Carnival Cruise Lines reversed course on a controversial fare structure rolled out last year, saying it will cut the number of fare categories from six to three to make them easier to understand.

The move was a response to travel agents, who complained that Carnival's terms were too hard to keep track of, and the names for the various fare categories all sounded alike.

"We want to thank our travel professionals who gave us invaluable input through our quarterly travel agent survey, focus groups and Carnival Conversations," said Joni Rein, vice president of worldwide sales for Carnival. "Their feedback has helped us tremendously in finalizing this new structure."

Carnival eliminated Fun Select Plus, Easy Saver and Instant Saver fare codes, which were basically elaborations on codes that were retained.

The remaining categories, as of Oct. 31, will be called Fun Select, Early Saver and Super Saver.

As the first part of the name implies, Early Saver fares are for those who are willing to commit to a booking either three or five months in advance, depending on the length of the cruise.

The fare lets passengers, rather than Carnival, choose their cabin and requires a nonrefundable deposit and a $50 fee for changes to the reservation. Most important, however, is the price protection feature that lets passengers recoup the difference if fares fall, up to the time of final payment.

Price protection has polarized agents, Carnival said.

Super Saver fares kick in when Early Saver fares close, which on a cruise of five days or less is three months before sailing. On cruises of more than five days, it is five months prior to sailing.

As with Early Saver, the deposit on Super Saver fares is nonrefundable. The big difference other than timing is that Carnival, not the passenger, chooses the cabin assignment.

Fun Select fares offer more flexibility. The deposit is refundable (before final payment), the passenger chooses the cabin and there is a two-category stateroom upgrade feature.

Until late last year, Carnival had three fare categories with a somewhat different arrangement of features. It expanded to six categories in December, saying the move would let agents choose only the features they wanted to pay for and allow more opportunities for upselling.

But in practice, agents said the fares took more time to explain, and meant more work for the same commission.

Brenda Yester, senior vice president of revenue management for Carnival Cruise Lines, said the new fare structure should address that.

"By offering three fare choices instead of six, it simplifies the decision-making process and makes the overall sales experience easier for our travel professionals and their clients," she said.

Agents generally applauded the move.

"They listened to us," said Nancy Willliams, of World Travel Cruise Center in Jacksonville, Fla. "Because that was one of the main complaints. There were just too many price codes."

Ellen Downey, of Memorable Travel, Lexington, Ky., said anything cruise lines can do to simplify fares is good for travel agents.

"I think it makes a lot of sense," she said. "When I got on the website, there's a lot of back and forth to see what the different options are. Now it will be easier to book online, which is what they want us to do."

Peach Brinkley, owner of CruiseMax in Jacksonville, said she was happy to see Carnival also retained special discounts for military personnel, seniors and Florida residents, which are all important segments to her.

She said reducing the codes to three was "a wonderful thing." She said not all of her employees could keep track of the features of various codes, and one got in hot water with a client over the refundability of a fare.

Paula Belletiere, a Cruise Planners franchisee in Baltimore, said Carnival's fare categories were toughest on novice agents. "They can be very confusing until you really understand them," she said.

Belletiere said for that reason and others, she has a preference for Royal Caribbean International.

Royal's fares tend not to have all the features that add complexity. For example, it doesn't have a price protection guarantee, so that option doesn't need to enter the discussion.

"We try to keep it simple for the travel professional to understand," said Vicki Freed, senior vice president for sales at Royal Caribbean.

She said Royal was close to announcing some new technology that will make it even easier for agents to sift through fares based on the client's demographics. But she said a variety of fares is a fact of life for agents.

"You have to have a bushel basket full of fares," she said. "There's no way to have one size fits all."


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