Is this a cruise club bait-and-switch?

Azamara cruise. – Photo by Jonathan/Flickr Creative Commons
Even though having the words “cruise” and “club” in a single sentence are probably enough to make some of you scream “scam!” this one is may be different.

It comes to me by way of Paul Scinto, who feels ripped off by Azamara Club Cruises. Needless to say, this club isn’t one of those scammy attend-our-presentation-and-get-a-free-cruise schemes.

At least, I don’t think so.

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Azamara’s ships are smaller and it takes its time with its itineraries. It also caters to a more upscale vacationer who expects more from a cruise than to return with a really bad hangover.

A few months ago, Scinot made a deposit for a September 2013 European cruise. He made the decision based on two criteria: first, he’d taken a previous Azamara cruise and was happy with it; and second, the cruise line had made him an offer that was too good to pass up — a 50 percent discount off land tours.

Then he received a strange notice from Azamara. It had changed his benefits as of spring 2013. Now, instead of a 50 percent discount, it would offer a “free” evening tour.

He explains,

If we didn’t wish to participate, there would be no refund since it was ‘free’, but if we could not participate for any reason and failed to notify Azamara the night before, they would assess a cancellation fee of $150 or $200 for this ‘free’ tour.

Azamara would not honor the 50 percent discount for his Europe cruise. He didn’t think that was fair; after all, he’d booked his vacation based on a promise of a 50 percent discount off tours.

As you can imagine, this sparked a bourgeois riot. (And I use the term “bourgeois” with affection — I mean, who wouldn’t want to take an Azamara cruise?)

Following this announcement, there was a huge outcry on a web forum devoted to cruising and coincidentally, Mr. Larry Pimentel, President of Azamara, was scheduled to address concerns and questions on this and other issues concerning Azamara the following week.

Mr. Pimentel was confronted with allegations on the forum that his decision to eliminate the discount for those of us who were already booked, ranged from ‘unethical’, ‘bait and switch’, and a ‘public relations nightmare’.

His response was that he didn’t think his decision was unethical and that “things change.” In addition, he pointed out that in the Cruise Contract (in the brochure, on page 109), Azamara reserved the right to make changes. He did announce, however, that he decided to reinstate a discount of either 15 percent or 25 percent to eligible passengers for reserving tours at least 4 months prior to embarkation.

In researching this case, I found that Azamara managed to spin this change in a far different way and has kept the focus on some of the “free” thing it’s offering, as opposed to what it is taking away from its guests.

Scinto wants to know what I think, and I told him, “not much.” If a company offers a 50 percent discount, it should honor its word. Azamara is not honoring its word, even if its cruise contract says it is allowed to change the terms of the deal.

At the same time, I’m not sure if it’s realistic to think I can change anything. This group of passengers has already appealed to the highest level, directly to the CEO. They’ve tried to generate as much publicity as possible. I’m not sure if I could do any better.

Scinto thinks I should write about this, if for no other reason than to warn others.

“I think that making the issue public might discourage travel providers not to be dismissive of of the expectations they create via marketing materials to customers,” he says. “I think it remind them that they have an ethical obligation, if not legal, to provide the services promised when they accept a customer’s money unless they are prevented from doing so for reasons beyond their control, which was not the case in this instant.”

I can do that. But I’m not afraid to try to do more. Should I?

51 thoughts on “Is this a cruise club bait-and-switch?

  1. Chris,

    I think there is some misunderstanding or confusion here.

    The cruise in question was booked over a year in advance and, from what you state, at that time “there was a 50% discount.” However, from my research the discount to which you refer is not on the cruise booking itself, as you would imply, but on shore excursions booked online and fully paid in advance of the cruise’s departure.

    When first announced, subject to the changes you relate, at a number of enhancements were made to amenities; for example, in addition to the free night touring there wil standard alcoholic beverages will now be included in all public venues and not just at lunch and dinner as was the case when the cruise was initially booked. Further prices for 2013 European cruises have been increased, but Azamara Club Cruises will honor the prices paid on cruises for which a deposit was made prior to the announced price increase. Further, the vessel will be entering drydock early in 2013 where it will under go a refurbishment and receive several enhancements, all at considerable cost to the cruise line.

    In a rapidly changing business environment, it is unreasonable to ask for cruise line management to freeze ancillary policies more than a year in advance, including the 50% off tour excursion promotion. However, if the passenger feels that this fundamentally effects his purchasing decision, he can easily request and be accorded a refund of his deposit with plenty of time to book a another cruise.

    1. “In this rapidly changing business environment,” a business would be well-advised not to offer a promise over a year ahead of time that it can not fulfill.

      Spare us the mealy-mouthed charlatan-speak. When in the past one hundred years could you not qualify any excuse with the vague, meaningless, ridiculous phrase, “In this rapidly changing business environment”?

      Christopher, yes you should mediate. You should mediate this fifty times before most of the cases you’ve mediated in the past month. If the only things it rains down upon Azamara is terrible publicity, then it’s time well spent.

      1. Mealy-mouthed charlatan-speak?

        Chris, you added moderators because you were concerned people’s feelings would be hurt if their comments got voted down, but it’s ok for the mods to post insults to commenters?

    2. If the OP booked while shore excursions are under a 50% off promo, shouldn’t that be honored? I mean after all, even airlines honor most ancillary fees (such as bag fees) based on the levels they were when the ticket was purchased. (But he should also not be entitled to the free excursion.)

    3. If they don’t want to honor discounts promised a year in advance because of a “rapidly changing business environment”, they shouldn’t be offering promises a year in advance.

  2. I’m afraid that Stuart has not Googled quite enough. Based on my cursory research, I found the following information on

    It would seem to imply that at least at one point or another cruise rates were also to be given the 50% discount. I find it reprehensible that cruise lines (or any other service provider for that matter) would offer a large discount while hiding a loophole within a copious amount of legalese. Why not do what a bunch of other retailers do and offer “up to 50% off”? This would clue in the savvy travelers that 99.9% of the discounts won’t be as high, but there might be one in there somewhere. Otherwise, it is a blatant case of bait-and-switch that, while legal, is highly unethical.

    50% off Brochure Rates, 50% off Excursions + Pre-Paid Gratuities!All Azamara Club cruise reservations get pre-paid gratuities for all guests…a fantastic savings! Bottled water, sodas, specialty coffees and teas are also offered at no additional charge! Azamara’s vintage red and white wine are complimentary during lunch and dinner on board their ships, and two nights of complimentary specialty dining are provided to all guests!For a limited time only, select 2012 and all 2013 Azamara cruises to get:♦ Up to 50% Off Brochure Fares
    ♦ 50% Savings on Land Discoveries booked online at least 4 days before sailingValid for new bookings only. Fares are up to 50% off Azamara’s brochure rates, vary by ship, sailing and category. Full brochure fares may not have resulted in actual sales. Rates shown on our web site reflect this savings already being applied. Land Discoveries are the shore excursions offered by Azamara Club Cruises, via their web site. Additional restrictions apply. View full offer details during the online booking process.

  3. Mediate.

    This is a total scam and I’ll bet all of these cruise companies have pulled this crap at one time or another. You know, book the cruise while still on board and we’ll give you X, Y, and Z! Turns out that X is unavailable a year later and Y couldn’t be promised anyway, so have Z. Even though we promised the other two!!

    I just put ASSmara on the list of companies I will publicly humiliate at every given opportunity whether it’s by spelling their name creatively or just flat out calling them scammers or cheats. They are now among the ranks of Di$ney and VRBO in Raven’s Little Black Book.

    And that ain’t a good place to be.

  4. Wait a minute!? Is the 50% off for the price of a cruise? or for the price of shore excursions only?

    When I read the article, it implies that Scinto received a 50% discount on the price of a cruise, but when I read the article linked it states “The complimentary night tour offer replaces the 50 percent off shore excursion program, which will be phased out simultaneously.”

    Regardless, its a PR disaster, and I’d file this one under the what the @^$# were they thinking. The real problem for Azamara is that it serves a smaller niche market, and when you alienate your customers, you are shooting yourself in the foot.

    But, before I can make a decision on what is fair or right, please clarify, was the 50% discount on the cruise FARE or EXCURSIONS ONLY?

    1. If you google the promotion you will see that in 2011, there were tons of travel agent-centric websites that offered “up to 50% off the brochure rate” of the cruise. There were separate incentives for excursions as well.

      1. Wow, that makes a huge difference. Disregard my post blasting the cruise company. They still should have honored the rules in place at the time of the booking, but it’s not nearly the ripoff it appeared initially.

        Also, now please fill in some other missing info for us: How much exactly was the OP out by the 50% off excursions not being honored? That’s pertinent info to deciding how poorly the cruise company handled this. Also, did they actually bill the OP extra for excursions he’d already paid for? Or did they simply tell him that the offer had expired when he went to pay? That also is hugely important because special offers come and go all the time. Did they actually go back on their word…or not?

        1. But what I find stunning is that they are going to charge him a cancellation fee on something they call “complimentary”. That’s like saying that the airport shuttle is complimentary. but if you rent your own car, they’re going to charge you a cancellation fee.

          1. I can see it both ways. Ideally, free is free. but I can see where the cruise line is coming from. Like Fly, Icarus, Fly noted, the cancellation fee is likely the same amount the cruise line is on the hook for if the person skipped the tour. The tour operator needs to provide enough transportation for everybody that signs up. If a bunch of people skip (which is very common for anything “free”) the tour operator is still going to charge because they provided the extra seats, etc. anticipating those people would be there.

  5. It seems that there is a little confusion as to what was offered at 50% off. In my opinion it really doesn’t matter. If I booked and paid for something at an agreed upon rate then I should receive the good or the service at that rate.

    It appears that the OP had not actually bought anything at the 50% off price. I am surprised that Azamara would do this, they are a pretty good cruise line.

    Following the link above.

    “The complimentary night tour offer replaces the 50
    percent off shore excursion program, which will be phased out
    simultaneously. Passengers sailing and prebooking excursions before
    March 2 for Azamara Quest or April 17 for Azamara Journey will still get 50 percent off when booking online at least four days before sailing.”

    It looks like the OP will still get the 50% discount if he booked far enough ahead of time. It appears to me that this is a big misunderstanding.

    1. If he didn’t actually book any of the 50% shore excursions, then I think Azamara is OK in changing the deal and offering something else. However, they should make the provision for people who deposited to cancel their booking and get their money back if they want. Kind of sucks, but it’s still a year out. I’d feel differently if the sailing was next month.

      1. they can cancel without penalty up until final payment date – he just missed his date to book the excursions, and is now unhappy with the results.

        1. From reading this story, it doesn’t sound like this was a limited time offer that he missed, but a deal that was promised when the Op booked, then revoked.

  6. Unfortunately, the cruiselines are getting too flushed with success, and are cutting benefits with an axe, instead of a scalpel. Royal Caribbean has already deleted shipboard credits for shareholders, and I’m sure that Carnival (Princess, Holland America, Cunard, Costa, etc.) will probably follow suit. If they stiff their shareholders, no one else will be spared. There are still good deals out there, but don’t count the great deals for high-demand itineraries.

  7. I am lost as a ball in high weeds. The column implies the 50% discount was off the CRUISE price and that was now being withdrawn. What it REALLY is is that the 50% discount applieds to SHORE EXCURSIONS that had to be booked and paid for by a given date. That discount was withdrawn but the terms clearly state that those that booked and paid in full for excursions at 50% discount will receive their excursion(s). Those that did NOT book and pay by the specified date (the person that contacted Chris) do not get the discount. Merchants put everything from lightbulbs to automobiles on sale all the time and change the nature of the sale from time to time. Those that purchase before the expiration date get the promo price. Those that don’t do not receive the promo price. This is no different. This is a case of someone not following the clearly stated rules and restrictions and now they’re whinebagging to get someone to give them their way (stick out lower lip and stomp foot loudly here).
    Save the mediation for something that warrants the effort.

    1. BEST answer yet – I know they changed rules, but if he had NOT been aware, perhaps they could offer him something more. IF he had booked with an agent such as myself – he would have know to book by such a date to ensure he got the benefits of the special.

      1. I agree, best answer. Having recently been to a presentation on RCCL and Azamara, which is owned by Royal Caribbean International, I think it was a time limited promotionwhich the OP didn’t realise was time limited. There’s that small print again.

  8. If for no other reason, you should assist in sorting out the facts in the case. Seems there still are two sides to this issue. 50% off what?

  9. How do they take his money then try to raise the price? And all for circumstances well within their control? They weren’t hit with some kind of new border tax, they weren’t hit with a sudden and unforeseeable rise in fuel costs. They just decided to raise the price because they could. What next, when you show up to port they announce they need $2K more or they won’t let you board or give you your money back?

    Mediate. Regardless of what the fine print in the contract says, this is a rotten and unethical business practice.

    1. The discount was NOT on the cruise, but an offer on the shore excursions, which they then discontinued. Frankly, surprised they didn’t offer more in lieu of the shore excursions discount, as they have been a very good company to work with in the past. He should go back to his travel agent and see what they can do for him – I’d be getting on my local rep for upgrade, freebies, etc.

      1. It doesn’t matter if its the cruise itself or the excursions, the point is still the same. They took his money, then tried to get more money from him for the same product.

    2. Agree, mediate. Something doesn’t seem right here.

      Azamara isn’t hiding from their critics and even has it’s CEO out on the front lines and engaging with customers. That seems completely out of character for a company that would pull such a cheeseball move. Usually those companies are like cockroaches hiding in the cracks when people complain. It just seems inconsistent to be a total cheeseball AND put your head honcho out on the front lines to address unhappy customers.

  10. I had to vote yes. I am not sure how it can be legal to have a contract where one party can simply change the terms after its been executed. I understand allowing them to make substitutions, or change one type of excursion for another, etc. But changing the price after its been executed, that does not sound legal to me. Whether they put it in the contract or not, I don’t see how that could be enforced. Sadly, I think the only thing the OP can do is take this to court since the CEO feels this change is justified.

    1. I wrote my comment when the story said 50% of the cruse and that he already paid the deposit. If it truly was 50% off excursions if you book by a certain date, and he did not book by that date, and the discount changed after that date, then I no longer think Chris should mediate nor that a contract was breached.

  11. Azamara is now advertising 75% off cruises, but when you click on the link to the site, it is listed as 50% discount. I had vaguely considered dong one of their European cuises, but it seems that would be unwise. Soon it will be advertising 99.999% discounts and relying on the information on page 109 of its brchure to go back to charging a full $7,000+ for the identical trip.

  12. Absolutely mediate. Even if you can’t gain any concessions for the OP, it will at least shine more light on this terrible business practice. If those were the rules when they booked, those rules should be honored. And replacing a 50% off offer on the entire cruise with a “free” evening tour is nowhere close to being an even trade.

    Sounds to me that the 50% off deal went over far better than what they’d anticipated and they pulled the plug in a panic. But their poor planning isn’t the booked passengers’ problem.

      1. Yes, I see that now. But that became apparent long after I posted. I only had the original article to go off of and that said it was 50% off the entire cruise. It’s not nearly as big a deal now. The rules in place at the time of booking should still apply, but after reading some other posts, I’m now not even sure the OP booked his excursions prior to the deadline. (If he did, what did they do? Bill him extra for the excursions he’d already paid for? Or had he not paid yet and they simply told him that deal was over? That also would make a huge difference.) Just a really poorly worded article with all kinds of important info missing.

        1. I was tempted to include a link to the FAQ section, in which I explain what this Monday “should I mediate” post is all about. I won’t. Really, all I wanted to say was: thanks for caring about these cases and weighing in. All feedback is good.

          1. Thanks, Chris. I am aware of what the Monday column is all about. I know you don’t provide every detail, but if you’re going to ask for feedback, you’ve got to give enough facts so people can form a reasonable opinion.

            The difference between it being 50% off the cruise (that could amount to thousands of dollars) and 50% off land excursions (which probably amounted to hundreds of dollars…essentially what the free night cruise they’re now offering would cost) is gigantic. The former makes the cruise line look absolutely horrible and makes it appear the OP is out huge money, while the latter amounts to a much more minor faux pas where the OP might not be out anything monetarily.

  13. Sorry but I read the attached press announcement. 50% off the cruise was never on the table. The only thing available was 50% off shore excursions if booked by a certain date. After that date, the cruiseline moved to a different promotion where it offered a free night time excursion instead of the 50% off all excursions. Notice that Chris’s quote also refers to tours NOT to the entire cruise.

    In short, either Chris linked to the wrong press release or the OP didn’t understand the deal he signed up for. Either way that’s not the cruiseline’s fault.

    1. The press announcement itself doesn’t refer to 50% off the cruise; however, it is very easy to believe the OP could have been responding to a full 50% off offer (but see Christopher’s note below).

      If you google around, you will find that there have been many references to “50% off the brochure rate”.

      Up to 50% Savings on Brochure Fares is available on all 2012 voyages,
      and is based on pricing as per below. Guests must be booked in the same

      This was published by Azamara in 2011.

      1. But your contention isn’t supported by either Chris’s story (he updated it to reflect that it was 50% off tours) or the quotes used.

        He waited too long to book his shore excursions and missed out. Again, lots of places have sales with end dates. Don’t be upset if you miss out on the sale.

  14. I’d say mediate, if for no other reason than to show these buzzards that people are NOT stupid, we can read through the fuzzy line of double-talk they’re trying to push.

    Goodness. You would think in this day and age of near-instantaneous press, that companies would be much more careful about how they handle business, particularly the ones that thrive off of bait-and-switch tactics.

  15. The first lesson in Marketing in Business School is never make a Promotion/Offer which can deceive the customers because it will generate much more bad reputation than the benefit generated by this Promotion/Offer. Plus, you could lose loyal customers. People tend to remember longer and bad mouth louder and more frequent about deception and bad experience.
    And in this IT/Internet technology world today the bad reputation travel much faster and louder than before.
    Despite the fine print, they should honor it.
    They can still lose in court if the fine print is proven intentional misleading.

  16. I agree you should mediate this. This may not be a bait and switch but you can’t accept deposits for a cruise under the pretense of a significant discount off land tours and then pull the rug out from underneath those passengers.
    This is not the behavior of a “Luxury” cruise line, or any luxury service. Luxury in my mind is not just the product but I also associate it with impeccable customer service. This doesn’t meet that standard.
    I think a nice way to make this known to the CEO is start comparing his service to Carnival and this is they type of shenanigans you would expect someone like them to attempt (I’m thinking last minute fuel surcharges etc). I think that would get the point accross. 🙂
    At very least they should allow those customers who wish to cancel their reservations due to the changes to get a full refund without ANY penalty.

    Also this penalty for not showing up for a free land excursion sounds like what W properties try to do if you are a no show. They charge you the Rack Rate for the room rather than your room, and not just the amount of your reservation. Total scam.

  17. You don’t need to mediate, Chris. All he has to do is call them and inform them that he will cancel the whole trip if they don’t honor the deal he bought. I remember getting stuck in a Grand Circle runaround about air arrangements for an Egypt tour … I just sweetly told them that if I didn’t get what I had agreed to, I’d cancel the whole trip. Presto, it was done. You don’t want to take a cruise or a tour with a company that does not honor their agreements … what else would Azamara pull once the cruise started?

  18. Mediate. This is a big scam. It really leaves a bad taste in my mouth when CEOs pull a “things change.” What’s changed? I think Pimentel owes everyone he’s doing this to an explanation of that. Shrugging it off is a horrendous PR move.

  19. So now he has to pay 100% of his shore excursion during the day in exchange for a night tour when he was pre-booked with the 50% shore excursion. And the CEO is going around shrugging his shoulders and saying “things change.” Smells like sewage. The only thing that got “changed” is the CEO’s mind about whether or not to honor those discounts.

    1. Exactly, JenniferFinger! You just summed it up in a nutshell. When a customer books that far in advance, then the original terms and conditions should apply, rather than being changed retroactively.

  20. I read the “spin” on the other website. What I found most interesting is that two readers have already posted raves for the changes; one posted twice. This does not reassure me.

  21. I know of no travel agent that would allow this to happen to a customer. It is a simple fix, CEO or not being involved. I have a written confirmation, with a guaranteed rate, and I can stand behind that. 57 years, and I have never allowed such a situation to happen. I would be in their face! If they used a travel agent, then have that agent contact my office and I will teach them how to fix it. “If you don’t use an ASTA agent, you are on your own.” to quote ASTA.

  22. Yes! Azamara should keep their promises. Some people might night have booked the cruise at all, except for the offer. It’s definitely put them down a few notches in my book. It begs the question of what will they renege on next.

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