Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Single Supplement

Last year one of my nephews informed me he was marrying his high school sweetheart. They had decided to celebrate their nuptials on a cruise out of Miami to the Bahamas and would I be interested in going with them and the rest of the family?

Let's skip the no-brainer decision and get right to the one big issue I had with the cruise line industry, the single supplement. Having chosen to travel by myself I was forced to pay double the rate to cover the cost of the entire cabin. While I understand the logic from the perspective of the cruise lines I don't like the fact that the supplement is essentially pure profit: I'm paying twice the cost to a company charged with nothing to do. The ship will sail anyway and the amount of food will not drop by so much as a chicken so why do cruise lines get away with what to me is high seas robbery?

They'll say the cabin, as opposed to an airline seat, is private, intimate space and there is a minimum operating cost for the cabin as a whole. They'll say that customers have the option of traveling in pairs, applying to share the cabin with a stranger or paying more for the extra privacy. They'll also say that, like airlines and hotels, they're not charging customers for completely empty cabin but only for the shared or whole space of their choice.

They're saying a lot of nothing! The demand models they use clearly justify the behavior and no company bean counter will turn down free money if their opportunity cost is negligible and they can create a sense of value around it; I understand all of this. The question is: Who do you know throws away that kind of money for absolutely nothing extra in the way of tangible, touchable service? To the cruise lines the "service" is the privacy. Please.

For my cruise to the Bahamas which by all measures is the "bucket market" of the industry, loaded with quick getaways and cheap rates, I paid $800 to be the sole occupant of my ocean view cabin. That doesn't sound like much but it was still twice the $400 they advertised for that sailing and that's still the low end of the boat. The suite for a cruise in October, same time of year as my cruise last year, is $689 for the 4-day sailing per person so double that number if you want the cabin to yourself.

Want an even bigger number, go for a longer cruise on a more complicated itinerary on an upscale ship. It is entirely possible to drop $180,000 for the Queen's Grille Suite on Cunard for a cruise lasting 108 straight days! Double occupancy or not, that is the published price of the cabin for three solid months at sea. Chump change for Tom Cruise.
What do I want? A price break, plain and simple. For the lower cabins and all inside berths I'd have no problem in continuing the single supplement at 100% of the cost of the cabin. Starting at maybe deluxe cabins with balconies and up, however, at least drop the supplement to 50%, then 25% for the mini-suites and no supplement at all for top of the house. A 21-day cruise on Norwegian around the Mediterranean still fetches nearly $5,000 per person for the largest suite onboard.

One person surely cannot consume $5000 worth of food in three weeks and the drinks are never free anyway. No cruise line will admit it but I doubt quite seriously cabins at that level actually get single supplements. They're probably just as vulnerable to half-off sales as the cabins just above the engine room.

Gotta go!

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