WINTER PARK, Fla.-- Norma Akins' client logged on to Cruise 411.com
and found a rate of $5,249.66 for back-to-back South America
cruises on Celebrity's Infinity for early 2004, about $1,000
cheaper than the booking she had already prepared for him.
"You'd be a fool to buy it from me at that price," said Akins,
manager of A & A Discount Cruise & Travel here.
Akins confirmed the rate by going to Cruise411.com and booking
one of her agents on the same cruise on the same deck in the same
category of cabin. She can't touch the Cruise411.com price even by
rebating her entire commission, which comes to $747.28, according
to the invoices.
Piqued, Akins complained to Celebrity and to her consortium,
Vacation.com, and even solicited an opinion from her lawyer about
"The [Celebrity] reservationists will tell you, 'Key accounts
get better rates. You're not a key account,'"Akins said.
Creating a "level playing field" between mega-agencies like
online giants Travelocity and Expedia, and smaller traditional
agents has been a hot topic since Carnival president Bob Dickinson
said the cruise line was going to provide equal pricing across the
Celebrity and Royal Caribbean International's President Jack
Williams told Wall Street analysts in a conference call recently
that Royal Caribbean Cruises is "not going to have to change our
pricing strategy because we do not provide preferential pricing in
the industry now."
But RCCL does provide better fares on select sailings to Royal
Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises' several hundred top
producers, called "key accounts."
Travel agents who hold key accounts with RCCL said the
discounts, called Key Account Fares, can range from $25 to $100 per
Lisa Bauer, the senior vice president of North America sales,
said Key Account Fares match current group rates, and they are
offered to top producers to drive their FIT business away from the
"Because they had the resources, they would go in and tie up all
the group space. Then other agencies wouldn't be able to book
groups," Bauer said.
Key Account Fares "are not select agent pricing," she said.
"The preferential pricing everyone's talking about is: We have
distressed inventory, and we're going to [give it only to] agency
A, B and C."
A $25 per person discount on a cabin doesn't seem like much.
But one key account holder said, "There are people who will move
their booking for a $10 margin. So when you're talking about a $25
difference, people will move a booking."
"It's a privilege for booking Royal Caribbean," said Jeff Kivet,
the owner of Cruise Value Centers in East Brunswick, N.J., which is
a key account. "I think it's working out beautifully."
Nonkey account holders, however, said they were confused by
Royal Caribbean's public comments about pricing, especially when
res agents at the line told them select fares were available for
key accounts only.
Donna Gussow, Darlington Travel Center, Glen Mills, Pa., said
she called Royal Caribbean to ask why her host agency was selling
the same cruise for $25 per person less.
"Royal Caribbean told me key accounts get better pricing,"
Gussow said. "Sometimes I rebate my commission on the sale," she
added. "But it's not right when they're getting [lower] prices and
a higher commission."
According to a Cruise411 spokesman, the company keeps costs low
through online booking and then rebates some of its
To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].
To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].