Friday, August 21, 2015

Vacation Insurance: Don't Leave Home Without It!

I don't know what there is about travelers that seems to keep them from investing in Travel Insurance to secure their vacation dollars from loss. Seems that all they can see is a little more cost added to their vacation expense. 

To be sure, they know that stuff happens. Weather can cause you to miss a flight or cruise departure; people get sick; close relatives die; and accidents happen all the time that cause prople to cancel their vacation just a few days prior to leaving. In addition these same things happen while on vacation and can add a cost greater than the vacation to your vacation cost.  

Yep, they know it happens but it only happens to other people. I suppose that is what the Armstrong's thought when they booked their Disney vacation. See their story in USA Today.  I'm not sure what your thought process is but when your Travel Agent suggests travel insurance you should take that advise seriously. Certainly we hope you will never need to actually file a claim but when you do it can save you thousands of dollars.  

Several years ago American Express had a tag line that said, "Don't Leave Home Without It." That was good advise then and it is really good advise regarding insuring your vacation investment.  Your vacation planning is not finished until your trip is insured.  

Travel insurance is a necessity if you're purchasing a complete vacation package and/or a cruise vacation.  These vacation suppliers are  notoriously inflexible with regards to their cancellation policies.  At best they will offer to rebook you at a later date and even then will often charge you a fee to do so. Most will partially refund your money if you cancel far enough out.  However,  . Last-minute cancellations typically incur a 100% penalty, with no exceptions, no matter how valid, serious or heartrending the reason behind the change in plans. 

Most cruise lines have stipulated cutoff dates for cancellations. These are usually staggered so that depending on the how far out from your travel date you cancel only a percentage of your payment is refunded. In most cases inside 30 days the entire amount paid is forfeited.  Cancellations made within this period of time offers little or no hope for recovering your money.  You also have little chance of getting any credits toward a future cruise as well. No one wants to loose a multi-thousand dollar vacation investment because of a flat tire or blocked highway. 

Travel insurance is about the only hope you have for recovering your investment. Not only that, travel insurance offers a number of benefits while your actually on your trip.  But alas, most traveler think that the unthinkable only happens to other people, like the folks in the USA Today article and will not happen to them. 

It is absolutely true that trip insurance will add to the cost of your vacation but it will only be a very small part of your total vacation expense. However, travel insurance is among the most affordable kinds of insurance you can purchase. So what should you do? The answer is simple and inexpensive, "Buy travel insurance!"  

There are several fine and dependable companies that offer travel insurance. We recommend TravelSafe but there are other companies that offer good policies as well.  Do your research or take the advise of your Travel Agent but don't leave home without it.   

Among the things you want to look at in a travel insurance policy is:

  • Cost: How much will the insurance cost you.
  • What does it cover? Does it cover pre-existing medical conditions; Does it have a cancel for any reason clause; What about luggage, late flights, etc.
Travel insurance may well be the smartest decision you can make about your vacation. Should tragedy strike, you or your Travel Agent can either plead your case with the travel supplier and hope they will bend their rules for you.  

If you choose this route make sure you document everything and supply your Travel Agents and the travel supplier with complete details of your situation. The make it clear what you want from the supplier. Do you want your money back; do you want future trip credits;  or do you simply want to rebook for another date.  

Or you can purchase travel insurance and file a claim for a refund of your money. Keep in mind this refund will not be in addition to what the supplier provides but makes up the difference for what they refund and what you spent.


Monday, August 10, 2015

Bayport Cruise Terminal To Be Vacant Again . . . But Why?

Word is out that both Norwegian Cruise Line and Princes Cruises are leaving the Houston Bayport Cruise Terminal. Naturally there as a lot of speculation as to why.  After all, this is a fine state of the art terminal located in one of the largest concentrations of people in the country. 

Princess says they are repositioning because of the growth of their Chinese market. They simply need more capacity in the Far East. Norwegian has not particularly announced an official reason for leaving. However, that has not stopped politicians from speculating as to the reasons for the port to be once again vacant. 

Some have suggested that the distance from the airports to the terminal are just too long and winding. First, it should be noted that Galveston is twice as far from both major airports as is Bayport. The Route from either is not winding as the Sam Houston Toll Way passes by both airports and connects with the highways leading to the Bayport complex. I hardly think this is a real problem. 

Others suggest because the cruise terminal is located in an industrial area where there are no shops, hotels, casinos or restaurants nearby. Simply put, there is nothing for cruisers to do. This is true, but it is also true of many other cruise terminals around the country. 

It has been suggested that the winding ship channel, heavy cargo port traffic and inland fog is a constant problem. This too is true but several ports, Tampa for one, have this same issue. Granted, Houston is among the busiest cargo ports in the country but the Bayport Terminal is not far from the opening to the Gulf of Mexico of the Houston Ship Cannel on which the port is located. 

Still others suggest that the proximity of the Port of  Galveston has hindered the growth of the Bayport Complex.  This hardly deserves mentioning. The two Ports are not any closer together than Miami and Fort Lauderdale and both ports thrive on Cruise traffic. 

Personally I think the pull-out by the Norwegian and Princess Cruise lines has little to do with the items most often mentioned.  If I were going to site some reasons for these two cruise lines pulling out I would suggest the following: 

1. The incentives given to the cruise lines to Home Port at the Bayport Terminal were set to expire. These included no port fees and  rent free terminal. This was virtually a "freebie" for the cruise lines. That was going to be renegotiated and the Port was not willing to continue to absorb these millions of dollar cost. The free ride was ending. 

2. Concerning Princess I think they are doing what they have always done, that is, change home ports frequently. When they say the demand in China and Australia is increasing their need for capacity in that part of the world they are telling the truth. These are growing markets that are under served.  

3. An element that plagues all the cruise lines at Bayport is a failure to understand the ports cruise market. They are still doing what Carnival and Royal Caribbean did for years. They have an east coast understanding of the cruisers in mid-America and the Gulf Coast in particular.  

One of the first things any business has to do to succeed in a market is to understand how to place their product in that market. Norwegian and Princess have not been able to do that.  Carnival did early on and Royal Caribbean soon after relocating to Galveston re-thought their marketing strategy.  

Two things stand out about the Gulf Coast market, especially Texas and Louisiana: First, from the wealthiest to the poorest the people in this area are monetary conservatives. They want value but they also tend to equate value with low price. If you are going to charge $200 a person more for your cruise you are going to have to do a whale of a job convincing them that they are getting $400 worth of value for that extra cost. (Celebrity Cruises Line's new tiered pricing would probably do just that.)  People want to that for $315 more for their cabin they are going to get up to $1,500 in value added 

Second, If you are going to visit the same ports as the two behemoths, Carnival and Royal Caribbean, then you are going to have to be willing to accept a lower ROI (return on investment) and price match.  Gulf coast people are not going to pay more to see the same places they can see for 100's less.   

Galveston is now one of Carnival's busiest ports with three ships and Royal now has two. Houston/Galveston is a commuter cruise market. Thousands of people drive into the area in private cars to meet their cruise ship.  

I'd love to see Celebrity offer a 7-10 day Panama Canal cruise from the Bayport. I believe I could sell it as a new and different experience at a great value with their Big, Better, and Best pricing tiers.  

But for now, Houston will no longer serve as a cruise port in 2016 . . .  and that my friends is too bad.