Chicago Seminars – Frequent Floating for the Frequent Flyer

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  1. BoardingArea

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    As you know, I presented on cruising at the 2013 Chicago Seminars. I really enjoy talking about cruising, and one of the things that amazes me about our little frequent flying community is that there is a dedicated bunch of cruising enthusiasts amongst us. Who knew? [​IMG] My slides are very high level and meant to generate discussion amongst a group of seminar attendees. Given that, I’m going to post each slide individually, and add some context below.

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    I always recommend those that are new to cruising should read everything they can. There is a wealth of information available on Cruise Critic ranging from professional cruise line and ship reviews to message boards that resemble those of FlyerTalk. Do not shy away from participating in the Cruise Critic roll calls that you can sign up for on the site. They are a good way to get to know your fellow cruisers in advance of your cruise, and you may find opportunities to participate in small group tours that can be less expensive, and more fun than the big bus tours available through the cruise line. And of course, you can always ask me what I think. As noted on the slide, I’m very affordable. [​IMG]

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    The words “travel agent” are often a foreign concept to most of us travel junkies, but when it comes to cruising, they can be a wonderful resource. Word of mouth is often the best way to find a good agent, but if you insist on doing it on your own, you’ll be just fine.

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    I posted a series on many cruise line loyalty programs this year called Status Matters. In that, I focused on the elite benefit features of the loyalty programs, which are more akin to the elite status program of your favorite airline. You don’t earn points towards free cruises, but instead earn cruise credits or sea day credits that will lead you up the elite status ladder. These programs are very “perk” based offering things like cruise discounts, concierge lounge access, priority boarding and disembarkation, and even a priority reservations line in some cases. You can check out the intro post to the series, which contains links to each of my individual cruise line articles here.

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    This is a tricky area. I begin every conversation about it by telling people that I think they’ll find better value by spending their hard-earned points on other forms of travel. Cruises are pretty economical, all things considered, and most of the time a better deal will be found by redeeming your points for air travel to your cruise like I did last year. That said, I recognize that many of my readers are very interested in using their points to pay for cruises. I’ve written a few posts on the topic, most recently about acquiring the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard. I also touched on other card alternatives in this post, as well as a look at Ultimate Rewards and cruising here. Finally, I covered the Cruise Privileges benefits of the American Express Platinum Card here. A reader who also attended my session has challenged me with finding a way to cruise for 30 days for “free” using points. I’ve been doing a little math, and I think I’ll have something worth sharing soon. Stay tuned. [​IMG]

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    There was quite a bit of discussion in the seminar about this slide, with many of the experienced cruisers in the room sharing their own opinions. My advice is to look at all the websites you can. In theory, a price offered by a travel agent is contractually restricted from being any different than that offered by the cruise line. Sometimes you’ll find an online travel agency offering an onboard credit or some other benefit that lowers the total cost of the cruise for you that another agent or website might not offer, or an agent has reserved a group of cabins at a certain price. You just have to do a little research. I’ve personally booked with the cruise line directly, my personal travel agent, vacationstogo.com, and an airline mileage portal. I was satisfied with each of the experiences. You just have to find the deal most beneficial to you and go with it.

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    We had a lot of time for Q&A, and there was lots of good discussion. One of the more interesting questions was from a gentleman looking for information on how to avoid the “single supplement.” Cruise lines quote prices based on double occupancy, and unfortunately, the solo traveler usually winds up paying the price for two. Sometimes cruise lines will offer specials that waive the supplement, or discount it, and some lines are now adding single occupancy cabins which helps. I do not know of a reliable way to determine which cruise itineraries are available without the supplement, but I did a little judicious Googling, and found a few different resources but thought I’d share this one, solocruiseresource.com. I have not been in contact with the agency behind the site, and cannot guarantee anyone’s satisfaction, but I thought it was worth sharing with solo cruise readers. There was also a good bit of interest in picking the right cruise line. I offered my own opinions, and attendees offered their own too. I would also offer the cruise line reviews at Cruise Critic and Avid Cruiser as a good source of information too.

    If you were not able to attend the seminars, I hope this information is useful to you, and if you were there in person, I’d love to hear feedback on my session. I’m especially interested in learning what cruise-related topics you’d most like to focus on.

    -MJ, October 15, 2013

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