'This is just so anti-consumer': Southwest early-boarding fee policy reversed after coronavirus backlash

Robert Lawson was supposed to visit his son and newborn granddaughter in Las Vegas in late March but canceled his flight a couple weeks ago when the coronavirus spread “got real hairy.”

Southwest Airlines quickly put the frequent flyer points he used for the round-trip ticket back into his account. 

What the Denver criminal investigator hasn’t gotten back, even in the form of a credit: the $40 in fees he paid for Southwest’s popular early boarding option, EarlyBird Check-In. The fee, which costs $15-$25 per person each way, gives travelers a better boarding position on Southwest, which doesn’t assign seats.

“They just point blank said, ‘No, you’re not getting it back.”’ 

Southwest’s longstanding no-refund policy for EarlyBird fees unless the airline cancels your flight left Lawson and scores of other Southwest passengers fuming during the coronavirus crisis, and is more stringent than many of its competitors. The airline’s online forum is filled with complaints about EarlyBird refunds and travelers are also complaining on Twitter and Facebook.

The gripe: Passengers who proactively canceled their flights and have no clue when they will fly again given the global health crisis — something happening in numbers so big airline call centers have been overwhelmed for weeks — should receive their EarlyBird money back too, or at least a travel credit, as they do for the airfare portion of their ticket. 

GALLERY: Deserted iconic landmarks

Slide 1 of 40: A cyclist rides across the water remaining in the Reflecting Pool which has been drained for maintenance in Washington, DC on March 26, 2020.
Slide 2 of 40: The empty Champs-Elysees Avenue and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, at night on March 24, 2020, on the eighth day of a lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in France.
Slide 3 of 40: Egyptian municipality workers disinfect the Giza pyramids necropolis on the southwestern outskirts of the Egyptian capital Cairo on March 25, 2020 as protective a measure against the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19.
Slide 4 of 40: Greek military helicopters fly over the Acropolis on Greece's Independence Day, in Athens on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. The annual military parade commemorates Greek Independence Day, which marks the start of the war of independence in 1821 against the 400-year Ottoman rule, was cancelled on Wednesday amid a circulation ban imposed to slow the spread of the COVID-19 but a flyover with jets and helicopters took place.

Slide 5 of 40: An almost empty Westminster Bridge normally a very busy river crossing as the sun rises in London, March 24, 2020. Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday imposed its most draconian peacetime restrictions due to the spread of the coronavirus on businesses and gatherings, health workers begged for more gear, saying they felt like "cannon fodder."
Slide 6 of 40: A cyclist rides past Buckingham Palace in central London on the morning on March 24, 2020 after Britain ordered a lockdown to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Slide 7 of 40: Street performer Eddie Webb looks around the nearly deserted French Quarter looking to make money in New Orleans, March 22, 2020. With much of the city already hunkered down due to the coronavirus pandemic, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards issues a shelter-in-place order to take effect starting March 23, 2020 at 5:00 PM.
Slide 8 of 40: A jogger wears a mask as he runs along Millenium Bridge in London on the morning on March 24, 2020 after Britain ordered a lockdown to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Slide 9 of 40: As the coronavirus pandemic spreads around the world, some of the most iconic tourist destinations are closing or remain deserted.  Here, a man walks on the deserted Trocadero square in front of the Eiffel Tower on March 21, 2020 in Paris on the fifth day of a strict nationwide lockdown seeking to halt the spread of the COVID-19 infection caused by novel coronavirus

Slide 10 of 40: A security guard patrols with his dog near the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel int Jardin des Tuileries garden on March 21, 2020 in Paris on the fifth day of a strict nationwide lockdown seeking to halt the spread of COVID-19.
Slide 11 of 40: French Gendarmes patrol the beach of Porticcio on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica on March 21, 2020, closed to the public as a strict lockdown comes into in effect in France to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Slide 12 of 40: A general view of Trafalgar Square on March 21, 2020 in London, England. Londoners are feeling the impact of shutdowns due to Coronavirus.
Slide 13 of 40: A Chinese tourist wears a protective mask as she visit the almost empty Badaling Great Wall on March 24, 2020 in Beijing, China. Affected by the new coronavirus covid-19, the Badaling Great Wall closed on Jan. 25.
Slide 14 of 40: The Rotunda of the US Capitol empty is seen in Washington, DC on March 19, 2020.

Slide 15 of 40: The intersection at 42nd St. & 7th Ave. in the Times Square area of New York City is almost completely free of people on March 19, 2020.
Slide 16 of 40: A few tourists walk along Circular Quay in Sydney near the Sydney Opera House on March 20, 2020, after Australia moved to seal off its borders the day before, announcing unprecedented bans on entry for non-residents in the hope of stemming the rise of COVID-19 coronavirus infections.
Slide 17 of 40: The streets surrounding the castle are quieter than usual at Windsor Castle on March 19, 2020 in Windsor, England.
Slide 18 of 40: Security guards patrol around closed Stonehenge on March 20, 2020 in Amesbury, United Kingdom. English Heritage, which manages the site said, Our first priority is the health and wellbeing of all visitors, volunteers and staff, and we hope you can understand why we have taken this unprecedented step," it said. "We appreciate this is a very important time for druids, pagans and other spiritual people and hope you will still be able to celebrate the spring equinox in your own special way. English Heritage said it would "continue to plan for the summer solstice in the hope it will still take place".
Slide 19 of 40: A low number of tourists are seen at Taj Mahal amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, in Agra on March 16, 2020.
Slide 20 of 40: A tourist wearing a respiratory mask walks past the closed Colosseum in Rome, Italy on March 10, 2020.
Slide 21 of 40: A tourist wearing a protective facemask takes a picture with her phone in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, on March 17, 2020, a few hours before the order to stay home for all French citizens goes into effect.
Slide 22 of 40: Even for a typically slow Sunday afternoon Grand Central Terminal in New York City was quieter than usual March 15, 2020 as Coronavirus concerns kept travelers and tourists off the streets and away from popular destinations in the city.
Slide 23 of 40: The Louvre Museum stands empty on March 15, 2020 in Paris, France.
Slide 24 of 40: The Oculus transportation hub in Lower Manhattan is mostly devoid of commuters and tourists on March 15, 2020 in New York City.
Slide 25 of 40: Tourists stand at an overlook by the (L to R) Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops), Pyramid of Khafre (Chephren), and Pyramid of Menkaure (Menkheres) at the Giza pyramids necropolis on the southwestern outskirts of the Egyptian capital on March 13, 2020.
Slide 26 of 40: A police vehicle and security guard man the entrance to a closed Santa Monica Pier, one of the most popular tourist attractions in southern California on March 16, 2020 in Santa Monica, Calif.
Slide 27 of 40: A man wearing a mask walks by the Spanish Steps at a deserted Piazza di Spagna in central Rome, Italy on March 12, 2020.
Slide 28 of 40: Aida Cruz, left, and Jose Chavez, take photos at the Space Needle, March 13, 2020, in Seattle. The two were visiting from San Antonio, Texas and had planned to take the elevator up the Needle for a view of the city, but they discovered that the iconic landmark and tourist attraction had closed Friday and will remain shuttered through the end of March.
Slide 29 of 40: The Pike Place Market stands virtually empty of patrons on March 10, 2020 in downtown Seattle, Washington. The historic farmer's market is Seattle's most popular tourist attraction.
Slide 30 of 40: The East Plaza of the Capitol is seen early March 13, 2020, in Washington, after the complex was shut down to tourists and non-essential visitors.
Slide 31 of 40: A tourist looks at the nearly deserted Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, after Israel has imposed some of the world's tightest restrictions to contain COVID-19 coronavirus disease, in Jerusalem on March 12, 2020.
Slide 32 of 40: Muslim worshippers circle the sacred Kaaba in Mecca's Grand Mosque, Islam's holiest site, on March 13, 2020.
Slide 33 of 40: Few people are seen at San Francisco's popular Fisherman's Wharf tourist destination on March 12, 2020 in San Francisco, Calif.
Slide 34 of 40: A father adjusts his son's mask between the Queen Victoria Memorial and Buckingham Palace in London on March 14, 2020.
Slide 35 of 40: A tourist stands outside the Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, March 13, 2020. The basilica closed its doors to visitors and suspended construction on March 13.
Slide 36 of 40: Tourists pose for photos on the Brooklyn Bridge, March 16, 2020 in New York. The bridge's pedestrian and bicycle path is normally crowded on a sunny day.
Slide 37 of 40: A general view taken on March 11, 2020 shows a woman walking across deserted St. Mark's Square and its basilica in Venice.
Slide 38 of 40: A general view of the empty Vatican's St. Peter's Square and its main basilica on March 15, 2020 days after its closure to tourists as part of a wider crackdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
Slide 39 of 40: Soldiers wearing protective face masks march past the closed entrance gates to the Forbidden City, usually crowded with tourists before the new coronavirus outbreak in Beijing, March 12, 2020.
Slide 40 of 40: A food truck vendor pushes his cart down an empty street near Times Square in New York, on March 15, 2020.

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads around the world, some of the most iconic tourist destinations are closing or remain deserted.

Here, a man walks on the deserted Trocadero square in front of the Eiffel Tower on March 21, 2020 in Paris on the fifth day of a strict nationwide lockdown seeking to halt the spread of the COVID-19 infection caused by novel coronavirus

Despite the rancor, Southwest wasn’t budging on the policy as recently as Thursday morning. But by Thursday afternoon, officials announced a temporary change to customer service representatives.

The new policy: passengers with travel dates between March 1 and May 31 who cancel their reservations can request a credit for EarlyBird fees paid. It will be a voucher good for one year that can be used for a future flight.

The voucher will be issued for all the EarlyBird fees paid on the same reservation so families and other groups get one voucher and not travel funds in each passengers’ nam

es, as happens with airfare credit. The voucher cannot be used in the future for EarlyBird fees, though. 

“The Southwest team prides itself on the hospitality we offer and our willingness to look at issues on a case-by-case basis to assist our customers,” Southwest spokesman Brian Parrish said in a statement. “We hope this new exception provides more flexibility for our customers who purchased EarlyBird but choose not to travel during these dynamic times. We look forward to welcoming each customer onboard another Southwest flight one day very soon.”

The policy applies to travelers who already canceled flights, like Lawson, and were told no refund, as well as those canceling future flights for travel through May 31. 

To receive a voucher, travelers need to call Southwest reservations or customer relations or email the airline.

Travelers with tickets for dat

es beyond May 31 will be subject to the no-refund policy unless Southwest extends the temporary policy, or the airline cancels their flight. 

Southwest’s policy is still more stringent than the fee-refund policies at some of the airline’s competitors because it is only offering a voucher, while several other airlines are giving travelers their money back for prepaid fees, even if they are only receiving a travel credit for their flights.

American Airlines, for example, is refunding prepaid seat fees and any other ancillary charges for passengers who cancel flights scheduled through May 31, according to spokesman Ross Feinstein. Passengers have to request the refund on American’s website. 

United has also been refunding seat fees and any prepaid fees for passengers with flights through May 31, too, spokeswoman Nicole Carrieresaid. 

Delta is offering fee refunds, too, for travelers who cancel any upcoming trips, spokesman Drake Castaneda said.

Allegiant Air, which built a business around offering bargain ticket prices with a lineup of additional fees for extras, including an advance seat assignment, says travelers who cancel their flights receive a credit for the full amount of their trip, including fees, according to spokeswoman Hilarie Grey.

‘I think it’s ridiculous in these times to be so cheap about something like that’

Rachel Shuster canceled an April flight from Baltimore to Boston on Southwest and changed another April flight, to Chicago, to June.  

The $40 in EarlyBird fees she paid for the Chicago flight transferred to her new reservation since she was just delaying the trip, but she was shocked to find out she was out $50 in EarlyBird fees for the Boston trip.

The airline simply pointed her to the policy on its website when she asked why she wasn’t getting the money back.

“I had no idea,” she said. “It must be in really fine print.”

Shuster said the money was not a big deal “in the grand scheme of things,” but she objected to the refund policy on principle. 

“With so many companies trying to make things as easy as possible for people … this is just so anti-consumer that it’s baffling to me,” she said. “I think it’s ridiculous in these times to be so cheap about something like that.”

She welcomed the change in policy, which will give her a $50 voucher.

“I think they must have heard from the public,” Shuster said. “In a time when everyone is feeling the pinch, to be so ruthless is ridiculous.”

Southwest takes in hundreds of millions of dollars from EarlyBird Check-In

Southwest earns raves from passengers, and a good chunk of business, from its fee-free stance. The airline is the only U.S. carrier to offer two free checked bags, and it doesn’t charge fees to change or cancel a reservation, fees that start at $200 on major airlines.

The airline’s fee revenue is a fraction of the amount major airlines collect as a result, but EarlyBird is a big moneymaker for the airline. Southwest collected $358 million in EarlyBird fees in 2017, the last year it broke out the figure. That represented more than 60% of its “other” fees revenue, a category which also includes charges for unaccompanied minors, in-flight drinks and Wi-Fi, among other things. Bag fee revenue that year, in contrast: $46 million. (Southwest charges for extra bags and overweight or oversized bags.)

Airline officials have said as recently as January that the EarlyBird revenues grew by double digits in the last three months of 2019.

WATCH: Southwest is not your ordinary airline

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Kauai Ocean Discovery comes to Lihue

Kauai Ocean Discovery, a free interactive educational center, opened in early 2020 at the Kukui Grove Center in Lihue.

The center, which is affiliated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, includes displays and exhibits on humpback whales, Hawaiian monk seals, sea turtles, albatrosses and other marine life. Videos, hands-on activities and staff help explain life in the ocean, animal adaptations and the impacts of humans on sea conditions. 

The center also features a “Keiki Corner” with ocean-themed activities for small children. There are rotating exhibits, monthly special events, and a weekly ocean talk and tour every Thursday at 10 a.m.

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Southwest Airlines Cuts Flight Schedule By Over 40 Percent

Southwest Airlines has announced a new flight schedule for travel May 3 through June 5 in wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

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The changes will reduce flight activity by more than 40 percent, limiting the low-cost carrier to approximately 2,000 flights per day. Southwest cited “significantly lower passenger demand, operational disruptions and the ongoing suspension of our international service” for the reduced capacity.

“During this time, we are maintaining passenger service to every city we serve, moving cargo around the country, and facilitating our customers’ essential travel between nearly every city-pair we previously offered,” the airline added. “Some journeys that had been nonstop might now require a same-plane stop or a connection. This scheduling change merely takes forward in time work that is removing roughly 1,500 flights a day from our current operation.”

Southwest added that affected customers would be notified of any changes and receive updates as well as be offered additional flexibility within the carrier’s existing policies amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The overall demand for travel remains fluid during this ongoing pandemic and we continue to evaluate further reductions,” Southwest said.

With travel demand down, the airline continues to offer discounted fares as low as $39 one-way.

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Shuttered Wynn Resorts Will Continue Paying Employees Through May 15

Wynn Resorts announced Wednesday the company would extend payments to all salaried, hourly and part-time employees through May 15 as the coronavirus outbreak continues to devastate the hospitality industry.

The decision to continue payroll for 60 days is part of a series of initiatives designed to share responsibility for the health and safety of its employees, their families and the Las Vegas and Greater Boston communities during the viral pandemic.

The payroll coverage will include more than 15,000 current Wynn and Encore employees.

As for hotel and casino workers who live off tips, Wynn’s coverage includes the average tip compliance rate or distributed tips/tokes since the beginning of the year.

“It is our shared responsibility to follow the direction of health and safety professionals to stay home, and limit social contact,” Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox said in a statement. “We owe it to each other, our families and to our community.”

Despite the temporary closure of the hotel industry, companies have stepped up for employees and the local communities they support in many ways, including donating food and medical items to organizations and hospitals in need.

Earlier this week, the CEO of Airbnb announced it would pay hosts 25 percent of the losses associated with cancellations on bookings between March 14 and May 31. The company estimates payouts to eligible hosts would total around $250 million.

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Schools to refund transporation fees in Dubai, Sharjah

The moves comes amid a shift towards online learning as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic

Dubai’s KHDA announced that bus fees for Indian and Pakistani school’s first terms – which begins on April 5 – must be refunded.

Education authorities in Dubai and Sharjah have announced that parents should be refunded for third term transportation and bus fees, amid the shift towards online learning that has taken place as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

In Dubai, an announcement from the Knowledge and Human Development Authority announced that bus fees for Indian and Pakistani school’s first terms – which begins on April 5 – must be refunded.

In Sharjah, the emirate’s Private Education Authority issued notices to private and Indian/Pakistani curriculum schools noting that schools must refund transportation and nutrition fees.

Parents are required to pay the remaining fees.

In Dubai, a number of schools around Dubai have announced reduction in tuition fees for term 3 as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic keeps students at home, although they called on parents to help support staff members.

Horizon English School, Horizon International School have both announced 20 percent reduction in fees, while Safe Community School and the Next Generation School are now offering 20 percent discounts on third time fees. Dubai English Speaking School has agreed to reduce fees by 20 percent for primary and secondary education.

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Hawaiian Airlines to offer free island flights to medical workers fighting COVID-19

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FILE - In this June 7, 2010 file photo an Hawaiian Airlines plane is shown at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle. American Airlines is dropping money-losing flights between Chicago and Shanghai, and Hawaiian Airlines will suspend its only route to China because of low demand. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

The friendly skies are getting friendlier.

Hawaiian Airlines has announced the carrier will begin offering medical workers free flights between islands during the month of April. The airline will also be modifying its flight schedule for two weeks during the state’s self-quarantine requirement, which began April 1.

Hawaiian Airlines said it will provide free travel to neighboring islands “to support travel associated with COVID-19 response efforts,” a press release stated.

“This virus has presented an unprecedented test for all of us who call Hawai‘i home, and we are glad to be able to support the exceptional and important work our medical providers are carrying out across our islands each day to meet our state’s healthcare needs and help us overcome this challenge,” said Hawaiian Airlines President and CEO Peter Ingram, via the press release.

As part of the initiative, Hawaii Airlines partnered with hospitals and healthcare service providers on the islands.

One of the partners, Hawaii Emergency Physicians Associated, praised the gesture.

“The doctors of Hawaii Emergency Physicians Associated appreciate Hawaiian Airlines facilitating us traveling to Critical Access Hospitals across the state and particularly to isolated communities on Moloka‘i and Kaua‘i,” said HEPA President Dr. Craig Thomas and Vice President of Operations Dr. Katherine Heinzen Jim, via a press release.

Hawaiian Airlines had announced last week that it would be suspending nearly all of its flights to the mainland U.S., but continuing inter-island and cargo flights. Beginning April 4, Hawaiian Airlines will also introduce its new Neighbor Island flight schedule, which will offer three daily roundtrip flights – for a total of 16 flights daily – to surrounding islands from Honolulu Airport.

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5 best places to go in September and October – A Luxury Travel Blog

Although not the first one to say, I’ll reiterate—these are weird times. And while international (and sometimes even domestic) travel is basically out of the question at the moment. We and many other adventuresome folks are thinking ahead to when it’ll be safe for us to explore the world again. Nothing right now is guaranteed, but we are hopeful that travel will resume by the summer, if not sooner. That being said, fall trips are probably a safer bet. So, where can you start dreaming about?

Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast in September

As one of the sunniest spots on the Mediterranean coast, Europeans (and others) flock to this Riviera during July and August. That makes for crowded streets, beaches, shops, restaurants, and just about everything else. September is the beginning of Croatia’s shoulder season and the intense summer crowds start to thin. It’s also when the temperatures are more moderate—warm enough to explore without jackets, but not so warm that you’re sweating and uncomfortable.

Spain in September or October

In the north, September is considered one of the best months to walk the Camino de Santiago because the weather is generally warm with blissfully cool evenings and mornings. Plus, the trails are not as busy as in July and August. In the south, October is the shoulder season, which like Croatia, means fewer crowds and more moderate temperatures. This is also the time of year when you might see olive or grape harvests going on depending on seasonal factors.

The Himalayas in September or October 

Fall in Bhutan and Nepal typically brings the driest weather, which means the clearest skies. And it’s important to have clear skies to enjoy views of the spectacular and humbling mountains. If you want to see Everest and other sky-high peaks on your hikes or through a plane window, this is the time to go. You’ll see farmers in their fields harvesting the season’s bounty, and temperatures can still reach into the 80s in some places!

Portugal and the Azores in September or October

Summertime in Portugal is hot and dry and the most popular time for visitors. But by autumn, the intense heat of the summer has passed, and there are fewer crowds, which is better for both your urban and rural exploration. Whether you choose to explore the mainland, the lush volcanic archipelago in the Atlantic, or both, you’ll find pleasant temperatures both on the ground and in the water (if you choose to take a dip).

New Zealand in October

October is one of the best months for spotting dolphins, whales, and penguins (who doesn’t love penguins?). Since it’s spring in the Southern Hemisphere, you’ll also see adorable baby lambs grazing alongside their mothers and wildflowers blooming on the hillsides. There’s something lovely about seeing the landscape come to life again with color. Plus, you can often find better airfare prices!

Matt Holmes is the Founder & President of Boundless Journeys. Boundless Journeys is an award-winning tour operator that goes off the beaten path for immersive and authentic travel experiences.

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STR study US hotels facing unprecedented low for 2020

STR and Tourism Economics have updated their 2020 U.S. hotel industry forecast in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, predicting that nationwide RevPAR will drop 50.6%, to $42.84, for the year.

Concurrently, occupancy is expected to be down 42.6%, to 37.9%, while average daily rate (ADR) is set to dip 13.9%, to $112.91. Supply and demand for the year are predicted to decline 14.9% and 51.2%, respectively.

Prior to the pandemic, STR had projected that RevPAR for 2020 would be flat, with occupancy set to fall 0.3%. Supply and demand had both been expected to increase slightly, at just under 2% growth.

“The industry was already set for a nongrowth year; now throw in this ultimate ‘black swan’ event, and we’re set to see occupancy drop to an unprecedented low,” said Jan Freitag, STR’s senior vice president of lodging insights. “Our historical database extends back to 1987, and the worst we have ever seen for absolute occupancy was 54.6% during the financial crisis in 2009.”

For the week ended March 21, STR said it saw U.S. RevPAR plummet 69.5%, the steepest drop ever recorded in the hotel data analytics firm’s 30-year history. However, Tourism Economics said it expects a fast rebound will help buoy overall performance for the year.

“Travel has come to a virtual standstill, but we expect the market to begin to regain its footing this summer,” said Adam Sacks, president of Tourism Economics. “Once travel resumes, the combination of pent-up travel demand and federal aid will help fuel the recovery as we move into the latter part of this year and next year.”

For 2021, STR and Tourism Economics are forecasting that U.S. hotel RevPAR will increase 63.1%, to $69.86, while occupancy will be up 57.3%, to 59.7%. ADR is expected to grow 3.7%, to $117.05, and supply and demand are set to surge 15.6% and 81.8%, respectively.

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Cruise Planners Unveils ‘For the Love of Travel’ Facebook Contest

To keep travel top of mind with consumers in a quarantined world, Cruise Planners introduced a Facebook “For the Love of Travel” contest, whose grand prize is a seven-night Celebrity Cruises’ Caribbean cruise for two in 2021.

The campaign is in effect through April 30, 2020, and also includes weekly Cruise Planners’ gift items.

“This contest is a fun way to spark some joy across our travel advisor network, their clients and travelers who are spending days, and even weeks, inside their homes,” said Michelle Fee, CEO and founder of Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative. “I can’t wait to be inspired by the travel photos submitted, as I am already reminiscing about my favorite travels and dreaming of where to go next once the world opens up again.”

Those interested in participating need only post photos of their favorite vacation memories using the #CruisePlannersLove hashtag on their personal Facebook walls or on a Cruise Planner travel advisor’s Facebook business page.

However, to qualify, it is mandatory posters provide details about why the vacation was their favorite along with the picture and #CruisePlannersLove hashtag.

“A love of travel brings us all together, and it’s during these uncertain times, that we need to virtually come together and keep that passion alive,” Fee said.

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The direct booking 3 percent solution

Richard Turen

A few weeks ago, I managed to alienate a good many of my preferred suppliers while convincing others that I was, indeed, out of touch with contemporary forms of transactional analysis. I had suggested that it might just be that the time for direct bookings has now passed.

Taking one’s vacation time, I argued, and leaving it in the hands of a commission-based call center headset is almost never in the best interests of the consumer. It is, instead, a cruel attempt to divert the client from unbiased, well-informed, experienced counsel. You know, like they have in other professions that are respected.

Many of you reached out in support of my stance. But the most interesting response I received was from a supplier who plies lakes and rivers.

It was nicely written, and the person who penned it is a friend and someone I respect. The purpose seemed to be to inform me of a fact that would be new to me. This supplier, well-known though it is, does only “3% direct business.” That amazingly low figure was used as evidence that this particular supplier “strongly supports the travel agent community” by doing 97% of its business through that channel.

Well, not exactly. I am going to take a chance here and guess that a fair share of that 97% revenue is produced by other commissioned headsets who work in call centers owned by corporations other than the provider. The OTA community is a separate issue. The real question is whether or not a supplier should get kudos for only doing 3% of its business directly.

We have, of course, heard similar arguments for years. I have had the percentage of direct business described to me by a wide range of industry executives. The figures are always somewhere between “negligible” and 8%. I have never heard anyone cite a higher figure.

But what does 3% really represent? It tells me, in the specific case I am referencing here, that one of two things is true:

The first is that the supplier is making up the figure. No major tour operator or cruise line does 3% direct business. I would find that virtually impossible given the implications.

Look at the massive amounts of direct-to-consumer advertising plus the print ads, the home mailers. Add in phrases like “Talk to a cruise specialist or your travel consultant.” Spending the massive millions to garner 3% of the direct-business pie makes little economic sense. Why list those 1-800 call center numbers?

The second thing that could be true is that many suppliers are truly unaware of the financial benefits from major consortia and seasoned advisors who would rain praise and efforts on anyone who was the first to drop direct bookings. Do they not get that?

Now to be completely transparent, many executives whom I count as friends think I am naive. They see travel agents as line-item, order-taking expenses. And they always tell me that many of their callers do not wish to use a consultant.

So what? Do you mean to tell me that your 3% or 40% of consumers who call to book your product cannot be turned over to a travel professional to handle the booking?

Do cruise lines and tour operators really believe they lack the marketing and sales skills to retain the bookings of at least 90% of those callers who state they do not wish to use an agent? No way you can handle that? Come on!

The fact is that the major suppliers want it both ways. They are the advisor’s best supporters while maintaining an expensive in-house division designed to compete with advisors for the same consumer. Can you really have it both ways?

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