Sometimes you don't get what you pay for

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on October 11, 2007. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, car rental, cruise, disaster, Erica Silverstein, hotel, insurance, vacation package.

When you pay to upgrade, you expect a superior experience. But as Barb N. learned, sometimes you don't get what you've paid for.

"In March 2006, we made reservations for a fall Venice to Venice relaxing luxurious cruise. Having cruised previously, we booked a high-end suite for the first time and looked forward to a recuperative vacation at the end of a demanding work season.

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"From the very first night, we were kept awake by loud, repetitive sounds of furniture dragging on the floor above our suite. After our first sleepless night, we complained to our stateroom attendant. We were told "the ship is designed wrong." We contacted Guest Relations repeatedly to ask for help, and we were made to feel we were unreasonable. Although we were promised contact with a supervisor, we were never contacted. Finally we were informed there were two vacant inside staterooms on the sixth deck that were available for us. Wonderful, since we had paid $5,228 for a suite on Deck 8.

"After the fifth sleepless night, we called guest relations again and spoke to our concierge, Angelo. He acknowledged a "continuing problem" with other previous guests in our suite and arranged for us to move to an available family suite. The suite was quiet, but not luxurious. Out of seven nights, we had rest for two. Angelo suggested we "take it up with Miami." The cruise line sent two $650 certificates toward future suite reservations. Lesson learned: Paying first class does not guarantee first class service."

What to do

Barb did everything right. She was willing to pay extra for a more luxurious cruise cabin in order to have additional space and better service. At the first sign of a problem, she went and spoke to both her cabin attendant and guest services. When no help was forthcoming, she spoke up again.

Sadly for Barb, suites are among the first staterooms to sell out, so if a cruiser finds her room unlivable, she will most likely be downgraded to an inferior cabin. Instead of reimbursing her for her sleepless nights and two nights in a lower-category cabin, the cruise line gave her vouchers—a common tactic used by cruise lines, airlines, and hotels. Travel providers prefer to give coupons because either the person will book again with that company, ultimately giving it more money, or won't use the vouchers, meaning the company didn't have to pay a thing.

My advice to anyone booking a cruise—whether for an inside cabin or a fancy suite—is to seek out information about specific cabins before you put money down. Travel agents may know about certain rooms that are particularly noisy or oddly configured. The reader forums on Cruise Critic are another great resource.

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