Be aware of pitfalls of group buy cruise deals.

Crafty consumers around Australia and the world enjoy seemingly fantastic discounts on a wide range of items through the rapidly growing world of group buying websites, and in recent years these deals have grown far beyond restaurant promotions to now encompass travel to all corners of the world, including cruising.

This side of the game has also grown exponentially in recent times. with more and more travel and cruise deals finding their way into your inbox seemingly on a daily basis from sites such as Groupon, Scoopon, Webjet and many more. These group buying sites are becoming increasingly large players in the travel deal business, but they can also be fraught with financial peril. We’ve scoured the fine print – and there is plenty of it – associated with these deals and have come to one conclusion – buy at your own risk.

The price tag may tempt you but make sure you're not heading into financial peril.
The price tag may tempt you but make sure you’re not heading into financial peril.

Just looking at what seems like hundreds of pages of terms and conditions can send even the most sane individual around the bend, however this can be some of the most worthwhile reading one can do to ensure you are not left out in the cold without hundreds of your hard-earned dollars.

For example, if you’ve bought a cruise voucher through Groupon, this site requires you to redeem your purchase within seven days of purchase to guarantee a shot at securing your preferred departure date, or face not getting any type of refund – even if the travel company or cruise line offers you completely unsuitable dates.

Speaking of refunds, many of the terms and conditions we looked through clearly stated no refunds would be forthcoming, unless where legally required. So if there is any doubt that you won’t be going for reasons that wouldn’t be covered by travel insurance, be aware that you most likely won’t be seeing your money again.

Except where mandated by consumer law, the hoops you'll jump through to get a refund can be plentiful.
Except where mandated by consumer law, the hoops you’ll jump through to get a refund can be plentiful.

If you’ve been previously inconvenienced on a cruise and provided with a Future Cruise Certificate, don’t count on being able to use that credit against the “Deal of the Day”. Most group buying sites – and associated travel agencies facilitating the offer are utilising secret sale rates that can’t be used in conjunction with these credits.

For many people, being able to select the location of your cabin can be a deciding factor in whether or not you buy the deal. However in the process of the booking agent setting up the promotion with the cruise line, these cabins may all be grouped together in a block in a particular part of the ship.

So before you buy your voucher, make sure you seek clarification on whether or not you will still be able to choose your cabin location. Most heavily discounted deals will only be on guarantee status – meaning that the cruise line will assure you will be on the ship on the selected date, but won’t be required to tell you where on the ship your stateroom will be until almost the day before you sail.

It’s also wise to carry out your due diligence if booking a deal that offers a Balcony or Ocean View stateroom, if the cabin category specified is subject to any view obstructions. Many of these deals can see you booked into the cheapest available rooms for that cabin type regardless of the view – or lack thereof.

You may have bought a heavily discounted Ocean View cabin, but may be opening your curtains to this.
You may have bought a heavily discounted Ocean View cabin, but may be opening your curtains to this.

The old adage of “if it’s too good to be true, it may very well be” rings true when it comes to purchasing a travel voucher through a group buying website. It’s worthwhile then that you look closely at the period of validity for which your cruise voucher can be used. Cruise lines can sometimes use group buying websites as a means of quickly unloading spare cabins during school holidays once they have reached the maximum number of children they can carry on a particular sailing.

In addition if you are planning on taking the kids, make sure the deal can be used by children as most vouchers are only valid for twin share cabins, not quad or family staterooms.

Group buy deals are not just limited to domestic cruises or those departing from Australia. If the cruise associated with your voucher is leaving from a foreign port, the normal rules of travel still apply, so you may need a visa to enter that country. Some deals can remain for sale on group buying websites past the date in which you can easily get visas for destinations such as Russia, China and Brazil. Most terms and conditions stipulate visas are the responsibility of the customer – and this is true – so checking what you do and don’t need before purchasing the vouchers will ensure whether you’ll be sailing or remaining at home.

Make sure you leave enough time to get a visa for any country you're visiting if you're taking advantage of a great deal.
Make sure you leave enough time to get a visa for any country you’re visiting if you’re taking advantage of a great deal.

Then we come to the fun associated with “fly/cruise” deals. If your voucher includes airfares too, make sure you check which airline you may be locked in to travel with. Many deals use low-cost carriers which can prove an uncomfortable start to your holiday if you aren’t prepared, while some deals won’t advise at all of your airline or flight schedule until much closer to departure and generally well after any refund periods have finished.

Terms and conditions of many deals can also see the site reserve the ability to change your airline right up until just before departure – which removes any real certainty you may have behind your schedule. If you’ve booked hotels or transfers in a particular city, only to find you are now reaching your destination via a completely different routing, it may end up costing you a pretty penny should you not be made aware of your revised schedule. It can happen.

Believe or not, group buy sites may also include a clause in their fine print which reads: “Product may be significantly different from that pictured”. We noticed this practice at work on one of the large buying sites, which at the time was offering a cruise deal for an interior stateroom whilst tempting consumers with pictures of the ship’s largest suites. This same practice also occurs with features such as waterslides and bowling alleys – which are not on all ships. Make sure you investigate the ship and cruise line before proceeding.

Have you ever booked a deal on a group buying site? Tell us about your experience.