Planning Cruises: Airfare

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Air travel can be tricky to arrange.

Unfortunately, most cruise travelers are not lucky enough to live within driving distance of departure ports. Adding airfare to a cruise can be expensive, whether it is done through the cruise line or separately. Savvy passengers are aware of several tricks, however, that can help make adding airfare to a cruise less of a financial anchor on their vacation plans.

Adding Airfare Through the Cruise Line

The most convenient option if you cannot drive to the departure port is to add airfare through the cruise line itself. All major cruise lines offer these types of arrangements, often with different catchy names: Holland America calls it their "fly cruise plan," with Royal Caribbean it's the "air / sea package," Disney prefers the term "air program," and Carnival uses the phrase "fly aweigh program." Regardless of what the airfare arrangements are called, the cruise lines offer several basic amenities to passengers adding airfare to a cruise.

  • Escorted transportation between the airport and the cruise ship is included.
  • Hotel stays for guests sufficiently far from the departure port may be included.
  • Customization of travel dates and specific airlines may be included for an additional fee.
  • Baggage transportation is included between the airport and the cruise ship.
  • Assistance for delayed or cancelled flights will be provided as much as possible.

Depending on your cabin selection, additional amenities may also be available, such as priority boarding privileges or airline upgrades, though these are far more unusual. By booking airfare directly through the cruise line, passengers eliminate the worry associated with possible delays or unexpected problems. This may be a more expensive option, but the convenience of making arrangements for the entire vacation through a single entity is often worth the added cost.

Cons About Adding Airfare Through the Cruise Line

Adding airfare through the cruise line is not always the most enjoyable option, however, and there are several detriments to this course of action.

  • The cruise line is not responsible for seat assignments: passengers must contact the airline for special requests.
  • Most flights will be the day of the cruise's departure, making them very early days. In the case of longer flight travel, passengers may fly a day or two before or be required to take redeye flights.
  • Frequent flyer miles are frequently not applicable when purchasing airfare through a cruise line.
  • Flights may be more indirect and require more layovers than if booked separately.

For passengers who are flexible with their travel options and prefer to maintain the convenience of having the cruise line handle their arrangements, these restrictions are not as significant and need not typically hamper vacation plans.

Arranging Air Travel Separately

Cruise passengers are always free to arrange their own air travel to the departure port, but the cruise line will offer very little assistance should any problems arise. Nevertheless, passengers should inform the cruise line of their travel plans (most lines require contact information for a day or two prior to sailing in case there are drastic changes), including airline names and flight numbers. If the flight is on the day of departure and it is delayed, passengers can approach the airline desk and explain the situation, as well as call emergency numbers provided by the cruise line. While there are no guarantees, both the airline and the cruise line will work to resolve the problem to the best of their ability. Naturally, the passenger(s) will be responsible for any additional fees resulting from changing airlines or adjusting flights at the last minute.

To safeguard travel plans, it is best to arrange independent airfare well in advance of the cruise departure: flying in a day or two early, for example. That way, delays do not threaten your arrival on the ship, and you have the opportunity to enjoy a bit more of the departure city before leaving on the cruise. Many upscale hotels will offer transportation to and from the airport or cruise terminal if they are situated nearby, or passengers can buy transfers from the airport to the ship directly through the cruise line.


Cost of Adding Airfare to a Cruise

Because of airlines' financial instability in recent years, cruise lines are not being given the volume discounts they once were. For passengers interested in adding airfare to their cruise directly through the cruise line, this means that the cost may be more expensive than if they'd arranged flights separately. Early cruise reservations may offer slightly lower airfare prices if booking through the cruise line, and experienced travelers know that the earlier independent flight arrangements are made, the less expensive they will be.

Airfare costs vary depending on the initial departure city for the airline as well as the final destination in the departure port city. Passengers can expect airline fees of several hundred dollars no matter which city they are departing from, and those fees are higher in busier travel seasons (around Christmas and summer holidays, for example). When booking through a cruise line, standard fees (federal taxes, security fees, facility charges, etc.) are not included in the price quote and will be added to the airfare at the time of purchase.

Is Airfare Ever Included?

Passengers interested in more exotic cruises, including European and Asian itineraries, may not need to add airfare to their cruise price: it may be included. Luxury cruise lines, in particular, often add airfare directly into their prices for these destinations, though the flight arrangements have the same detriments as if the airfare were arranged through the cruise line. If passengers still wish to make their own flight arrangements, the cruise line may be willing to offer a fare reduction or onboard credit as compensation. Passengers should never assume that airfare is included, however, and should verify any arrangements with their travel agent or directly with the cruise line.

Adding airfare to a cruise is a fact of life for many passengers. Though more expensive than independent bookings, adding airfare directly through the cruise line has several benefits, including the convenience of having all travel plans taken care of through one agency (the cruise line) rather than juggling different arrangements. On the other hand, many passengers prefer to book their own airfare to take advantage of greater savings. In both cases, the ultimate goal is the same: arriving at the cruise departure port on time and ready to enjoy a luxurious getaway.

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Planning Cruises: Airfare