Travel – and more specifically, air travel – appears to be on an inexorable march toward a full ala carte pricing model. You pay only for what you want, and you get only what you have paid for.
But in the cruise world at least one major cruise liner is attempting to reverse this general trend.
Italy-based MSC Cruises has introduced a pricing structure whereby guests have the option to select from one of four cruise “experience” packages. Each package allows guests to enjoy a different set of cruise amenities – or restricts guests as to what they can see/buy/do, depending on your perspective. You can read a more complete description of the packages on the MSC website, but here’s an idea of what’s on offer:
Bella Experience: Experience a dream cruise with the people who know the seas better than anyone. ‘Bella’ fares are the great-value way to enjoy the comforts of life on board an elegant, modern cruise ship.
Fantastica Experience: Our ‘Fantastica’ fares offer all the benefits of ‘Bella’ plus a variety of extra privileges.
Aurea Experience: In addition to all the features of ‘Bella’ and ‘Fantastica’, our ‘Aurea’ fares offer a series of relaxing benefits for body and soul.
MSC Yacht Club Experience: The epitome of elegance and luxury at sea, the MSC Yacht Club offers a cruise experience like no other. … if you’re looking for exclusivity and privacy in a world of choice, the MSC Yacht Club is the ultimate solution.
And while MSC marketing is, of course, touting the benefits of these packages, Skipper Tim nicely frames the argument against:
They are an unnecessary morass of complicated included extras, privileges or lack of, restrictions and booking conditions packaged in to four no-size-suits all categories.
…the ‘Bella Experience’ now removes a turn-down service, charges extra for room service delivery and for room service breakfast, prevents children taking part in “recreational activities” available to all other children on the ship, restricts the choice of cabin to only the lowest categories, carries higher cancellation and amendment fees and gives everyone else aboard priority in choice of dinner sitting.
…the ‘Aurea Experience’, which packages Allegrissimo, a spa package, bathrobe & slippers, priority boarding, ‘my-time’ dining, and access to an Aurea sun deck with a choice of the best balcony cabins is NOT AVAILABLE FOR SOLO OCCUPANCY – at any price!!!
…Bella guests might not be able to dine with Fantastica guests. Neither will be allowed on the Aurea sun deck. There is already resentment between different nationalities being treated differently on the same cruise, e.g Americans can have free water at dinner, Europeans can’t. None of this makes for a harmonious cruise with happy guests.
This new “class” pricing structure has created quite the stir over on the CruiseCritic forums.
I have a real problem with classifying passengers as steerage and/or different classes. ~VASOXFANN
Just because we don’t drink….we are now not entitled to nice cabins in good locations! ~MsTabbyCats
MSC have actually re introduced Steerage class ! ~sidari
Now, to be fair, in this interview with MSC Cruises national accounts manager Craig Jeffs, he explains clearly that passengers can “buy any additional services / packages. E.g. if you booked a Fantastica balcony cabin, you can still add a drinks package.”. Still, it is interesting that these experience packages appear to be having the effect of making passengers feel segregated. And the packages will almost certainly include services and amenities that will go unused by some guests.
Mr Jeffs also explains, however, when asked what the difference is between this pricing structure and a more traditional model that, “The price differentiation is based not only on cabin type and deck, as today, but also on benefits included in each ‘Experience’ (e.g. flexi dining, booking flexibility, SPA package, etc.)”.
So, as many CruiseCritic members allude to, if you don’t want to pay for more of the on-board benefits you will find yourself necessarily sleeping in one of the lower quality cabins – and there does not appear to be an option to ala carte your way up to a better cabin.
What do you think? Will MSC’s experiment succeed and put in motion a reversal, or at least a slowdown, to the ala carte trend in travel? Or will it be consigned to a watery grave in the not-too-distant future?
Read the thread in its entirety: Not impressed with new pricing structure