My site says that as I’m Very confident I can deliver on that statement… due to my immense personal experience traveling on these products (and having booked 1,000s & 1,000s of them for my clients!) I know them VERY well and I can always help you pick out & book the best Cruise or Tauck Tour for you at the best value!
BUT, nowhere on my site does it say I’m an airline or airfare or “Booking Flights” expert & will help you plan your flights… and I leave that out for good reason! Same with Hotels… unlike with Cruise Companies & Tauck who, as per #1 here, you always want to book with a travel agent like me to get the best deal… Hotels all say “Book with Us Direct” for the best price like Hilton does here for example: https://www.hilton.com/en/p/price-match-guarantee/
The bottom line is, there are no fancy tricks when it comes to airlines… for the most part, they’re an industry that has no repercussions for being late more often than not, their pricing is wildly/wildly erratic, their customer service is lackluster, etc.
So, often when people book a Cruise or a Tauck Tour, etc. they think maybe they should book their airfare through the company they’re traveling with (From here on we’ll refer to this as “Supplier” airfare) to solve all these issues but almost always that’s a bad decision that makes things even worse! 🙁
Personally, as of this writing, I’ve been on 79 Cruises (You can see them all here) & on multiple Tauck Tours (You can see them all here) and, for 100% of those trips, I’ve booked my airfare on my own, almost always direct on the airline’s website (1 time I used a “consolidator” which, especially since Covid, can be a really bad idea!! I talk about that more below)… and no, I don’t do that as I have some sort of travel agent discount that I get to use, I pay the same prices you do/air is something I spend $1,000s & $1,000s & $1,000s on per year due to the amount of travel I do.
So, if you have happened to be someone in the past/recently who has asked me if booking air through the Cruiseline or Tauck is a good idea and I told you no, know that I practice what I preach and I NEVER book through those sources for my own personal trips!
So, why is booking Cruiseline/Tauck airfare such a bad idea… well, first, let’s talk about a couple of the “pros” to doing so:
- The Price- SOMETIMES, and I mean sometimes (95% of the time this is NOT the case!) a supplier can have “good” air deals. I put good in parenthesis as to me “good” isn’t just the price… it also comes down to the booking “terms” which are OFTEN terrible with suppliers! 🙁 So, unless the price being offered is REALLY/REALLY good by the Cruiselines or Tauck (I’m talking 1/2 price or less for what you can book it for on the airline’s site) I wouldn’t even suggest considering it as it’s not worth the terrible booking terms which are where the issues typically start!
2. If there are changes/issues PRIOR to your flight leaving, a supplier can rebook you without the hassle of having to contact the airline. So, let’s say it’s 2 days before you fly and the airline goes on strike… no doubt in a situation like that it’d be nice to have the supplier rebook you so you don’t have to deal with extended airline hold times, the stress of it all, etc. but as this happens less then what you’d think (I fly a good 10 times per year on average/this has NEVER happened to me) you’ll need to decide if this “one-off” pro is worth the trade-off for all the almost “for sure” cons below?
My general rule of thumb is if you TRULY DON’T CARE what airline you fly with, what schedule you get, what seat you sit in and you only plan to fly in/out the day your trip starts/ends (which, as I talk about here, is NOT a good idea!) then it’s possible booking your airfare with the Cruiseline or Tauck for Land Tours could be good for you… BUT, if that’s not the case (rarely does anyone not care about at least some of the above items) then more often than not it’s usually a terrible idea to use the supplier’s air option!!
So, what are these “cons” I’m talking about/why do I not suggest you book your airfare through the Cruiselines or Tauck for Land Tours?
- The top issue with most of the “supplier” air programs is when they schedule their flights… when Regent, Oceania, Silversea, Viking, etc. for example say airfare is included in your price or if they offer you a decent price, what most people don’t realize is your airfare isn’t going to be scheduled till Very close to when you leave… some of these companies don’t set up your schedule till 75 days before you leave which is only 2.5 months before you start. I can promise you, when going overseas especially, there are A LOT of people like me who schedule their flights well before that… when I go overseas I usually book my flights 7-10 months in advance since prices more often than not go up & up on these routes within 6 months. I’d say 90% of the time I’m picking the first seat in business class when I fly since I book so early… which means I always get to sit where I want, not by a bathroom, in the last row where I won’t get my preferred meal, etc. So, that means if most people are booking further out & your flight is being scheduled 2.5 months in advance all the best flights are going to be booked already by the time yours gets booked (and all the best seats will already be assigned) or if they’re not booked the prices on them will be Very high and since the supplier only has a certain budget to be able to use to book your flights they’ll end up getting you the cheaper flights with 1-2 stops instead of a non-stop for example. It’s the #1 complaint I get… “Why am I on a 1 stop flight instead of on a non-stop flight?” or “Why do I have 2 stops instead of 1?” And the answer is always the same… go to the airline’s website & look at the price difference between those flights/you’ll see the price for the better flight is way more/often double so the Cruisleine will put you on the cheaper option every time!! Whereas, if you had booked early like me, you would have probably paid the same price for the better flights. And same with seats… you get what’s “leftover” when you wait so late to book… the seats nobody else wanted. 🙁
2. Another issue with most supplier airfare is if you want to fly in early and/or stay late (As I talk about here it’s a terrible idea to not fly in early!) most of them charge additional fees to do this… usually $150-$200 per person. Just to change your dates, really! 🙁 As you know though when you book on an airline’s website, you don’t get penalized for not flying in/out on the Cruise’s dates as they don’t know/don’t care when your Cruise is. And same with if you tell the supplier you want to fly with a certain airline… maybe Delta over United for example as you like them more/have status with them, etc. It’s $150-$200 per person for them to “look at” a certain airline. Let’s put it this way… unless you let their system auto-assign you flights on the dates the Cruise starts/ends you’re paying the $150-$200 per person fee for them to do any “customization” at all!! So, when you add in this fee/fees (And you’ll pay it multiple times if you make an additional request after your initial request!!) their “air deal” all off a sudden isn’t much of a deal anymore. 🙁
3. Another common fee that I’m seeing more than ever with supplier’s airfare is “Fare Differences”… for example, it’s 75 days before & you get a schedule you don’t like so then we go to the supplier to ask them to change it… for the same $150-$200 per person fee mentioned above, they’ll make changes no problem but then they’ll also charge you the “Fare Difference” that the airline is charging for the price gap in between the flight they book you & the flight you want… I’ve seen this range from $250 per person-$2,000 per person & higher… did I mention if you simply booked your own airfare 7-10 months in advance you would probably would have gotten the lower price on the flight you wanted. Here’s a “real-life” example… at the end of this month I’m flying to Iceland to do a Cruise around that Beautiful Country… I booked my flight 8 months in advance and paid $2,600 for a business-class ticket on a non-stop flight to/from Reykjavik. At 75 days before I checked the price and it was $3,900/exactly 50% more. So, if I had booked with a supplier almost for sure I would have gotten a cheaper 1 or 2 stop flight instead of non-stop (If you’ve ever flown in your life you know there are multiple benefits to taking 1-2 less flights each way!) when they assigned my flights at 75 days before. From there, if I told them I wanted the non-stop, they would have charged me $150-$200 to make the change and then another $1,300 for the “Fare Difference”. And almost for sure their initial business class price wouldn’t have been $2,600… most lines charge at least $3,500+. Let’s just say more often than not it’s a lose/lose/lose situation for you for many reasons when you don’t book your own airfare as I did above! 🙁
4. Seats… in the example above, if I had used the “Supplier’s” airfare, their system would have (Maybe, some won’t assign seats at all) auto-assigned a seat for me… if I didn’t like it I’d have to contact them to change it/they’d make a big deal out of it, it’d take them days to get back to me (no kidding, the average time for suppliers to respond to air inquiries is 1-2 weeks! 🙁) and by the time they did, the seat I wanted would probably be gone. Instead, when I booked 8 months in advance, I simply picked my seat before checking out… if you’ve ever bought a flight online you’ll know it’s as easy as I just described… not so much with supplier airfare though. 🙁
Same with changes… let’s say you booked directly with an airline and want to change the dates you fly… I do that often/have paid many change fees/fare differences over the years due to this… that’s part of flying lots. BUT, if I bought all my air with the suppliers, EVERYTIME I make a change to the dates they’d charge that $150-$200 fee I mentioned above on top of the airline’s fee/fare difference, to “customize” my booking… again, I’d be overpaying a Cruiseline or Tauck these fees for virtually nothing! 🙁
5. Not always, but often the cancellation terms with a supplier are worse than by booking direct… for example, the airline I mostly fly with only charges me $600 if I cancel my business class flights with them up till 2 hours before I leave but with the suppliers often it’s 100% non-refundable within 60 days if not earlier. So, if you buy insurance, in my case I only need to buy it on the $600, not the full $4,000 fare if that’s what the supplier is charging… as insurance is 10% of your cost on average that can REALLY add to your bottom line… did I mention supplier “air deals” are rarely “deals” when you add it all up!! 🙁
6. Same with points… due to the amount I fly I collect A LOT of points each year which saves me $1,000s & $1,000s & $1,000s in airfare!! When I fly business/book direct on my airline’s site often they give me 150-200% of the normal points you get when flying between those destinations… recently for example I flew between Vancouver & Rome which is 5,500 miles and I got 10,500 points… almost double… and those points are worth $420 to me when I redeem them for other business class flights. With supplier air though they’re selling you “contract” air which sometimes accumulates no points/at the most you’ll get your 1-1 miles so you’re losing $100s in points when using their airfare… did I mention supplier “air deals” are rarely “deals” when you add it all up!! 🙁
Ok, even though there are probably some more not coming to mind right now I’m sure that’s enough “cons” to make you think twice before deciding to book airfare with the Cruiseline/Tauck on your next trip.
And here’s one last “for sure” I can tell you… almost 100% of my clients who go against my advice & book Cruiseline/Tauck Air through me end up having issues with it in the end, they regret it/say they should have listened to me, it wasn’t worth the little savings, etc.!!
Usually it’s the schedule they don’t like but also when they decide to “change” things later they begrudge the fees they need to pay and also they get VERY frustrated if they want to make a change & it takes a week or 2 to hear back from the supplier’s air department… with 1 group of 4 rooms it took us 1.5 months one time to get their air fixed up… and they all ended up saying they should have taken my advice/just booked their own in the beginning as they were all drove nuts with the slow response from the Cruiseline! 🙁
So, is there ever a situation where booking supplier air makes sense?
Sure, now & then there’s a true deal… and if there is I promise I’ll tell you about it but if I don’t it’s because it’s not a “deal” when you break it down… let’s just say just because a supplier tells you it’s a deal doesn’t mean much/it comes down to the booking terms.
For example, right now Seabourn has a deal on select sailings where if you book that date you’ll get up to $2,000 per person off of your airfare. And it’s a REAL deal because there’s no option to lower your Cruise price if you don’t take them up on this credit. For example, with Regent/Oceania/Silversea, etc. they tell you airfare is “Free”/included in your price but if you don’t want it they’ll give you a discount off of the Cruise (95% of my clients take the credit & run and book their own air which is the smart thing to do as my above articles states!!) which means it’s not free/you’re definitely paying for it/they’re adding it in your upfront price.
But when someone like Seabourn says, “Hey, thanks for booking the Cruise & if you use our air system to book your air you’ll get a huge discount off of the air price”, that’s a real deal… take it… ESPECIALLY since to book their air you simply book it on their booking engine just like any airline’s booking engine… it’s simple, you can pick the airline you want/the dates you want, etc. They charge no penalties for those “customizations” since they weren’t involved in booking it/you did it all on your own on their site. BUT, deals/easy systems to book your air with the supplier are rare, so again, if I haven’t told you about a “great air deal” that goes with your Cruise/Tauck Tour assume there isn’t one!! 😉
Okay, now that you’ve decided “NO WAY, I’m not booking “supplier airfare”/I’m going to book my own”… here are a few tips for you:
- As I talk about here FLY IN EARLY!! Some people mistakenly think if they book their air with the Cruiseline or Tauck that they’re “safe” if their flights end up late but that’s a very common MYTH!! Here are 2 things to keep in mind… 1. If your flight is late/arriving 2hrs after your Cruise is due to leave port the ship WON’T wait for you just because you booked your air through the Cruiseline!! If you saw how much it costs them in fuel to speed up their ship due to being delayed from leaving a port you’ll understand why that’s the case… ouch!! Sure, you can call their “emergency” air department and they’ll help you get to the next port but you, literally, just 1/2 ruined your trip/totally started it off on the wrong foot by missing a day or 2 or more of your Cruise after paying $1,000s & $1,000s for your dream vacation!! 2. Also, people think that by booking through the supplier if their flights get “messed up” on route/they miss a connection, etc. that the Cruiseline will jump in & save the day… sorry, but they won’t… they’re a Cruiseline/not an airline!! So, don’t think a Cruiseline or Tauck can magically set up a new flight for you… if you’ve started in NY for example and miss your flight in London on the way to Budapest due to bad weather you’re stuck in line with the other 100s & 100s of people in the same situation/all waiting for the airline to get you to your destination… there’s nothing a Cruiseline or Tauck can do in a situation like that! 🙁 BUT, if you flew in 1, 2, 3 days early for example & you’re late by a few hours, a 1/2 day, etc. who cares, it’s NOT going to ruin your trip. So, ONLY YOU can “safeguard” your trip from being a disaster by choosing to fly to the city your trip is starting in early… I do it all the time!! When I went to Morocco in October with Tauck for example, a few in my group of 24 flew in the day the trip started (and you could tell who as they were tired at our welcome reception & dinner that night… didn’t look fun! :-() and most everyone else flew in the day before… except for me who flew in 3 days early (I practice what I preach! ;-)) which was awesome as by the time my tour started I was rested up & ready to enjoy… and I saw WAY more of Rabat then everyone else/they couldn’t believe all I saw that they didn’t so it simply makes your trip better!! I fly to Iceland 2 days early later this month, I’m flying to Japan 8 days early in November, I’ve gone to Budapest 4 days early in the past, into Rome 4 days early, Paris 3 days early, etc. As I always tell people, fly in as early as your budget allows… after dropping $5,000, $10,000, $20,000+ on your Cruise or Tauck Tour, don’t start to “cheap out” by not booking “pre” hotel nights as it does nothing but enhance your trip as who wouldn’t enjoy spending extra time hanging out in these Wonderful cities… I can promise you it’s WAY more interesting than sitting home on your own couch watching Netflix!! 🙂
Speaking of “going in early”… why not go in for a second or third “vacation” at the same time as I talk about here… I do it all the time/it makes my travels way more fun and I save A LOT on airfare when doing this!! 🙂
2. When booking your own flights overseas, if your trip starts in one city but ends in another (You start in Lisbon/end in Madrid for example or start in Rome/end in Athens, etc.) don’t make the mistake of trying to book 2 one way flights as, when going overseas, that’s almost always the most expensive way to book/I’ve often seen it double your price. 🙁 Yes, if flying in North America 2 one way flights is normally the same price or very closer to booking a roundtrip but that’s almost never the case for overseas… instead, use the “Multi-City” or “Open Jaw” tabs found on airline’s sites or on booking engines like Google Flights here for example. Don’t get me wrong, every now & then (I’m talking maybe 5% of the time I fly) I’ve seen 2 one way flights be a better deal so feel free to check it but if you start with one ways/get sticker shock, don’t fret, try using “Multi-City” and ideally you’ll see some way more favorable prices! 😉
3. Speaking of “booking engines”, when I research my flights I usually do so on the “generic” sites like Google Flights and Kayak and once I see which airline is offering the best price/schedule I typically book direct on the airline’s site as they usually have the best change/cancellation/points accumulation, etc. terms. And DON’T just search by price/also check out “duration” as often I’ve seen 14 hr flights be $100-$200 more than 30hr flights which is definitely worth paying the little extra for but if you only search by price you may not even notice these way better flight schedules!
4. STAY AWAY from “Airline Consolidators”… I can’t even give you names to stay away from as most of them open/shut down just as fast as they’re shady businesses (Skylux may be one that’s been around a while but they’re as bad as them all!) but the bottom line is due to turnover their service is horrible, their booking terms are VERY restrictive (during Covid they wouldn’t even give refunds on canceled flights… people, including me, had to dispute the charges through our credit cards companies), often they’ll give you a great schedule at a great price but after they’ll change your schedule/book a cheaper flight to up their profits and, as per their contract, nothing you can do about it. Anyways, I won’t get too much more into it here but if you use one/get burnt don’t forget I told you to stay away from them!! 😉
5. Collect Airline Points… I personally get 100,000s per year in points between my credit card usage/the flights I take and at a vlaue of $.04 per point that’s $1,000s & $1,000s in my pocket each year by doing so… this post isn’t a lesson on how to collect points as there are GREAT sites out there like https://princeoftravel.com/ (These guys are focused on Canadians but every Country has expert sites like this!!) to teach you how to get the most out of the “points game” but the bottom line is if you’re paying cash for anything these days you’re throwing away money by not getting points on every purchase you make. And yes, I pay off my credits cards every month/haven’t paid a dime in interest in years & years so if your habits are if you don’t use cash you’ll overspend/go into debt I’m not condoning that… stick with using cash if that’s the case! 😉
Okay, I truly hope this info was somewhat helpful and I wish there were tricks/magic solutions & ideas I could give you when booking your airfare but there isn’t as airfare kinda sucks in many ways! 😉
But the bottom line is almost always your best bet is to simply book your own air direct with the airlines (after researching on Google/Kayak etc.) and book early to get the schedule you want on the airline you want & the seats you want… and then, ignore it, knowing the price will change 100s of times between then & when you fly… often they go up/sometimes they drop but either way you’ll drive yourself crazy if you pay too much attention to the price after you’ve paid!!
And by the way, one last thing… I truly don’t think the day of the week matters when you book your flight/I’ve never seen better deals any day of the week BUT seat sales pretty consistently come out for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Easter, Labor Day, etc. so if you’re looking to book flights somewhere around those timeframes keep an eye out for seat sales and if they happen jump on them as, again, the best schedules & best seats are always the first to go! 😉
Till next time…
I Appreciate You!
Your Trusted Cruise & Tauck Tour Expert!