Cruise air package .v. booking cruise & flight separately

A cruise holiday offers excellent value for your money as an all-inclusive vacation. Included in your cruise are your accommodation, meals, and entertainment. And you can add shore excursions, drinks, and internet packages to the mix. So what about transport and getting to your embarkation port city? Should you book flights through your cruise line or do it yourself? Find out if a cruise line air package is for you.

Just the facts on Cruise line air package or not: If you need a flight to get to your cruise embarkation city, book flights separately yourself if you want to arrive a few days before your cruise starts to make explore the city or when you are on a strict budget and find a great price. But for convenience and when your holiday is all about the cruise, we recommend you book flights with the cruise line and get the cruise air package with transportation to and from the cruise ship. 

This article discusses the most important things to be aware of when weighing up the pros and cons of booking your flight with the cruise line compared to doing it yourself.

Your flexible cruise vacation – the fun begins when you start to plan

Create your dream cruise vacation, include as little or as much as you want, and pre-pay everything before you leave home.

But this doesn’t mean booking a cruise is not flexible. The booking process can be broken down into four main areas:

  • Cruise
  • Flight
  • Accommodation
  • Transportation

You can book each of these individually, giving you complete control over your booking. This way, you can research the best rates available. Or you can package it up and book some or all elements with the cruise line or your travel agent.

That’s what we mean by flexibility.

The simplest way to decide on the best option is to make a list. Write out the pros and cons of booking your flight with the cruise company versus booking your flight separately.

5 Pros – the best reasons to book flights with your cruise line

Let’s start by looking at how you can benefit from having a cruise line flight air package booked. All you need to do is to tell the cruise line which departure airport you prefer. They will then find something that suits your cruise timetable. Here is why it’s a good choice:

Allotment seats on certain flights

Some cruise lines can get seat allotments from airlines for flights that suit the cruise departure date. For example, Royal Caribbean often negotiates bulk discounted rates on flights to Barcelona for cruise guests. Some of these savings can be passed on to the customer. The cruise line encourages and wants you to book flights with them.

Flight with ground transportation as part of your cruise package

A flight booked with the cruise line can also include a transfer to and from the ship.

When the cruise line books your flight, it is their responsibility to get you to the cruise port in time. If your flight is delayed, they will wait for you. You will still be collected from the airport to get you onboard on time.

Worry-free timetables changes, flight delays, or cancellations

You do not need to worry about timetable changes. Your cruise line is, in effect, your travel agent. They will inform you of any changes that they receive from the airline.

Frequent flyer points for your flight booking

You can still earn frequent flier points on your flight booking.

If you are a member of an airline alliance – for example, One World, Sky Team, or Star Alliance, and your flight is booked with alliance member airlines, give your membership number to the cruise line, so you get your points.

These, in turn may be converted into perks such as upgrades, extra baggage, or access to airport lounges.

Let the cruise line save you time.

You can save valuable time by asking the cruise line to book flights.

Don’t be afraid to ask for several options. You may have a favorite airline. Or prefer to pay more to fly direct rather than have multiple landings with a change of aircraft. Or you may want to upgrade from an economy class flight ticket to premium or business class.

Everything is possible; it’s just a question of if the price fits your budget. Then just give them your passport details so they can book the flight for you.

5 Cons – why booking a flight as a cruise air package with your cruise line may not work for you

Many cruise guests and their travel agents choose to book flights separately. That is, with the cruise line, you book only the cruise. Then flights and ground transportation are booked separately. And that’s fine as long as you do it for all the right reasons.

Here are the main reasons why booking your flight as part of an air cruise package with the cruise line may not be best for you:

You do not have control over your flight booking

If you choose to book your flights, you will certainly have more control over your booking. You can log onto your chosen airline’s website at any time. Organize pre-purchase seating, and extra baggage, or decide to upgrade from economy to premium or business. You retain control.

Booking with the cruise line means you must call them to make any changes.

You may find that you are booked on airline seats that are part of an allotment or a bulk deal the cruise line has from the airline. In this case, you may not even be able to see your flight booking on the airline’s website until closer to your departure time when your flight tickets are issued.

Too little time to explore your cruise departure city

One of the biggest downsides of booking a cruise air package with your cruise line is that you could miss out on the chance to spend several days before cruising to explore your embarkation city.

Most cruise lines who offer flights want to book you on a flight arriving the same day as board your cruise ship.

Remember, when you look at your cruise itinerary, your embarkation port is listed as a destination. In truth, unless you fly a few days before your cruise starts, you will not have much time to see the city and explore the surrounding area. The best view you’ll have is a quick glimpse when transferring from the airport to the ship.

Take, for example, cruises in the Mediterranean. Many cruises depart from the major ports of Barcelona, Rome, Venice, and Athens. If you have long dreamed of seeing these cities, arrive at least a few days before your cruise starts. Book a hotel and explore the city at your own pace. If you only arrive the same day as your cruise departs, you will miss a lot.

Some cruise lines are beginning to offer pre-cruise packages, often called “stay and cruise packages” or “overland packages.” This includes flight, transfers, and 2 or 3 hotel nights followed by your cruise. Some even have a shore excursion or city tour, others an entire railway journey (such as with some Alaska journies if you cruise from Vancouver).

Ask you cruise line about these land and sea packages. MSC Cruises are the latest cruise line to offer 2-night stays in Venice and Athens, only available if you live in USA region. We love this, and hope to see more of it - a wider selection of cities available worldwide to all cruise guests!

Not all flight itineraries may be available.

Cruise lines often offer a limited number of options for flights and only work with specific airlines. For example, if you are used to using low-cost options such as Ryan Air, this will most likely not be available to book with your cruise line. To give yourself more flexibility and journey options, consider booking your flight.

Price matters

More often than not, booking flights as an air cruise package with cruise lines is more expensive. We all want to be able to book cheap flights and spend the money we save on more fun things, such as a great shore excursion. Generally speaking, cruise lines charge more for flights than if you book yourself. After all, they need to make money for their time, service, and expertise.

Airline membership points cannot pay for your flight

You cannot pay for flights booked by cruise lines using any accumulated membership points you have with the airline. You must book with the airline directly to pay for the flight with your membership points.

For example, I have long been a member of One World, as British Airways is my airline of choice. I can accumulate Avios (BA’s membership points) when the cruise line enters my BA membership number in the flight booking they make for me as part of my cruise package. However, I cannot pay the flight cost using my Avios points.

To be able to do that, I would have to make the flight booking myself directly with British Airways and request to pay using my points.

Meet the author: Sarah has created and booked hundreds of travel itineraries for thousands of customers during a career in the travel industry that spans 20 years. Having worked hand in hand with cruise lines, hotels, airlines and tour operators worldwide, she offers inspiring & detailed insights in the world of travel and tourism.