I knew there was a catch. I’m sure you’ve heard of it – you sit through an hour and one half presentation and hard sales pitch for timeshares because you are promised a free cruise whether you purchase anything or not. So, I knew there had to be a catch, but I wanted to know the specifics of the catch. So I decided to go through the entire getting-my-“free”-cruise process as an experiment. It’s not as if I was desperate for a free cruise – I’ve been on two already.
After sitting through the hour and one half lecture/hard sell I did not leave with the promised free cruise certificate. What I left with was a form to mail in to receive the free cruise certificate within 10 days. So I completed and mailed the form. Thirty days later I did not have my cruise certificate, so I called the place where I attended the timeshare lecture. Since they don’t actually handle the free cruises (they have another company handle that) they could not help me. Luckily, I had kept a copy of what I mailed. Although there was no telephone number or e-mail, I was able, through some internet sleuthing, to get a phone number for the company. After I called I got the next piece of mail about a week later. It was not the free cruise certificate. It was another form to send in after which I would receive information about available cruises in 10 days. Another 30 days passed and still no response so I got on the phone again. I went through two more iterations of this process over the next two months before I finally got a new form. It was THE form – the one where I actually got to select my cruise.
My cruise won’t actually be free though. There will be a “processing fee,” but it’s still much lower than the cost of a cruise so I decided to pursue it. There was also mention of an upgrade fee if I wanted a cabin other than an interior cabin. I picked my first and second choices, picked the interior cabin, and mailed the form. At this point they wanted an e-mail address so they could e-mail me details. In about 10 days I actually got an e-mail confirming my first choice of cruise. Here’s where the catch came in. They added an upgrade charge. I e-mailed back asking why the upgrade since I requested and received an interior cabin. Guess what? Their definition of a cabin that does not require an upgrade is the entry-level interior cabin – the one with the bunk beds. There was no mention of this distinction on the form I sent in with my cruise choices. They were out of those so they upgraded me to an interior cabin with two twin beds.
I had a hunch, so I went to the web site for the cruise line I had selected and went through their process of booking the same exact cruise. I noticed a couple of things. The cruise line itself charges the same price for both types of cabin – the cruise line does not charge more for an interior cabin with twin beds as opposed to an interior cabin with bunk beds. Regardless of which cabin I select, my cost if I go directly through the cruise line is only $90 more than the “free” cruise I have earned.
I went back and forth with the reservation agent by e-mail questioning this forced upgrade and my last e-mail contained the word “scam.” In ten minutes I received an e-mail from the “Cruise Department Manager.” He really wanted to talk to me so I called him, left a message, and got a call back in a couple of hours. Here is what I learned:
• They sell the leftover cabins and only get a certain allotment per cruise.
• He indicated the leftover cabins are the ones no one wants. He had no good answer for why they would not have any entry-level bunk bed cabins allotted since those are the least popular cabins.
• Since I wanted to cruise out of Galveston, TX (because I can drive there and not pay airfare to get to a departure port), there are no entry-level interior cabins on any of the three cruise lines they deal with. Apparently this is a function of the port being Galveston and beyond his control. He assured me that they “never” get any entry-level allotments for cruises departing from Galveston.
• If I would leave from another port, like Miami, he’s certain he can get me the entry-level cabin with no upgrade fee. However, I know the cost of airfare will negate this savings.
• Best times (meaning slightly smaller upgrade charges) to cruise are the months of November-January. This happens to coincide with hurricane season.
• They might have some entry-level allotments during the next cruise season (even though he has told me early that they “never” get them for Galveston) that starts in 2008, but by then my time limit to take the cruise will have expired since the clock started ticking when I mailed the first form, not at the point where I was able to actually request a specific cruise and date.
He did ask me if I would be willing to cruise in January 2007 and I indicated I would. He then told me he had found me a “great” deal on another cruise line. The upgrade fee is smaller due to the time of year and it sails out of Galveston. I told him I would get back to him and thanked him for his time.
I went online to that cruise line’s web site and went through the booking process for the cruise for which he had the “great” deal. Price difference – $92.