24 AUGUST 2009

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Article from BTNews 24 AUGUST 2009

COMMENT: Price comparisons

The fact that British Airways has introduced a price comparison page on ba.com is opening up a whole discussion on how one should measure up the price of a flight.  BA flies from the major airports to the major airports and also offers extra benefits by way of cabin service and baggage allowances.  Some of its competitors operate to airports more than 60 miles from the highlighted destination.  BA passengers, at least at the UK end, don’t have to run the risk of getting wet on boarding nor climbing down the steps onto the apron, and up again to the actual plane.  There are probably 20 other items to think about and see how they compare.

How you put all this in journey terms is difficult to answer but a price comparison can just about be made using a scrap of paper or a simple spreadsheet.  At the end of the day ‘you pay your money and take your choice!’

Long haul Business Class passengers need to balance the flight charge with the on-board offering and the ground arrangements.  How much is the chauffeur service offered by some carriers worth and with it the lack of an (expensive) parking arrangement or airport transport?  How good is the welcome and lounge arrangements and how do you judge them in terms of value?  And what are the benefits of an airline's loyalty scheme?

Off course this evaluation can be made with any purchase.

AERBT always features in the last issue of every month Cruising (and Motoring in the second edition).  This week is such an edition.  Do take a look at the section.

We have been asked to make some sort of comparison as to the value of various cruises taking into consideration the discounts available and the quality of the various packages around.

We have found it virtually impossible.

Is there someone out there who can help? 

The standard way of comparing cruise ships is to take the Berlitz Guide and look at the figures produced for each ship.  AERBT has travelled on Crystal (1702 points), in Princess Grill class on the QM2 (1709 and 1546 Britannia Class), Silversea (1760), NCL Jewel Class (1520), Emerald Princess (1546), and MSC Poesia (1467) amongst others.  Brochure pricewise they follow in much the same order. www.berlitzcruising.com

Or do they?

With Crystal you have a big (50,000 tons) relatively empty ship (less than 1,000 passengers maximum).  You pay for alcohol but not soft drinks (+15%) and there is a service charge.  It’s much the same with Cunard except that for the most part you mix with standard class passengers with the mighty 150,000-ton ship capable of carrying up to 3,000 guests.  With Silversea service is gratis as is for the most part the bar and wines.  Regent is similar but now includes off ship tours. 

At the next level down you have to compare drink costs, tour charges and, typically, free ice cream (NCL), but only during a mid-afternoon hour with Princess, who do offer an afternoon tea served in a restaurant complete with a small ensemble. 

MSC makes only the bottled water variety available.  A corkage charge is levelled for what we would term the ‘tap’ product.  No port briefings either and the variety shows use taped music with the dancers miming to the songs.  Princess gives you courtesy fresh fruit in your cabin.  They don’t charge for cabin service.  Some do.

When using the ships’ tenders NCL takes a plentiful supply of water, orange juice and ice to the landing stage to offer returning passengers with the ship’s compliments.  None of its immediate competitors do likewise.   NCL has Freestyle dining (anytime) whilst Princess offers two fixed sittings and also a fully flexible arrangement.

Most cruise lines now offer alternative dining.  Crystal offers the superb Prego at only $10 each service charge, whilst with NCL’s top of the line Cagney's Steak House it is $25 and the wine does not come cheap.  Queen Mary has the Todd English restaurant at a $30 supplement.

Laundry and other charges vary from ship to ship.  How do you judge the spa facilities and the costs involved?

P & O adds a daily £3.75 per person for service and a 10% bar tip.  NCL is $12 and 15%.  One’s extras bill can quickly reach significant figures.

Is there some way that a true comparison can be made?  Could one add up all the costs of a similar 14-day cruise at the same time of year, bring in all the variables, and then factor in the Berltiz figure to come up with some sort of judgement?  There are a great deal more than on an aircraft.

Or is it still a question of you get what you pay for?

This is a holiday time question.  We would be delighted to publicise a serious answer to this conundrum.

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief
malcolm.ginsberg@aerbt.co.uk

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