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Cruise lines do more worrying for you with air/sea packages


If you're considering a cruise, you might also want to consider an air/sea package, where the cruise line arranges your air travel and transfers of you and your luggage between airport and ship.

Such packages now are available from hundreds of cities. For instance, Princess Cruises arranges air departures from 140 U.S. cities, from Akron, Ohio, to Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

While mostly worry-free, air/sea packages don't guarantee that your flight won't be delayed or that your luggage won't be lost. The good news when you book air/sea is, "We know where you are, how you're coming to us and when you'll be arriving so we can make a decision to hold the ship" if needed, said Julie Benson of Princess. If they don't hold the ship, most lines will arrange to get you to the next port of call. They'll even monitor for lost luggage.

However, cruise lines are under no obligation to untangle such predicaments for you if you're not on their air/sea program.

But even air/sea travel can be tricky. Cruise lines are at the mercy of airlines when it comes to routing. With air/sea tickets, you may wind up with a dawn air departure or with seats that have you and your spouse sitting far apart. You also may not know until just days before departure on what airline you'll be flying.

According to Stacy Sousa, Princess' director of air services, direct or nonstop routes aren't always available on a given day. "One week there are perfect connections; the next week ... it's down to the wire."

A solution of sorts exists. If you want a specific departure or airline, contact a cruise line's "deviation desk" as far in advance as possible. For a small surcharge (about $25) above the regular air/sea price, you can request the carrier you like. The cruise line will do its best to accommodate you.

Like most, Princess' deviation desk handles requests for air/sea passengers wishing to fly on dates other than those printed in its brochures. Specific airlines and specific dates can be requested; specific seats, however, cannot.

Princess also has a "special requests" desk, which -- at no charge -- fields requests from passengers flying on its scheduled departure dates but who prefer a particular airline, routing or flight. But hundreds of requests are made a day, so don't count on yours being filled.

The air portion of an air/sea package generally costs less than a flight you might find yourself, but if you're willing to forgo the security of an air/sea package to arrange your own transportation, you might ferret out less-expensive rates.

You probably won't be able to earn frequent-flier miles using an air/sea package (a policy of airlines, not cruise lines). If you're a mileage collector, you may not want to forgo points you would earn, say, on a far-flung flight to London. Alternatively, if you've already accumulated enough frequent-flier miles, you could fly free to your cruise departure port.

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