TRAVEL THERE: FRUSTRATING RESERVATION EXPERIENCE
I’m usually a do-it-yourself traveler, but on my recent cruise to the Eastern Caribbean, I turned the headaches over to someone else – not without having done my due diligence though. I researched everything from accommodations to transfers and then took a look at what the cruise line, Norwegian, had to offer pre-cruise-wise.
Doing the Research
During my research, I found amazing bargains on this or that, but with every bargain came a challenge of some sort. I finally convinced myself that the Norwegian sponsored hotels and transfers were the best deal in town, but when I tried to book them, I ran into a snag … but I can’t blame it all on Norwegian.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big fan of expedia, but I shopped for the cruise on Vacations To Go. I’ve found their cruises searches to be the most maneuverable and I trusted them, because I’d booked a cruise with them before. Even though I’m the official researcher for all things vacation, my husband likes to have the last say and he really likes to have it at the last minute. I’d been trying to get his rubber stamp for quite a while, but he wasn’t very forthcoming.
Usually, I just wait until he gets around to giving me his OK, but this time, I wasn’t his only traveling companion and my friend Deb was getting antsy. Over coffee one morning I reminded him that I’d be going over to Deb’s that evening and we’d be booking the cruise. I got a vague acknowledgement, but knew I still hadn’t received his final seal of approval. That evening as I walked out the door, I gave his rubber stamp one final opportunity, “You do realize we’ll be booking the cruise while I’m a Deb’s, don’t you.”
“You’re not leaving right this minute are you?” (As if I didn’t leave every Wednesday at 5:30 PM to scrapbook with Deb.) When I assured him that I was leaving and that we were going to book the cruise, he went into panic mode. I told him to do his research while I was driving and then he could call me with his findings.
Making the Cruise Reservations
I can’t tell you how happy it makes Bill to find something cheaper than I do, so you can imagine his glee when he called to inform me Priceline had the cruise cheaper than Vacations to Go. It was not a significant savings in my opinion, but it was worth it to him, so he went ahead and reserved our spots while he was on the phone with the representative. The rubber stamp had finally arrived. I called the Priceline rep and finalized the booking, including the flight and insurance. I must say that the agent was nice and helpful. I got along with her much better than I do the website.
And speaking of websites, let me tell you about the Norwegian website. I’d barely gotten the cruise booked, when I started getting emails from Norwegian. Kudos to them for the way they connect with their passengers. The initial email led me through the sign-up process and then they kept in touch with me regularly until the day I climbed on board. Anyone who cruises on Norwegian should take advantage of their digital front door. There’s a wealth of information available and you can check-in from the comfort of your home.
I only have one complaint. I have no problem with them requesting me to sign in whenever I went to the site. My problem was that whenever I clicked on a page outside my personal reservation, they signed me out. I’d wander around until I found something I wanted to book and then I’d have to sign in again, because something I looked at wasn’t part of my cruise.
Booking the Hotel and Transfers
But let’s get back to Priceline. I’d gotten all warm and cozy with the Norwegian site and was ready to book our hotel and transfers. One Friday night Deb and I had both had stinky weeks. We decided a bottle of wine with some cruise planning was just what we needed, so she dropped by my house on her way home from work. I called up Norwegian, but because I’d booked the cruise with Priceline, I had to talk to Priceline about land-based arrangements. I felt like the things should have been a little more transparent, but they weren’t.
I called up my friends at Priceline and was immediately assisted by someone who was thrilled to hear from me, but she had a very difficult time doing what I wanted. To begin with, her computer would only let me book one room at a time, if we were going to use separate credit cards. Given the chance to do it all over again, I would have begged them to put it all on one card, but initially, I was assured it would be absolutely no hassle. Famous last words.
Here’s the thing. Norwegian made me call up Priceline, so Priceline could communicate with Norwegian to book the Norwegian hotel and transfers. Unfortunately, they were having a digital lover’s spat and we were left hanging on the phone FOREVER. Let me explain forever. Deb and I polished off the bottle of wine, popped a Kashi pizza in the oven and baked it while we waited.
I have to tell you the agent was the epitome of politeness. She must have been about ready to rip out her hair, but you would have thought her favorite thing to do was hang out on the phone with exasperated customers. Well, we did our best not to be exasperated, but it WAS taking forever. Eventually, she confirmed that my reservation at the Courtyard Marriott on Miami Beach had been made, but that I’d gotten the last room. I confess to being irritated since the call had covered a couple of hours.
The Priceline rep wanted to keep my reservation in place while she tried to work some magic for Deb, but by the next morning, there was no hope. So we had to cancel my reservation and start all over. That wouldn’t have been that big a deal if Bill had not walked into the room during our marathon phone call and heard the per person charge for the room and transfers. Of course, he thought he could do better. To make a long story short, it took a few days, but he finally figured out that the Norwegian deal was the best in town. Then it was up to me to call Priceline again and try to book the Holiday Inn version of the package.
This time things went very smoothly. We were very happy with our accommodations at the Holiday Inn and even went to the Courtyard for drinks and dinner. Our transfers were blissfully uneventful. However, Priceline and Norwegian really need to work on their transparency issues. I don’t care who gets paid for what, but I shouldn’t have to spend an evening hanging on the phone because their computers aren’t talking to one another.
Has this sort of thing happened to you? Have you fallen into the crack between the wholesaler and the travel provider? Is the discount worth it? Inquiring minds want to know.