February 12, 2001
Princess’ new FlightChoice Program is, at the very least, a step in the right direction though that’s about it. The program allows passengers who buy their airline tickets through the cruise line so-called “innovative” options to customize their flights. Specifically, passengers will now get details on their flights -- airlines, connections, times -- approximately two months prior to their departure date. Most cruise lines give passengers 30 days notice. In a news release last week, Princess patted itself on the back for “giving our passengers advance notice of their flight schedules....” But we’ve long found it odd that passengers who book their air through cruise lines pay a premium for the “service” and often are rights-free when it comes to choosing the airline, the dates, the connections. And, that premium guarantees nothing; if a connection is missed on flights the cruise line booked -- and you are late for embarkation -- you could still arrive at the port to find the ship has sailed. The airfare add-on itself isn’t such a hot deal. We priced out two trips. For a Vancouver to Seward cruise on Sun Princess, Princess quoted us a per person fare of $734 from Memphis, which doesn’t include another $73 for transfers; using Internet airline ticket agency Lowestfare.com we nabbed a $535 fare. The difference is just as startling for less complicated air arrangements -- Princess quoted us $467 for a Chicago to Ft. Lauderdale roundtrip while Lowest Fare beat that with $195. On top of Princess’ air-add-on fare, you’ll pay a $35 service fee for the FlightChoice option (and more if Princess is charged a higher air price for your desired airline or you choose to upgrade to business or first class). Which leads to a relatively logical question: Why would you pay not only a higher fare but the FlightChoice $35 service fee -- for the same kind of arrangements you can make on your own in a couple of minutes?