This past holiday weekend, my e-mail queue was chock-a-block full of messages from suppliers across the travel industry telling me they were slashing prices to the bone just in time for the July 4th holiday. I know people are beyond ready to resume traveling again, but seriously…this stuff makes booking a vacation feel a little bit like working with a slick used car salesman. Somehow when I tried to find those bargains, the only thing I found was how elusive they were. There’s a reason for that…there are no true travel bargains right now. Suppliers don’t need to lure you back. I mean, come on…have you seen the lines in most airports lately?
Southwest Airlines keeps telling me I can get a roundtrip plane ticket for under $50. Maybe I can, but it doesn’t take me anyplace I want to go, which makes it no bargain at all. The cruise industry in particular, now that they have resumed sailing from the U.S., has turned their marketing engine back on full blast. Yet when I look at the bottom-line cost for a cruise, after cutting through all the marketing hype and adding back in the taxes and fees their lead in offers usually omit, I find it costing as much or more to cruise now than it did before the pandemic.
Let me fill you in on a little travel industry secret. Travel suppliers don’t discount anything unless they have to. The window on travel bargains slammed shut back in April and May when demand came roaring back after governments began relaxing their travel restrictions. With so many people eager to travel through the summer season the travel industry doesn’t need to discount anything, and they aren’t. That goes doubly so for the cruise industry. Here’s the thing…think about a cruise line’s basis for saying they are offering a “discount” on something when they haven’t been able to sell that something for over 15 months! A discount based on what?
Not that I blame the cruise lines for trying mind you. They have been spending money hand over fist for the past 15 months just trying to keep their ships and operations alive. During that time they haven’t brought in a penny of passenger revenue, at least not from U.S. based cruises which represent the majority of their revenue. Carnival Cruise Lines lost almost $5 billion dollars just in the second quarter of 2020, and they are but one of several major cruise lines serving the U.S. market. It is a miracle none of them went bankrupt, and no sure thing that it can’t yet happen. The last thing they want to do is offer discounted pricing if they can possibly avoid it, and with demand being as high as it is, they absolutely can avoid it. The marketing is aimed at getting you to book at their current prices and make you think you’re getting a bargain when you really aren’t. It is geared toward people who are considering how to spend their vacation time this summer but aren’t quite sold on travel.
Breaking news: there are no travel bargains or discounts right now, particularly with cruising. Any sales or discounts being offered are a marketing tactic. Sure, there will always be that person bragging on social media about how great they are at finding the best travel bargain ever…after spending just 15 minutes on the internet. We ran into several of those on our recent trip to Jamaica and while it was tempting to call them out, we never do. Because we know what they paid for their vacation…the same as everyone else. That’s the way this business works. Everybody pays about the same for a trip, with some minor savings to be had if you book as part of a group, but the individual suppliers’ marketing is geared toward making you think you’re saving so you are more apt to commit to their specific product.
The real smart travelers know game the suppliers play, and rather than bragging about how much money they saved, they make sure they get the most value out of the money they do spend. That means booking early, but only when they are ready rather than falling for the artificial sense of urgency generated by the “sale ends today” tag line. I’ve got news for you…if the sale ends today, then tomorrow there will be another sale with the same offer in different clothing.
The only “bargain” in travel right now is that we are once again able to travel. And that’s a pretty darned good bargain in my mind considering what we have all had to put up with for the past 18 months. I’m OK with that, and I’m ready to travel, with or without discounts. And whenever there is a discounted travel offer, I assure you the best chance you have of finding it and getting the most value out of it is to work with a travel professional.