Shopping around for a Caribbean cruise, Wayne Jones thought he got a pretty good offer from Expedia on an 11-night voyage in February aboard Holland America's Noordam. It was so good, in fact, that he booked two balcony cabins on the line's newest ship -- at $849 per person, double occupancy. He paid the deposit and received confirmation. "Everything was fine," he wrote in an e-mail to Cruise Critic, "until six weeks later -- when I got an e-mail from Expedia forwarding an e-mail from Holland America."
The gist? Holland America's reservation system had priced Jones' cabins in error and was telling him that he needed to ante up another $550 per person if he wanted to take the cruise. In lieu of the mistake, the cruise line offered Jones a $100 per person onboard credit -- or the opportunity to cancel without penalty.
"Is this typical behavior in the cruise industry?" he asks.
Yes. And no.
Perhaps you recall a handful of incidents in which airlines made the same type of mistake -- mistyping extraordinarily odd fares into a central reservation system. George Hobica, founder of airfarewatchdog.com, a site that chronicles airfares, reminded us of the nifty 88 cent roundtrips US Airways offered from a bunch of East Coast cities to "everywhere in the continental U.S." Obviously an error, Hobica says that airlines "have always honored these mistakes."
But hotel chains, which have also been known for the occasional rate typo, do not, Hobica points out. He remembers a particularly good deal at the Tokyo Park Hyatt that was priced at 69 cents per night -- where rooms typically run for about $400. "People," he says, "would have booked an entire year at that rate!" Instead, the hotel in this case honored the rate for the first night.
"And if you think of cruises as a floating hotel," Hobica adds, that's a fair policy.
Holland America agrees and actually protects itself against such errors in the fine print of its brochures. In a statement, the company says that Wayne Jones' fare was the result of a "manual pricing input error that occurred when our normal procedures for programming pricing changes were not followed. We have since modified our quality control processes to prevent future occurrences."
In conversations with travel agents, Cruise Critic learned that this does happen, if rarely, with cruise lines. And to a point, they -- the agents -- said that it's the responsibility of the agency, which admittedly is caught in the middle, to go to bat for their client and fight this kind of decision. Indeed, when we contacted Expedia, the agency that handled Jones' purchase, spokeswoman Katie Deines told us that "Expedia is actively working with impacted customers and is advocating on their behalf with Holland America to reach a resolution for them."
Beyond forwarding HAL's e-mail tolling the price increase, as of today Jones has heard nothing more from Expedia. Holland America's price -- today, on Expedia -- is the same $1,399 that Holland America wants Jones to pay (though he does get that $100 per person onboard credit, so it is a deal, of sorts). Jones has been shopping around -- contemplating canceling out on this deal and rebooking at a better price for the same cruise -- and has actually found a slightly cheaper fare at Cruise Value Center. But at this point, he's undecided.
Ultimately, the real question is this: Was his fare change fair? You decide. Let us know how you feel and vote in our poll:
Noordam: A Deal or A Steal?
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor