Update: Azamara Reverses Course After Cruise Critic Members Dispute Deal Changes

May 17, 2011
Azamara-Reverses-Course Update, May 17, 3:50 p.m. EDT: Azamara chief blogging officer Bill Leiber has revealed a few more details of the resolution to this situation. Passengers who booked eligible cruises prior to the March 31 deadline will be notified by Azamara with specific instructions and timelines for booking shore excursions at 50 percent off. Bookings must be made through the cruise line's reservations staff and cannot be made online. There will be three phases of discounted shore tour booking periods, each targeted to passengers on specific sailings to ensure that shore excursions on later 2011 sailings have been input into the reservations system and to not overload the reservations agents. Passengers will be contacted at different dates regarding their opportunity to book discounted shore excursions for their sailings.

(April 29, 1:20 p.m.) -- Perhaps nothing -- not even for-fee main dining room steak -- angers cruise travelers like a perceived "bait-and-switch" deal. So when Azamara Club Cruises offered a deal for 50 percent off shore excursions, then pulled the offer before travelers could take advantage of it, Cruise Critic members were outraged.

Yet, through their collective efforts and a cruise line willing to listen, they've managed to put things right. Here's how.

Azamara's original 2011 brochure touted the 50 percent off pre-booked shore excursions for sailings that departed between April 4 and December 27 on Azamara Journey or between May 6 and December 23 on Azamara Quest. Good deal, right? The brochure listed no end date to this promotion, with the fine print indicating that shore excursions must be booked online, with reservations beginning four months prior to sailing and ending four days prior to the departure date.

However, as Azamara chief blogging officer Bill Leiber explained to Cruise Critic earlier this week, the line decided in January to change the terms of the offer. The line was covered by the fine print: "All rates, offers and itineraries are subject to change without notice. Offers may be withdrawn at any time." The line added a new expiration date of March 31, for both booking a cruise with the aforementioned discounts and for reserving shore excursions for half off.

The line updated its Web site, told its sales team and reservations department and mentioned the change in some general travel agent newsletters, but it didn't reach out to the actual people impacted by the change. On February 13, Leiber posted a notice on Cruise Critic's Azamara boards, alerting readers to the new March expiration date.

The problem? Not everyone impacted saw these announcements. And to make matters worse, the new booking deadline meant that anyone with a cruise booked in the late summer or fall could not take advantage of the offer. That's because shore excursions for their cruises had not yet been listed online, as Azamara starts selling excursions four months prior to sailing. For example, passengers on a November 15 cruise could not book tours before July 15 -- well past the March deadline.

On April 22, Leiber admitted the line's error on Cruise Critic's message boards, saying, "We did not communicate [the new deadline] to travel agents or to guests who had booked directly. . . . Our approach was too passive and now we realize that we should have been more proactive and immediately notified travel agents and direct guests about the program's expiration."

Faced with a boatload of disgruntled passengers, Leiber then posted on the boards this Tuesday that the "50% savings promotion on the Azamara Land Discoveries [shore excursions] will be re-opened for a short period of time, so that affected guests will be able to take advantage of the savings." He added that Azamara Club Cruises would be sending letters and/or e-mails to booked travelers and their travel agents with complete information about how and when to book the discounted tours, which will now be done through the line's reservations center rather than online.

Leiber's post did not mention whether passengers will be able to book the discounted tours for the full four months prior to sailing or for a limited time. He also did not say when shore excursion bookings will become available for cruises departing later this year.

Ultimately, Azamara came through for its passengers, but some Cruise Critic members continue to question whether the line would have reversed course on the promotion's terms if they hadn't raised a hue and cry over the incident.

Do you think Azamara did the right thing by fixing a mistake or the wrong thing by waiting to rectify the situation until enough people complained? Weigh in on our message boards.

--by Erica Silverstein, Features Editor