. Client payments were not all credited to the cruise line and the cruise lines are requiring the clients to rebook at the current price (which in most cases is hundreds of dollars more than what the discount promised them).

How can you protect yourself from this happening? First of all if a price looks too good to be true, it is because these large operators are giving back virtually all their commission to offer a low price. Agencies can not stay in business forever doing that – they need to have a tremendous volume of passengers to make up for making very little money on a booking. Sooner or later, discounters that operate that way are doomed to fail, leaving clients in the lurch.

ALWAYS pay with a credit card and more importantly – make sure the agency does not charge your credit card! Your credit card should be charged by the cruise line or supplier, not by the agency. Check your credit card bill – if you are booking a Carnival cruise, Carnival should be the only company debiting your card. If your credit card statement shows the travel agency as the company debiting your card – do not allow them to do this! You have no way of knowing if the agency actually then sends your money to the supplier. That is what happened with many of the clients when these companies go out of business – the agency charged their cards and never sent the money to the cruise line.

Some of my fellow travel agents were contacted by some of the victims for help. In one case, an agent who had worked hard with a client and lost the client to this company because their price was $ 100 less had the client call him for help. His money was never sent to the cruise line and the cruise line would not honor the price the discounter had quoted. To add insult to injury, the price of the cruise has gone up by $ 200 per person – so this client is now paying $ 300 more than he would have by booking with my friend in the first place. (The agent assisted the client with filing a charge back with his credit card company).

So, the best way to protect yourself is to book with an agent you trust, even if it means paying a little more, use a credit card and make sure that the only one charging your card is the cruise line or tour operator. You can easily see how a discount can cost you more in the long run if they go out of business.