« Previous | Main | Next »

Going on a cruise

Post categories:

X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 19:32 UK time, Wednesday, 1 July 2009

If you're looking for a good-value holiday, you might think booking early will get you a great deal.

But, as one Welsh couple discovered, it doesn't always pay to plan ahead.

Leyton and Constance Williams from Porthcawl are seasoned cruise-goers. Since the mid 90s, they've been on a grand total of nine P&O cruises, at a cost of more than £25,000.

And having travelled with the company so many times, they are also members of P&O's loyalty scheme - the Portunus Club - which offers a range of on-board and shoreside discounts.

So when, last year, they saw a cruise around the fjords and Iceland being advertised by the company, they couldn't resist.

The departure date was over a year away, in July 2009. But the P&O brochure states that that customers who booked early would get the best deals: "It really does pay to book early."

The Williamses went ahead and booked their 15-night holiday through a Porthcawl travel agent for £4,870.

And they were confident they had bagged a bargain.

That was until June this year when the couple were approached by their neighbours. They too were keen to go on a cruise and wanted the Williams to help them find a good deal.

Leyton said: "I went on the internet and looked for cruise deals and to my shock and horror the cruise that we had booked on was being offered for considerably less than I had paid for it."

The Williamses' neighbours ended up booking the same cruise at the same travel agents' - even the same class of cabin - but for the reduced price of £2,600.

Their holidays were identical in every way but one. By booking late, Leyton and Constance's neighbours had saved more than £2,000.

Constance said: "It was a shock, because it's so much money. We could have gone on another cruise for that."

Leyton complained both verbally to their travel agent and in writing to P&O, requesting a refund of the difference.

P&O replied, explaining that refunding the difference was against their policy. They did offer to upgrade the Williams to a mini-suite. But only if they paid an extra £900.

Constance said: "I was really gutted. It was an insult, I thought, a real insult."

X-Ray also contacted P&O about the Williamses' case. We were told: "A vast majority of our passeners book well in advance to secure the best prices and their choice of cabin.

"However, if there are last minute cancellations then we, as is common with other cruise lines, offer late availability through travel agents to fill the ship."

According to travel expert Simon Calder, this situation is typical of the modern-day tourist industry.

"Cruise liners, just like everybody else, want to maximise the loyalty of their customers," he said.

"However, what they've got to do above all else is fill those cabins on that cruise ship. And if that means upsetting loyal customers they will just go ahead and do it.

"Those boats have to go full - and they will do everything they can to make sure they do. That basically means bribing people on board with very good deals to go on board.

"And I'm afraid this unfortunate couple - all they can do is feel miffed, perhaps feel diddled, and perhaps decide to go with another company next time."

The Williams say they have indeed learnt a valuable lesson.

Leyton said: "We would never book early again, irrespective of all the literature in the P&O brochures. We'll just hang back and see what's available if we want to go in future."

And he has a word of warning to others as well. "Don't jump in the deep end too soon."

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.