RULES REGARDING CHANGES
by Rick Archer, August 2011
In order to understand this article on
"Requesting Changes", we should start by looking at the
Travel Agent's Time Line.
There are three critical dates in the Cruise Travel
Business: First Deposit, Final Payment,
and Sailing Date.
Accordingly there are three Time Periods for every cruise
trip: Flex Time, Revisions, and Crunch Time.
Flex Time ends on the First Deposit date.
end after Final Payment.
Crunch Time is the period
after Final Payment until Sailing.
The term "Prevailing Rate" should be explained too.
There are always two prices: Group Rate and Prevailing
Rate (same thing as "Market Rate" and "Daily Rate").
When a Travel Agent like Marla books a
cruise, she is given an initial option to sell 50 cabins at
a discounted price known as the Group Rate. The agent
has 90 days to sell that space. This 90-day period is
known as "Flex Time". Flex Time ends on the First Deposit
During this time, Marla has a great deal of "Flexibility"
regarding making changes; hence the title. Marla can
change roommates at will, upgrade cabins, downgrade cabins,
and handle special requests as to room placement ("put me by
the elevator", "near to the Dining Room") without any
trouble at all because she has control over 50 different
Royal Caribbean basically lets her do whatever she wants.
They are not even involved until the week before First
Deposit which is when she finally begins to register the
passengers and process the deposits.
You should always try to sign up for your cruise during Flex
Time for three good reasons:
1. It is much easier for Marla to match roommates by age,
dance experience, and other common interests.
2. You are assured of getting the type of room you prefer.
3. You are guaranteed the lowest possible rate for your
Furthermore the time to make "changes"
is clearly Flex Time. Changes can be made effortlessly
during this time nor is there any service charge or the need
to worry about Prevailing Rate.
The Revision Period is the
toughest time for the Travel Agent. According to the
rules, once the deposits have been applied, each passenger
MUST BE assigned a roommate. This means that as Marla
registers her passengers for First Deposit Day, she must
assign two people in every cabin (or just one person if they
pay double deposit).
"Revision Period is a really difficult stretch for me.
For something like the Alaska Trip where we had mostly
couples, there were only a few roommate changes to be
made. But on the Rhapsody singles cruises,
sometimes it feels as if people swap roommates like kids
swap baseball cards.
Anytime you mix the birds and the bees with SEVERAL
MONTHS of time, things are going to happen and things
are going to change. While on the one hand, I want
to accommodate everyone, I want you to understand that
each time you change your mind, from now on, you will
need to pay for it.
Before First Deposit during Flex Time,
I can have up to 10 cabins with only one person in them.
I have plenty of roommate flexibility and can wait on
people to make roommate and cabin upgrade decisions.
However, After First Deposit, RCCL
will not allow only ONE PERSON to hold a room (unless
you pay $500 deposit). They insist I assign
roommates immediately. Therefore everybody has to
be matched up on the spot.
This means I must operate with my hands tied after the
First Deposit date. I have lots of restraints!
When people sign up without roommates after the First
Deposit cutoff, I put them on Wait Lists and they get
the next available person to become their roommate.
These people MUST take the next person available.
And when people want to change roommates, they tend to
overlook that in a sense someone else is getting left
behind. I have to deal with all sorts of awkward
Let's just say Revision Time is rough sailing."
What this means is that Marla does not
have the luxury to wait any longer and see who else is going
to sign up.
One of the reasons for the success of the SSQQ
Cruise Trips is that we don't require our guests to find
their own roommate. However, the closer the sailing
date becomes, the more our hands are tied. During Flex Time, Marla actually
puts thought into whom she pairs people up with. But
if you sign up during Revision Period, you get the next
available roommate automatically. It is common for
Marla to 'wait list' people during this period. All
'Wait List' people will definitely go on the trip, but it
might take a week or two until your roommate shows up. Just
Another problem for people who sign up during the Revision
Period is that the "Prevailing Rate" kicks in. Once First
Deposit Day passes, the Group Rate goes away. Now you pay
whatever is advertised to the general public. Your cabin
might just be $20 more than other SSQQ passengers who signed
up during Flex Time, but sometimes the difference can be
several hundred dollars.
People change their minds. That is a fact of
life. It is a shame that people are expected
to make decisions so far in advance of the actual
trip, but that is the nature of the cruise business
that we have to accept. If changes are made
during Flex Time, they are relatively easy to take
care over. All this changes during Revision
When people ask to switch roommates, the rule is
that the person asking for the change has to vacate
the room. The original roommate stays put and
pays the Group Rate while the "changing roommate"
now has to acquire a new room at the Prevailing Rate
to share with his or her new roommate.
During the Revision Period, there will
be a Service Charge of
$50 for every change,
Marla's Note: The reason for the Service Charge is
that each change requires a lot of time. The main problem is that every
change depends on "cabin availability". The change
can't be made until a new cabin is found to accommodate the
change. Since many cabin categories are sold out, no change
during the Revision Period is ever simple. Put another way,
each change this late in the game generally requires a great
deal of scrambling.
Before anyone complains about this Service Charge, let me
simply remind everyone that "time is money".
I researched the topic of Service Charges. It is a
common practice in the travel industry to either simply
refuse to make changes or to charge an arm and a leg for the
service. For example, I found one cruise site that
charges a mandatory $150 service charge for "changing
names". If you don't believe me, email me and I will
send you the link.
Crunch Time starts the day after Final Payment. You now have
60 days till the ship sails. Passenger Cruise
Documents are issued and making changes is extremely
difficult. Most sailings are sold out at this point,
therefore changes are practically impossible anyway.
Regrettably, Cancellations are a part of the Travel Experience.
No matter how much you want to go on your trip, occasionally life
intervenes and you have no choice but to cancel.
Basically, Cancellations have two major
variables - how soon till the ship sails and whether you have a
roommate or not.
The best way to explain
is to use the charges from one of our cruises as an example.
Carnival Cancellation Schedule
1. until March 18th
2. March 18th - June 5th
3. June 6th - July 24
4. July 25th - August 16th
5. SAIL DATE: August 17
Carnival Cancellation Charge:
No Cancellation fees
2. $50 Cancellation fee
3. $250 Deposit plus $50 cancellation fee
4. 50% of Total Fare plus $50 cancellation
5. 100% of Total Fare plus $50 cancellation
of Charge Schedule
until March 18th
- In 2009, our ship sailed on August 23.
First deposit was not due until March 18th.
When it is this far out, if you want to change your
mind, no problem.
2. March 18th - June 5th
- This is the Revision
Period. The Cancellation Fee is $50.
Final payment was due on June 5th.
Unfortunately, after Final Payment, it becomes much
more expensive to change your mind.
3. June 6th - July 24 -
At this point, we are getting closer to sailing.
At 75 days prior to sailing, Carnival charges a fee
of $250 to cancel. We charge an additional $50
4. July 25th - August 16th -
We are now inside the 30 days out window.
During this three week period, the Penalty gets
increased to 50% of the cruise fare in addition to
the $50 penalty.
5. August 17th -
This is the 7 days out window. At this
point, if you cancel, you lose everything.
1. The Cruise Line will
not refund a single penny that you have paid
2. We will charge you a $50 cancellation fee.
3. In addition, you are responsible for handling
your former roommate's additional costs.
Note: If you
have a roommate that is not canceling,
whether or not we arranged that roommate for
you, the single supplement for your roommate
will be added to your cancellation charges.
falls to the person who cancels.
If you have a roommate that is not
canceling, the cruise company now
categorizes your roommate as a SINGLE
As an example, a man
actually did cancel from the 2009 trip six
days before sailing. His roommate had
paid $515. The single occupancy rate
was $984. Carnival Cruise Line now
expected to be paid an additional $469.
It isn't fair to hold the former roommate
accountable and it isn't fair to expect the
travel agent to pick up the difference
Please be aware this
responsibility exists even if you don't show
up for your cruise. Sorry to say, if
you 'no-show' the cruise, you will still be
responsible for paying the single occupancy
supplement whether or not we arranged the
roommate for you or not. SSQQ will be
forced to bill you for this money. You will
be responsible for the single supplement for
your roommate in addition to the $50
Since our Destination Cruises are much more
expensive than our Caribbean cruises, it is extremely
difficult to replace roommates when people change their
1. THROUGH JULY 19TH --
2. JULY 20TH - AUGUST 27TH --
3. AUGUST 28TH - SEPTEMBER 18TH --
5. SEPTEMBER 19TH --
$100 PER PERSON
$250 PER PERSON TO RCCL Plus $100 fee
50% of Total Fare plus $100 fee
100% of Total Fare plus $100 fee
For this reason, we instituted
an increased cancellation fee list. We need
for all our passengers to understand that we want
you to commit to the trip and stay committed.
POLICY CONCERNING FREE
We have a simple policy
concerning Free Upgrades:
Free Upgrades go
first to those who don't ask for them.
There are two kinds of upgrades on cruise
One upgrade is where the passenger decides
to pay to move to a higher category cabin
and asks Marla to make the change.
The other kind of upgrade is a free upgrade
given to passengers at random.
Here is a true story regarding the Free
Automatic Upgrades are frequently given to
Marla. Ships are constantly upgrading
passengers based on availability. It
is a well-known fact that the less-expensive
cabins sell first. At a certain point
about three months before the sailing, the
cruise line takes a close look at what has
sold and what hasn't.
When few inexpensive cabins are left but
plenty of expensive cabins are still open,
the cruise line will often make the
decisions to upgrade current passengers to a
more expensive cabin which allows them to
free up the less expensive cabins for sale.
So who gets the upgrades?
Frequently the people who are in
groups like ours get upgraded. There is a good
reason for this: the group travel agent who phones
in new registrations on a regular basis begins to
develop a rapport with the people who handle the
bookings. It is much easier to reward someone
like Marla who does a steady business with the
cruise line than some anonymous couple who signs up
However Marla has found these people do have
memories. There was a situation on one cruise
where a passenger specifically expected an upgrade
because he had traveled this same cruise line
several times previously and was on the cruise lines
'preferred customer list'. Based on his status, he
expected to receive an upgrade or a reduced rate and
deliberately purchased the least expensive cabin
preparing to be moved up the ladder. Then the
passenger asked Marla to directly intercede on his
However this plan backfired. When Marla called
the customer desk the first, she was informed that
his status didn't allow for an automatic upgrade and
that the group rate we had was actually lower than
any discounted rate he would have received had he
So Marla relayed this information. Informed
that she could not expect an automatic upgrade, the
passenger then asked for a specific cabin location
closest to the dining room. Marla found a
cabin and informed the man who said that location
Meanwhile the ship sold out of its least expensive
space. Not only that, the ship actually
OVERSOLD its least expensive cabins which meant
someone would have to be upgraded. About this
time, the passenger asked again about the
possibility of being upgraded. Marla told him
that he could not receive an upgrade because he had
already requested a specific cabin - once he is
assigned a cabin, upgrades become unlikely.
Marla then made the mistake of revealing that some
upgrades seemed imminent because she knew about the
At this point, the passenger decided the chance of
an upgrade was more valuable than any specific
location on the ship, so he requested to be moved
back to unassigned-room status. This move
qualified him for the chance of an upgrade.
Over the course of the next three weeks, Marla
received 3 phone calls or and 3 emails inquiring as
to the upgrade. Each time Marla received an
inquiry, she turned around and contacted the cruise
line. Because the cruise had entered the 60
days period, Marla spoke to the same agent each time
about this specific passenger.
On the sixth and final contact, this agent became
very annoyed with Marla. The agent told Marla
they working on it and to give it a rest (in
non-spoken terms, Marla got the feeling she had been
seriously brushed off.)
One week later, the decision was made. One
upgrade was given. Of the two cabins within our
group eligible for upgrades, one pair of passengers
got the upgrade and one pair didn't. The star
of this story was in the cabin that didn't get the
Marla concluded that the travel agent at the cruise
line deliberately stiffed the man who had insisted
that Marla contact the cruise line six times about
When the passenger received the final cabin
assignments, he realized he was still in a new
cabin, but on the same level and nowhere near the
restaurant. His gamble had failed.
Immediately this man dashed off another email to
Marla asking where his upgrade was.
Marla replied that she did not know the true reason,
but there was nothing else she could do.
In the end, the man had received the cabin he had
paid for so he was cheated out of nothing. But
during the three-week period, his constant
insistence had exhausted all of her patience.
accepted folklore, the squeaky wheel does not always
get the grease.
It is said that the loudest complaints get the most
attention, as in 'No matter what table they give
her, Helen generally insists on a better one and
This is a perfect example of the saying that the
squeaky wheel gets the grease.
However, the squeaky wheel idiom is not a sure-fire
guarantee of anything. Many people in service
positions bristle when a request seems unreasonable
or too strident. They resent requests for
special service and the sense of privilege that lays
It never hurts to ask politely, but in this
situation, Marla's instincts told her that her
constant calls irritated the travel agent at the
cruise line so much that she deliberately
sidestepped the upgrade request.
The lesson here is clear - you are more likely to
get what you want if you don't ask. Whoever
asks for an free upgrade automatically goes to the
end of the line.
Archer's Note: After Marla told me this
story, I realized I personally could not imagine
calling a cruise line SIX TIMES to beg for someone
to get an upgrade without any particular
justification. Marla's mistake in this
particular situation was actually being too
conscientious to the point she inadvertently
irritated the woman who worked for the cruise line
so much she actually ruled against our individual.
Normally Marla is very successful at getting
upgrades. For example, on the particular
cruise that was referred to in this story, 25% of
the passengers on this trip did receive an upgrade.
Here is a previous story:
3. THE "BOOK IT
THRU MARLA" RULE
To be included as a part of the SSQQ
Group, you must book your
cruise through Marla.
Article Written by Rick
First published: January 2005
More recent Update: August 2011
The Number One SSQQ
Cruise Rule: In order to participate in SSQQ cruise
activities, you must book your cruise through Marla Archer.
Do you hate rules?
Surely you wonder why would anyone even need to make up a "Rule"
like the one above.
The answer is that at one point or another, someone did something so utterly
thoughtless they forced us to make a rule.
Have you ever
been in an airport stuck in line furious because you have to
take off your shoes at the airplane screening station? Millions of people every day take off
their shoes at airport screening stations all because a total
jerk named Richard Reid tried to smuggle a make-shift bomb
onto an airplane back in 2001.
In Life, Rules occur because
one person did something so
utterly stupid that the rest of us
have suffered ever since.
Marla and I were forced to
insist upon the "Book Thru Marla" rule after people kept trying
to piggyback our cruise trips year after year.
It only takes one act of stupidity to make life difficult
for the rest of us.
THE ORIGIN OF THE SSQQ 'BOOK IT
THRU MARLA' RULE
Rick Archer's Note:
Marla and I have been forced to make rules to protect
our cruise business
from outsiders. I am sorry to say reveal that there are
people who try to take advantage of our Travel Program.
Here are a couple
axioms for you:
1. Rules are made for a reason.
People hate Rules!
I know I hate rules, especially the ones that make people
with common sense suffer needlessly. In my
youth, I was a huge rebel. I resisted haircut rules,
uniform rules, and parking rules any time I could. As
a result, I was a frequent visitor at the Saturday morning
detention hall. But that's another story.
Considering I was such a high school rebel, I find it highly ironic
that back when I owned
SSQQ, I found myself making up rules all the time!
Such a contradiction - The Rule Breaker becomes the Rule
I have learned that whenever a new problem comes up,
if I don't have a rule to cover it, the argument that is
sure to follow will go poorly. Without a stated rule,
people tell me they have the right to do whatever they want!
Bend me, shape me, break me any way you make me, you got the power,
you got control.
In other words, without a line in the sand,
my hands are tied. So rules must be made.
THE STORIES BEHIND THE RULES
2003: THREE LADIES JOIN OUR GROUP
During our Jubilee Trip in 2003, three women
mysteriously showed up at our Cocktail Party on the first
night of the trip. I noticed them out of the corner of
my eye. Since there were 144 people aboard - a record
that still stands as of 2006 - quite frankly I
had no idea who a lot of these people were. I got
distracted and did not have the opportunity to talk to them.
Later that evening during dinner a couple came up to me at
my table to complain that there was no place to sit. I
asked Marla about the problem. She told me to inspect
their boarding pass ID card to look for which table they
were supposed to sit at. I identified the table and
glanced over at it. By coincidence, the same three
women were sitting there plus there was was one empty chair.
Who were these three women? I pointed them out to Marla, but she
didn't have any idea who they might be. However she
whispered that in her opinion this was not the time to take
the chance of embarrassing them or ourselves. This was
something that should be done quietly.
Since the couple in question had come twenty minutes late to
dinner, I didn't see any point in disrupting dinner to
figure out the problem. We had one free seat at our table,
so I found another chair and we made room for them to sit
with us. I told the couple not to worry about it and
that I would clear up the problem by the following evening.
Marla and I went back to the cabin and looked at her seating
charts. Sure enough, our couple was assigned to the
correct table. We remembered the three women and
looked to see if there was a cluster of three women.
It turned out that table had five couples assigned to it. I
knew everyone at that table by face and name.
Apparently one couple had skipped dinner altogether and the couple
I talked to came late. Obviously those three ladies had
discovered a table with 4 open spaces, so they decided to
We scoured our records to see if we could identify a cluster
of three women who might be with us. Marla and I were
The next day at our dance lesson, I saw one of the three
ladies from the night before. She was speaking with
one of the women in our group in a friendly way. Judging
from the interaction, they seemed to know each other fairly
well. Again, I didn't say anything, but I did watch her
carefully. Since we had a dozen more women than men, I
felt some heat rising under my collar since her presence
only made the boy-girl ratio worse than it already was.
After the lesson, I pulled the lady aside who was in our
group to ask if she could identify the mystery woman who
crashed our dance lesson. It
turns out this fourth woman knew the whole story. All three women
had heard about the trip through a mutual friend at her
church singles group. One of the three women had a
sister who was a travel agent. She asked her sister to
book three spots. Then they decided to invite
themselves into our group.
I didn't see any point in
shooting the messenger. I thanked the woman
for her information and went in search of my
I found them out at the pool
standing next to group in the hot tub. They were participating in our "group
activities" as much as anyone else in our group!
I did not want a scene so I waited.
Finally they moved away. I caught up to them as they
headed elsewhere. I then asked them politely not to join
our activities again. Two of the three were
visibly embarrassed, but the third asked me where I
got the nerve to tell them what they could and could
Now I was angry. I said they were not part of our
group and had no business participating in our
activities. I said if I saw any of them anywhere
near one of our group activities, I would call them
up and introduce them to the entire group.
The lead woman left in a huff with the other two in
tow. I did not know what they intended to do,
but I barely saw them again for the rest of the
2003: TWO MEN JOIN OUR GROUP
There was a second incident in 2003.
I noticed a gentleman who
was also aboard this trip, but whose name wasn't on our
list. I liked this man and I liked his son. This man had
taken many dance classes from us over the years. I wasn't
nearly as inclined to lower the boom on him as I was the
three party crashers. I simply asked him what the
He said he had saved $40 on his two tickets by booking the trip
through an internet site. I didn't have the heart to
fight another battle. I welcomed him to the group and didn't
say another word.
This man in later years has since gone on many cruises with
us as part of the group and has helped us in many ways.
I am glad I didn't make an issue out of it in his case.
There were no posted rules in 2003. That was the year
we started to learn things the hard way.
Jubilee 2003: THE CASE OF THE ATTEMPTED PIGGYBACK CRUISE
There was yet a third incident in 2003 which provides a
further example of people who have no problem exploiting our
2003 was Marla's first year as a Travel Agent. She
booked the summer Jubilee Cruise with 144 people. Two months
after the cruise was completed, one of the passengers on that trip took the
entire email list from our summer trip and used it to
solicit people to go on her own cruise in November 2003. This was back in the
days before Marla learned the hard way why she should use
"blind carbon copy" on her emails.
Did this person ask permission to piggyback Marla's email
list for a trip of her own? No. Not only did she
fail to ask us first, she also tried to do it behind our
back. What was interesting was that she emailed 150
people, but neither Marla nor I received an email.
Since my email address and Marla's were on the original
list, it is fair to assume our email addresses were
deliberately excluded. You
don't suppose the woman was trying to conceal her activity,
However the email regarding the November trip raised many eyebrows,
especially since it was obvious that Rick and Marla were not
involved. Several people forwarded us copies which is how we learned
what was going on.
Both Marla and I were angry. Marla had just begun to
publicize our February 2004 Mardi Gras Cruise. The
November trip meant we were now being forced to compete with
the rogue organizer for
our own customers! No one had enough money to go
on two different trips scheduled just three months apart.
Our Mardi Gras Trip was being sabotaged.
This time I didn't need to post a rule. I quietly
asked the lady to reconsider and the problem discretely went away.
Rhapsody 2004: THE CASE OF THE MYSTERIOUS TRAVEL AGENT BYPASS
In July 2004 there was a bizarre incident involving a couple
who booked their Rhapsody Cruise through another travel
agent, then asked to be included in our Group.
This couple had previously emailed Marla several times about going on the 2004 Rhapsody
Trip. In other words, they became interested in the trip
because of our publicity. Six emails were exchanged, but
they never signed up for the trip.
Two months before the
late September sailing, this same couple sent Marla an email
asking if Marla would arrange their seating for them at the
SSQQ tables. They said they definitely wished to be part of
Thursday, July 29, 2004 5:22 PM
I hated to bother you
with my late registration for the cruise since you seem to have a
full plate, so I registered for the cruise along with my roommate,
xx, on line using
another agency. I hope that doesn't screw things up for
code: 2248326 I didn't know if I should have told them that we
were going with SSQQ. Will you please seat us
at one of your tables?
Marla and I stared
dumbfounded at the email. This couple had bypassed
Marla to sign up for the same Rhapsody trip through another travel agency.
Marla had lost $100 in commissions. And our Group total
was deprived of two more guests. (All group perks are
based on the overall number of people signed up, so every
name is valuable.)
However what left us totally flat-footed was that they
emailed Marla asking her arrange their seating at dinner
time with our group as if she was their travel agent of
record. This made no sense at all.
The mystery deepened when Marla discovered this couple had
paid $170 more for their ticket than they would have paid by
booking through Marla. We know this for a fact because
the Royal Caribbean group specialist who worked directly
with Marla confirmed the ticket price. Our group rate
was significantly lower than the Prevailing Market Rate at
the time, so by going online, this couple paid 20% than
necessary. This entire incident made no common sense and it made no
We were completely mystified. Why would they bypass
Marla? Why would they pay MORE for their ticket? And
why would they turn around and expect her to book their
seating as if she were their travel agent?
I am embarrassed to admit I have never figured it out.
Several years have passed and I still don't know the answer.
The woman told Marla that she knew Marla was getting married
on this trip and figured Marla was too busy to fool with
You tell me... does that explanation make any sense?
Why would someone deliberately bypass Marla for the chance
to pay more money? It made no sense. Maybe it
was "Personal". But that wasn't likely. Truth be
told, these were two pretty nice people. There were no axes
to grind that I know of. Plus they turned around and
asked Marla for help in securing their seating arrangements.
And during the trip, they were very gracious to us.
Were they trying to put some money in someone else's pocket
that needed the money? That might be the answer.
Or perhaps they decided to go on impulse and discovered they
could order over the Internet. Who knows.
In the end, Marla and I decided to let them join our
group for two reasons.
The first reason was that we did not have a posted rule that
said they could not book on their own. The second factor was that Marla
and I LIKED both people.
They were classy and attractive. I had been hoping
they would join the trip all along. Marla agreed with
me, so we welcomed them to the group.
But I also decided this was this last time
we would permit this to happen. 2003 had seen two previous incidents along this
same line. This third incident was the one that made me decide to put my foot
Rick Archer's Note: Now that you know some the
original stories behind the "Book It Thru Marla" Rule,
it is time for a 2011 update.
In recent years, there have been several more incidents, two
of them very serious. One was so serious I am legally
prevented from commenting on it. These recurring
incidents make it obvious that we have no choice but to draw
a line in the sand and stick to it.
three important points to make.
1. Marla cannot
match the very best price on the Internet.
Marla sells cruise
trips for a living. On your typical dance cruise,
Marla gets an average commission of $45. That is
the absolute truth. One very effective way to make
some extra dollars on a cruise commission is to add $10
or $20 as a markup. Marla has never done this.
Marla and I
give you our absolute word that we offer the lowest
price the cruise line permits us. If you ever hear
a rumor that we have added a markup, that is a lie.
Sad to say, even
though Marla takes no "markup" whatsoever, she readily
admits that her best price may not always be the lowest
price on the market.
Over the years, Marla has encountered dozens of
instances where a potential customer was able to beat
her price and there was not a single thing she could do
Marla came to the
frustrating conclusion that if a customer combs the
Internet hard enough, he or she will probably find this
same cruise for a less expensive price. There are
many reasons for this.
organizations can purchase large blocks of cabins
and get a better price, then pass those savings on.
agents can defer some of their commissions to
undersell. This is illegal, but it still
discounts, airline miles discounts, etc, will often
allow a person to purchase a cruise at a reduced
price below the prevailing rate.
The cruise line
itself will offer promotions specifically designed
to undercut travel agents.
The savings are a
mirage. Internet Travel promotions can promise
anything, but once all the hidden charges creep in,
the savings are often nominal at best.
Here is the most
recent example. A man who had been on one of our
group cruises asked Marla to book him and his girlfriend
on a cruise trip that had nothing to do with our next
group cruise. Marla quoted him the lowest price
she could find. That night his girlfriend combed
the Internet and found what she was looking for - a
better deal. She discovered a large online travel
agency was selling the cruise for the same price that
Marla quoted, but in addition offered $25 per person
onboard credit. Ta da!
The next day the gentleman asked Marla about the
discrepancy. Marla researched and discovered this
agency had purchased a large block of cabins. In
return, the agency received 'perks' for their outlay.
For example, if you get a bottle of champagne in your
room, that is a perk you get for signing up through
Marla's own group trips. The different here was
that the agency wasn't selling any group trip. It
was selling the cabins to individuals who had nothing in
common with each other. However, the agency used
it 'perks' to come up with a better offer than Marla
could. In other words, the agency had found
a way to use "group perks" as a way to sell individual
cabins. Marla simply could not match that offer.
Once upon a time, a
Home Depot came into the Bellaire area (Westpark at
610). Within a year, I watched as three different
Bellaire Mom and Pop hardware stores went out of
The people eventually
let Marla book the trip anyway, but did so out of
loyalty. Marla was grateful, but felt vulnerable
at the same time. Marla was shaken by her
experience with the travel equivalent of the hardware
store problem. Many people would have opted for
the $25 savings and Marla's time researching the trip
for them would have gone down the drain.
It is a tough world
Marla is selling a
"Group Experience". That's not always the easiest
thing to put a monetary value on.
By and large, the
difference between Marla's price and the bigger guy's
price is usually $20-$30 at most. However, many
people who are used to buying whatever peanut butter
brand sells for 20 cents less at the grocery store will
likely use the same logic for cruise shopping.
Marla gets her share
of perks too (free room upgrades, champagne, cocktail
parties, private rooms for dance workshops, group dining
experience and so on), but to many potential customers
who don't know her that well, these intangibles are not
as easy to grasp as a $25 savings.
If saving $25 is that
important, then go ahead and book the cruise somewhere
else. Just don't expect
to participate in our
We can and will
exercise our right to ask ship security to remove you
from our activity. That includes group dining,
dance lessons, private excursions, cocktail parties,
private group-only cruise activities, and our private
after-hours dance events as well.
strength in numbers.
As I have pointed
out, there are perks and amenities based on the size of
On Greece 2008,
we made a free cocktail party by hitting the number
right on the nose. One less person and there
would have been no party.
2011, we missed out on a private Cocktail Party by one
cabin. ONE CABIN. How would
you feel if two women or two men or a couple bought
their tickets elsewhere and then turned around and
tried to show up for our dance activities?
Think about it.
These people saved $20 and cost the entire group a
private Cocktail Party. And then they show up for our
dancing at night. Ladida. Do they deserve to
be included in group activities?
If you sign up for
the cruise trip through Marla, you are not only
benefitting yourself, your participation
supports the entire group.
Let's say you are a
member of the SSQQ Cruise Group for a trip that has just
begun. Maybe some strangers show up at one of our
dance workshops because you invited them. This has
happened before. Or maybe some people show up at
our Cocktail Party because you invited them. This
has happened before. Or maybe some people are
sitting in your seat at Dinner Time because someone else
at your table invited them... at your expense.
This has happened before.
We call this
phenomenon "Piggybacking". This happens on
practically every cruise.
It is pretty easy to
spot Piggybackers. After all, Marla and I know the
names and faces of 90% of our guests ahead of time.
That means we know exactly if there is a new face in the
group. We waste no time welcoming that person.
As we greet them, we are also covertly checking their
name against our mental list of new names.
On almost every trip
we have ever taken, someone pops up who isn't signed up
with our group. So Marla or I try to turn
these people away only to discover someone in our group
actually know these people and wants to stick up for
them. This has happened before several times.
Maybe our group member is soft-hearted and says his
friends didn't know our rule ahead of time, but adds
they are really nice people. Let's make an
exception for them!
Well, yes, that's
what Marla and I did in the beginning. Back in the
early days, we looked the other way. I think it
was about the fifth or sixth time it happened that we
realized being nice about it wasn't working. On
every trip people kept showing up. At first we
were mad at these people for trying to crash the party.
Then we began to realize they were there in large
part because someone in our group had actually invited
Now we realized that
trying to be nice about it had backfired. Our
cruise group people noticed that exceptions were being
made... so the problem happened again on the next trip
and then the one after that.
There are two kinds
of Piggybackers. Some are well aware of our Book
it thru Marla rule, but try to crash the party anyway.
I don't have much sympathy for this bunch. Others
are just vaguely aware of our rules... or at least they
say they didn't know. It is tough to know what is
the right thing to do with them.
Let's make up a
story. Dick and Jane run into their friend Jeff at
Wild West and ask him what he's been up to.
Jeff says he is dancing hard to get his skills honed for
his upcoming dance cruise. Dance cruise?
What dance cruise? So Jeff quickly gives
them some details. Jeff says he is going with some
group over Labor Day that always has a great time.
Dick and Jane may
have heard of Marla, they may have heard of SSQQ, but
they don't really have any connection to Marla.
What they do know is this dance cruise sounds like a fun
idea. Dick and Jane have nothing special planned
for Labor Day. Even better, they have a $100
Carnival discount they can use to reduce the price on
their next cruise. So they decide to use the
discount on that same cruise their friend Jeff from Wild
West told them about. They book the trip through
Carnival. No one can blame them. That
makes complete economic sense.
Once on board the
ship, naturally Dick and Jane want to hang with their
dance friend Jeff and his friends in our group.
They don't understand why Rick and Marla object.
What does it hurt to let two more people join the
Marla and I
understand that Dick and Jane are not malicious in any
way. Dick and Jane did not mean to disrespect us
or the SSQQ Cruise group even slightly. They mean
no harm. Heck, they barely know who we are.
However, now that they are on the cruise and see how
much fun we having, they want to join the group and be
our friends. If we let them join, maybe they will
sign up for next year's trip! But right now,
they want to dance with their friends like Jeff and the
rest of his crowd. What does it
hurt to let two more people join the fun?
The problem is that
in the long run, allowing Dick and Jane to participate
undermines our business and undermines our group.
Dick and Jane are
attempting to Ride Piggyback. Their participation
is a headache for Rick and Marla because it undermines
our business. We are selling a Group Experience.
Every time we let someone share the "Group Experience"
for free, we are sending the message to others that they
really didn't need to sacrifice and sign up for $25 more
dollars. What a chump they are. Next year
they will just go ahead and sign up elsewhere and save a
couple bucks. So what if they can't dine with the
group? They can always find their friends on some
Dick and Jane would
not have even been on this ship if Marla had not spent
countless hours organizing the trip in the first place.
The group would not even exist if Marla had not spent
ten years slowly building the business. It is the
same thing as downloading music, books, or movies for
free... the artist created a product, but someone
figures out how to get it for a bargain.
Except that in our
case, this action isn't anonymous; the Piggyback happens
right before our eyes. Piggybackers stick out like
a sore thumb. We know who they are immediately.
Pretty soon the Grapevine means the rest of the group
knows it too.
Marla deserves to be
rewarded for her time and effort. These trips work
like a charm because Marla puts her skill into making
all the right moves ahead of time. Trust me, Marla does
not make scads of money in commissions. If you saw
all the work she does behind the scenes like I do and
all those endless hours on hold on the phone to
Carnival, you would agree Marla deserves every cent that
comes to her.
In Dick and Jane's
case, Marla and I have absolutely no way to prevent them
from signing up elsewhere. It is actually no
surprise to me at all that this sort of thing happens
practically on every trip. For example, on
Conquest 2008, two women from Houston showed up
every night attempting to participate in the dancing
with our group. On
the exact same thing happened again. On both
occasions, we had several women sitting on couches
because these Piggyback women were not only cute, but
good dancers as well. How do you suppose the
discarded women in our group felt as the men in our
group fell over themselves chasing the Piggyback girls?
Even more frustrating, I learned members of own group
had invited them to come along on the trip in the first
place! In other words, our larger group was being
sabotaged by its own members.
On Virgin Islands
2011, a woman who had been a member of our
Bahamas 2010 cruise also signed up for the VI 2011
cruise, but not with Marla. This
woman had made friends with several of the people on our
VI trip from the previous year's cruise. Now she
repeatedly tried to join our group activities.
However we said no. We explained it isn't right to
expect to hang with the group without paying the dues.
We explained to her that she is more than welcome to
join another cruise with us, but that we expected her to
steer clear of the group on this trip.
our friends join the Group?
When the first pair
of women Piggybacked on Conquest 2008, they had
several friends who were part of our group on board.
These friends made it clear to me they wanted the
Piggybackers to join us. When the second pair of
women Piggybacked on Conquest 2009, they too had
several friends who were part of our group on board.
These friends made it clear they wanted the Piggybackers
to join us.
Both times we said
no. If we had said YES, then every single person
in the group would see that Marla and I make exceptions.
That would open the door to a lot of headaches.
For example, on Conquest 2011, perhaps we would
have 4 people show up. When questioned, they might say
their friends in the SSQQ group PROMISED them that since
we let some people from last year join the trip, they
could probably do the same thing this year.
So let's say in 2011,
Rick and Marla let them join too.
On Magic 2012, what
if we have ten people try the same trick?
On a small scale,
this is the same thing as letting people crash your
party. On a large scale, this is the same thing as
allowing uncontrolled immigration.
As host, Marla and I
have every right to insist that the borders of our group
The point is that
once we make an exception, it has repercussions that go
way beyond the trip itself. In each
successive trip, every person who wants to save $20 or
$40 knows they can do so with impunity.
Pretty soon, each
year we take the chance that fewer and fewer people will
join the "official" group.
group" may continue to grow, but to their surprise one
year our Cocktail party won't make. Then they will
discover our Champagne Party didn't make. All
those group amenities dry up.
Meanwhile the group
identity gets blurred. Just who is with the group
and who isn't? People start sitting with us at
dinner who aren't even part of the group because someone
"invites them". Don't laugh; this exact thing
happened in New England 2006.
Then one year maybe
the cruise ship decides there aren't enough people in
our group to merit reserving a private room for dancing.
There may be 150 people in our "unofficial group", but
our official group is now too small to get the ship's
attention. The trips stop being as much fun.
We Need Your
No only do Marla and
I have to draw the line and enforce the line, we need
the people in our group to support our position.
Even though it is not obvious at times what harm it
would do to make exceptions, the Big Picture says that
in the long run it does a lot of harm.
Back when I ran SSQQ, one year I discovered that 20
people had gotten into the SSQQ Halloween Party for
free. The party cost $15. That price
included free wine, beer, and soft drinks. Marla
and I had spent an entire day before the party putting
up decorations and the Haunted House. Then Marla
and I had spent another entire day taking down the
decorations and the Haunted House. We were
exhausted. As I took down the curtains that helped
create the Haunted House, a person showed up early for
Sunday classes. This person said with a frown that
she had watched people in Room 5 open the door all night
long to let their friends to come into the party for
free. This person said she had wanted to say
something to me last night, but that an SSQQ Staff
person had said it was okay, these people were
volunteers who deserved to get in for free.
However, this woman still had her doubts. She
thought I should I know. I thanked her and let the
incident go. Oh well, that was $300 down the
drain. The real damage was that I felt betrayed by
the Staff person. This incident caused an anger
within me towards the Staff person that never healed.
Every time someone in
our cruise group invites a person to join one of our
cruise trips, but fails to explain the consequences of
bypassing Marla, this person is not only disrespecting
Marla, but our entire cruise group.
Signing up for our
cruise trip does not give you the right to encourage
buddies outside the group to attend our activities.
To me, that's just as bad as letting them into the
Halloween Party for free. This short-sighted
behavior is disrespectful not just to Marla and me, but
to every single group member.
"To be included as a part of the SSQQ group, you must book your
cruise through Marla. There
will be NO EXCEPTIONS!"
Our group can only
stay healthy if our group members understand this
concept and embrace it.
Alaska 2005: THE DISGRUNTLED
GENTLEMAN WHO WANTED TO SAVE $49
In January 2005, as Marla and I put together our promotion
for the Alaska 2005 trip, I decided to
post the "Book It or Hook It" Rule for the first
time. I quickly discovered that
someone out there didn't like this rule one bit. He complained
bitterly about the injustice to an SSQQ Hall Monitor who then passed
his tale on to me.
It seems this student had discovered
a travel agent who in his opinion was selling the same trip at
$49 less than SSQQ. He was bitter about this
Book It or Hook It Rule
because he thought he could get next July's
Cruise at a cheaper price than we had listed
on our web site.
He intended to book his
cruise separately, save $50, then join the group anyway. But
before he could carry out his plan, I passed the "Book It or
Hook It" Rule which effectively closed the back door.
Angry about the new rule, he related his feelings to
the Hall Monitor who turned around and shared the story with
I never knew whether his claim
about the money was correct or not.
The Hall Monitor preferred not to share his
name with me nor the travel agency where he thought he could get a better price. All I
heard about were the sour grapes.
Why do you suppose this gentleman was interested in this
particular trip in the first place?
After all, there are a dozen cruise lines operating in the
Alaskan waters and literally hundreds of trips to choose from
next summer. Or for that matter there were
plenty of cruises to different places all over the world.
How do you suppose out of all those infinite
choices, our Disgruntled Gentleman (DG
for short) managed to
choose our particular July
sailing to be the one he wanted to go
My guess is that he chose this one-in-a-thousand sailing
for the following reasons:
knew a group from SSQQ
earned a reputation for
forward to having plenty of attractive women from our
group to dance
with on his trip.
In other words,
Mr. DG wanted all the benefits
being part of our group, but didn't want to pay the extra
Marla and I refer to this as the
"Have Your Cake and Eat it Too" phenomenon.
He told the Hall Monitor because he had taken a dance class here at SSQQ, he
should get included in the group automatically.
Had Mr. DG spoken to me, I would have
said this, "Please
answer this question
- would you have been
interested in this particular sailing
if we had not advertised the SSQQ Group
would be on
the ship in the first place?"
It seemed to me the only defense that
Marla and I had against this man signing up elsewhere with
the expectation of joining the party was to put the Group
off-limits to any and all outsiders.
Our new rule forced the man to choose. Do I want to
save some money or do the advantages of hanging with a neat
group of people outweigh the extra expense? And what
exactly are the advantages of sailing with the SSQQ Group?
Cruising with a
large Group has many advantages.
Take for example the
SSQQ Alaska 2005 Trip. As it
turned out, the Alaska Cruise
was a wonderful trip.
It was definitely one of our best
trips ever. In fact, of all our previous trips, many
people beg us to put Alaska back on the agenda (Hawaii is in
this same category). We had 73 passengers
aboard who danced and partied their way
through the most beautiful area we have ever visited.
Alaska was an expensive trip,
but it was also
a trip many people had wanted
to take all their lives. Many of our
guests told us they decided to go specifically because the
thought of sharing their adventure with the SSQQ Group made
it seem worth the money. Without our group, many
people said they probably would have put it off for some other
In other words, the chance to sail with the SSQQ Group made
this vacation seem much more attractive. Going
with a group like ours made a big difference.
For starters, traveling with
the SSQQ Group meant
you could always find a friend for any
occasion. One nice thing about our SSQQ Groups is how
easy it is to make new friends.
Who on earth would want to take an exciting train ride deep into
the heart of the magnificent Alaskan forest alone?
Or what's the point of visiting the famous Denali National Park
all by yourself? Eagles, caribou, grizzlies, and moose wander
everywhere. Half the fun of seeing these animals is the chance
to point them out to a friend or loved one!
What's the fun of witnessing the grandeur of the massive Hubbard
Glacier or seeing magnificence of America's largest mountain - the
towering Mt. McKinley - all by yourself?
What's the joy of hiking rugged trails through glacial
waterfalls outside Juneau alone?
And who would dream of taking a sea kayak trip on the protected
harbor of Tongass National Park without a friend to share the
For people who are single, the chance to join a group like
this is a perfect opportunity.
I suppose some people can be happy reflecting on the
rugged beauty of Alaska all by themselves, but most people would
rather have a friend to share this magnificent experience with.
Furthermore, many single people
appreciate the added safety of traveling with a group,
especially the ladies.
And what about Romance?
If you have read the story of the trip,
one couple got engaged during the trip and FIVE COUPLES got
married within four months after the trip ended. Romance was
definitely powerful on the Alaska trip!
The Single members of our trip enjoy the added chance of
Romance. The success of our trips with
Singles is legendary. Who can take one look at
the pictures of our cruises and
fail to conclude that the birds and bees are way out of control?
In addition to the Singles, Couples seem
equally attracted to traveling with a group like ours.
Couples often want to share the experience with other
couples. Besides, it's fun to dance with everyone at
the parties even when you come along with a loved one!
As they say, the more the merrier. The proof is in
the pudding - we have over a dozen couples that try to
make each SSQQ trip they possibly can. Their repeat
business is the highest compliment imaginable.
And Couples always have the choice to cut free from the
crowd when they choose. If you are a
Couple, what could be more
romantic than a spectacular adventure like
Alaska or Hawaii?
Couples on a cruise have the best
of both worlds - each other plus lots of friends for extra
After sharing the
adventures with friends during the day, the evening Dinner is a great "group activity".
After a full day of excitement, Dinner Time
fun as people can talk about the day's events.
In Alaska, for example, members of our group
made new friends quickly.
From that moment
of our first dinner together, each evening
offered the chance to share stories of the fantastic adventures
of the day. We heard about a brown bear
interrupting lunch in the wilderness, whale sightings, and
stories of plane trips into the unfathomably beautiful Misty Fjords.
Now try to imagine what the trip would be like sitting
at dinner with a bunch of
strangers all week.
The trip started with a terrific SSQQ
Cocktail Party. We danced, we drank for free, we laughed,
and we made friends with everyone. Traveling as a "Group"
gave us this party. It was a 'Group Perk'. Large Groups
like ours are always rewarded with
many benefits like this that people traveling as singles or
couples will never see.
Furthermore, traveling with a group means
you can take the friends you make back home with you.
It is so much better to hang with a
close group of friends who you will be able to see again back in
When you travel as a Loose Moose instead of with the
Herd, anyone you meet on the trip likely becomes "Here Today
Gone Tomorrow". But when you travel with our group, a friend
found in Alaska could become a friend for life.
addition to the sightseeing
was another marvelous reason to be a part of the group.
Let's face it, when SSQQ isn't around, dancing DOES NOT happen
on these cruises - at least not the way we are used to dancing.
We become instant Cruise Celebrities simply because our
brings so much energy to each trip.
And the trip doesn't end when you return home. There's an "After
Trip" Party at the studio complete with
a Slide Show.
And what a simple pleasure it is to relive the trip by browsing the SSQQ Travel web
site writeup to see the pictures again!
is always the racy Trip Story. After
all, what if you do something spectacularly naughty?
How is the whole world going
to find out without our cheerful gossip about the Trip? And what
about the countless pages and pages of incriminating pictures to
take you down memory lane that will stay on our website forever?
One glance at the amazing Alaska pictures
reminds you immediately at how wonderful this trip was (and
how good the next one will be!)
In addition, there are many advantages to
traveling with a large group like ours that you would never get
if you traveled alone.
For example, we
get free cocktail dance parties, we get champagne, we get dance
lessons, and we get free room upgrades. We
get group discounts on our tickets. And I bet those
ship cabins sure get expensive without a roommate.
are perfect for Singles because they
make those "need-a-roommate" problems conveniently
But gee, if you can save 50
bucks on a $2000 cruise trip, hey, 50 bucks is 50 bucks!
And then after those big savings, why not just crash the party anyway?
After all, the SSQQ Group is where the action is.
On every trip, the SSQQ Dance Group is the largest, most powerful, the most
energetic, and the most tightly-knit group on board. On each trip, after they see us in action,
outside people ask to be seated with us and join our dance
classes all the time. And why not? They are
drawn to our energy.
So now you see why this article had to be written. Everyone
needs to understand that no one comes
in the back door.
If you want the benefits of
our Group, then
you must sign up with the Group, contribute to the
Group, and accept the rules of the
After our 2004 Rhapsody trip I wrote at great length why it is
important for each person to stick together and be part of the
SSQQ Group. If there is any doubt in your mind, please read what
I had to say:
The Business Side
of Organizing a Cruise Trip.
But when it comes to our Disgruntled Gentleman, I suppose it is
the nature of the beast to want to have your cake and eat it for
However there was something about
Mr. DG's complaint about saving money that made Marla
curious. Who was underselling her? She told me
she thought she had the lowest price on the market.
After listening to the story of DG, the thing that
made no sense to Marla was that he claimed he could find a way
to improve on our prices. Marla did a quick Internet check that
confirmed the SSQQ prices were running $150 to $350
below Royal Caribbean's Prevailing Rate
for the same trip!
Take a look for yourself (prices in RED were added by me):
Here is how to understand the picture taken
from the Royal Caribbean Web Site above.
First add $27 in taxes to each of the RCCL prices. This bumps up
Interior Cabin from 1199 to 1226, Oceanview from 1534 to 1561,
and Balcony from 1779 to 1806. Now compare these prices to
the SSQQ prices for the same categories:
As of January 26th, the RCCL price for an Inside Cabin including
taxes was $1226
and our price was $1027. That was a $199
The RCCL price for an Oceanview was $1561
and our price was $1216. That was a $245
The RCCL price for a Balcony was $1806
and our price was $1452. That was a $354
After checking the
RCCL prices, for the fun of it I sent
the web site of Houston's largest travel
Vacations to Go. Known for their
excellent discounts, as of January 26, 2005,
Marla found their Inside
Cabin price was $1158 (our price
1027), their Oceanview was $1483
(our price was 1216), and their Balconies were $1738
(our price was 1452).
It certainly appeared that the SSQQ prices
actually quite a bargain.
I asked Marla why our prices were lower. She explained that our
price was way below market for the simple reason that she got a
Special Group Rate based on our group performance from our two
trips last year. In addition Marla got an excellent price
by booking a group trip so far in advance!
Thanks to Marla's efforts, SSQQ
has become an RCCL favorite.
Group Rates are lower than Individual Rates is simple -
Groups have bargaining power!
That is a powerful
reason why it is important for us all to stick together!
In fact, our
posted Internet prices
were so low we even had suspicious
travel agents calling
Marla to question how we got that
price. They didn't like being
undersold. In other words, the SSQQ
Group Rate was terrific!
So you might ask, "Even though the SSQQ prices are
significantly lower than prices published on the Internet,
still possible the Disgruntled Gentleman
could actually find a
price $49 lower?"
It may be that DG was confused about the prices.
Take for example the picture above
that listed Royal Caribbean's daily Prevailing Rate. I
had to remind you to add in a $27 hidden tax. Lots of
things have a way of not being listed!
Since it is common for travel agencies not to list hidden charges
such as taxes and port fees, it can be very tricky to make
accurate comparisons. Just like when you look at the price
of the same car at different car dealerships, they change
the accessories enough that you are never sure which place
is actually cheaper. The travel industry plays the same
However there might be another explanation. It is
possible that Disgruntled Gentleman
found a travel agent willing to discount their
Travel Agents make commissions on their
sales. For an expensive trip like Alaska, Marla might get
$100 per passenger. Since she splits that money with her
sponsoring travel agency, Marla ends up making about $50
net. This is good money, but believe me when I tell
you that Marla works her butt off. It may be good money, but
it isn't easy money.
The cruise industry would love to find a way to completely
bypass Travel Agents. If they could cut out
the middle man they could lower costs and boost profits.
For example, on our Rita Rhapsody 2005 Trip, on the last day
of the trip an announcement came over the Intercom hinting
at huge savings if people would book their next trip RIGHT
People came running to Marla for an explanation.
Should they book now? Once Marla explained that the
SSQQ Group Rate would always out-perform whatever was being
offered to individuals, they calmed down. Nevertheless
several ssqq passengers on that
trip reported to Marla they almost signed up right on the spot since the message
seemed so compelling.
This serves as a simple example how the cruise
industry tries to
cut out the middle
man by booking customers on
another trip before they even leave the ship.
Do I blame them? Of
course not. I certainly
understand this thinking. Commissions to travel agents
have been a curse to Cruise Lines because
they can be manipulated to the Travel Agent's advantage.
You already know how nuts Mr. DG
got over $50. What you don't know is that in 2003 a
man and his son signed up through someone else just to save
$20 apiece, then asked to join the SSQQ group. People
can't bear to think someone else is getting a better price,
so they are drawn to anyone who can undersell by a few
For example, let's say Royal Caribbean wants $1500 per booking.
If RCCL books the customers by themselves, they pocket the
entire $1500. But if a Travel Agent gets involved they expect a
commission in return
for their service. Assume RCCL will
give the travel agent a
commission of say $100.
However this opens RCCL to being
undersold by the travel agent.
Here is how it works:
If DG goes directly to the RCCL Web Site, he
pays $1500. But if Disgruntled Gentleman
finds a convenient Travel Agent, he can pay the travel
agent $1450, then the travel agent
turns around and pays RCCL $1500. Then
in a couple months further down the line
the travel agent gets back $100 in commission.
Disgruntled Gentleman saves $50, the
travel agent makes $50, and RCCL loses
out on $100.
Now you know one of the reasons the cruise
industry would rather simply bypass the travel agents.
is true that if RCCL catches an agent doing this, they can lose
their license. But it isn't easy to prove a transaction like
this. Since $50 is better than nothing, I imagine some travel
agents are willing to occasionally cut
a deal under the table with certain
customers to keep them 'loyal'. As long as they are
sure they won't get caught, this is a simple
way to steal someone else's commission.
So maybe DG
could have saved 50 bucks by using a cozy relationship with
another travel agent. But once we
posted our "Book It or Hook It" Rule, that ruined his plans
and made him angry.
THIS IS A BUSINESS RUN BY SOMEONE WITH A BIG HEART
In conclusion, it is no secret that
Marla organizes these trips because she receives a travel agent
commission on each sale.
I wish to point out that Marla works
unbelievably hard to make each trip a success. She
goes way past the call of duty all the time. I know
because I watch her in action. I have great respect
for Marla's abilities.
If anything, she tries too hard. Marla cares so much about
her job, sometimes she goes slightly crazy when things go
wrong (please read the
Dark Side for
I hope all of our customers understand
Marla has a right to be rewarded for her efforts.
It is a shame that
there are people like clever Mr. DG who are
quite willing to stiff Marla her commission, but can't wait to
get in line to grab a share
of the group goodies.
No one likes the smart guy who
cuts in line. It was a nonsense
plan all along. Our group isn't "That Big". We
would have noticed. We always do! After all,
this is a cruise trip, not the "Wedding Crasher" movie.
Had this person tried to crash the party, someone would have
asked a couple questions, his story would have come out and
ruined his plan anyway. You are on board for seven
days with nowhere to hide. Why go to so much trouble for
Wouldn't it be nicer if
the gentleman would simply join us and contribute to the
For one thing, my hunch is after the smoke screens were
cleared away, he would see that our price was competitive
all along. Best of all, his conscience would feel
better and he would find how comfortable it is to be part of
such a neat group of people.
ADDING INSULT TO INJURY:
TWO MORE STORIES ABOUT SSQQ'S
BOOK IT OR HOOK IT
Written by Rick Archer
Part One: May 23, 2006
2006 marked Marla Archer's fourth year as a part-time
Travel Agent. There are rumors that being a Travel
Agent is a glamour profession marked with many perks
such as free cruises. While it is true that we sail
for free, I can guarantee you there have been no
silver linings to date.
This job of Travel Agent is hard work. And sometimes
the position is an absolute nightmare. For example,
Marla nearly went crazy last year trying to handle
the voluminous problems caused by Hurricane Rita on
2005 Rita Rhapsody Cruise.
Even when things are going pretty well, Marla sits
at her computer practically the entire day answering
calls and emails about our upcoming trips as well as
interfacing with Royal Caribbean agents regarding
the countless details of each cruise trip.
Take my word for it - Marla works hard for the
At this point, SSQQ takes two cruises a year. For
the past three years Marla has planned one dance
cruise and one high-end cruise. Last year's Alaska
Cruise was such a slam-dunk success we experimented
with three cruises this year. Our Pacific Northwest
Cruise almost "made", but not quite. We found our
client base is simply not big enough yet to sustain
So this year Marla settled on two cruises - the
annual Rhapsody Dance Cruise around the Gulf of
Mexico plus a very interesting trip to Boston in
September to take a cruise along the scenic New
England and Canadian coastline during the beautiful
"autumn leaves are falling" season.
Oddly enough, despite the incredible popularity of
Rhapsody Trip, it doesn't have a big payout. Marla
estimates she gets a commission of perhaps $25 a
person on this trip. When I explain this to people,
they scoff. What these people don't realize that
Marla has to split all commissions with her parent
travel agency. Considering the hoops she has to jump
through, she earns every penny.
Because the New England cruise is so expensive,
Marla actually makes a fairly decent commission of
about $150 a person. Lots of people have told me
they would LOVE to go, but the stiff price is a
realistic obstacle. Since there are not very many
people with this kind of money, the numbers for this
exciting trip are limited.
The SSQQ Cruise Trips have grown in popularity each
reason for two reasons. The first reason is that our
Group Trips are a lot more fun than going alone.
There are friends to be made.
It is effortless to find company to share the shore
There are the dance classes during the day.
Dinnertime is great fun as stories of each day's
activities get passed around.
There is safety in numbers. There are always people
to watch your back or help you if you get stuck.
There are opportunities for shared travel
There is a special 'energy' in numbers as well.
40 people in a Group have pull
that 40 individuals don't.
There are shared experiences that come back to
Plus there are many perks that come with traveling
with a group like ours as opposed to going on your
own. The best-known perk is our free welcome aboard
cocktail party complete with hors d'oeuvres,
dancing, and free drinks.
Normally a large group guarantees a free cocktail
party for example. Usually you need 50 people to
make this cut-off. In the case of this year's New
England trip which is hovering around 35 people as I
write this story, Marla decided to simply reduce her
commission and pay for this party out of her own
Last week Marla thought there was an outside chance
we might make the 50 Cut-Off when there was a flurry
of new interest in the trip.
Instead she received two consecutive slaps in the
On May 1st a woman phoned Marla about the New
England Cruise. She explained that she had a friend
who was already signed up for the trip. The woman
said that she and her husband were interested in
going on the cruise as well.
She asked Marla several very general questions about
the cruise. She answered all her questions and then
referred her to the SSQQ cruise website.
Soon the woman phoned Marla back and left a voice
mail to please phone her. The message stated this
woman had some more questions that needed to be
answered before she could sign up.
Marla returned her call the next day. The woman
asked several very specific questions in regards to
cabin dimensions, pricing, locations, including
finding out what cabin her friends would be in. She
said that she wanted to make sure that she would be
able to be near her friend. Marla assured her that
if she would let Marla book her trip quickly, she
would be located close to her friend. Marla then
phoned Royal Caribbean. After about 15 minutes of
holding plus some back and forth with the RCCL agent
at the other end, Marla confirmed she could book the
cabin next to the woman's friend.
Marla called the woman back. At the end of the
conversation, the woman then asked if she could use
a certain credit card to pay for the trip. She said
that she wanted to make sure she got her "points".
Marla assured her that the card named was accepted
as a form of payment. The woman concluded the phone
conversation by saying she needed to verify with her
credit card company that she could book with Marla.
Marla raised an eyebrow at that statement. Something
told her this meant trouble. At this point, Marla
explained we had a distinct rule known as "Book It
or Hook It" that clearly states Marla is the travel
agent of record on each trip if people are going to
join our group.
After a few days, Marla phoned her to see if she
still was interested in making the cruise.
She informed Marla that her credit card company told
her that she had to book the trip through their
travel agent to take advantage of the points
offered. Marla misunderstood what this meant. Marla
had interpreted this statement to mean the woman and
her husband were not making the trip after all.
It turned out this was not the end of the story. Two
weeks later a mutual friend - yet another
acquaintance - approached Marla on this woman's
behalf. It turned out this woman and her husband had
booked the cruise after all using the credit card
company's travel agent. Now she and her husband
wanted to be included with the SSQQ Group at dinner
and for other activities as well. It would seem the
woman was too embarrassed to approach Marla
directly. Would Marla please arrange for this woman
and her husband to sit with the SSQQ group at
Marla's eyes grew wide as saucers. She had spent a
serious amount of time "selling the cruise" only to
have the woman go behind her back and book the same
cruise with someone else.
Afterwards, Marla did some research on the credit
card in question. It seems this card has specific
rules regarding booking travel. The rules say you
must book with "their agent" to receive the
First Marla had lost $300 in commissions so the
couple could save a few bucks in credit card points.
Then they had the nerve to ask to be included in the
SSQQ Group Activities.
That is called adding insult to injury.
A few days after the third party brought up the
highly awkward request to have these people included
in the New England group, a second incident
On Friday night May 19th, a couple that had been on
a previous SSQQ cruise showed up for Friday Practice
Night. As I danced with the woman, she mentioned
that she and her husband had taken a Mediterranean
Cruise the previous year. I told her how envious
that made me. Then the lady asked me if SSQQ was
going to take any cruises this year. I mentioned our
two trips as we danced.
After the song was over, I escorted the lady over to
see Marla. The two women talked about the SSQQ
Cruises for about fifteen minutes. Marla quickly
realized this couple had cruised extensively. After
determining their background, Marla targeted the New
England Cruise. She also discussed her role as the
Travel Agent for the studio since on the previous
trip there had been another travel agent.
On Sunday May 21st at 1:30 pm, Marla received a
voice mail from the lady asking what Dinner seating
the group had plus she needed to know how to book
the trip. She asked that Marla return her call right
On Sunday May 21st at 3:30 pm, Marla made several
attempts to return the call, but
had no luck. Later that same day at 5:00 pm
Marla and the woman were able to connect by phone.
The woman stated that she had just booked the trip
using Continental's online site because she wanted
to receive miles for the cruise purchase. (Grand
total of 3000 miles) APPROXIMATE VALUE = $40.
Marla groaned. Here we go again. She explained the
"Book It or Hook It" rule. She also reminded her
that we do this for a living and that these cruises
are a lot work-from their inception to the cruise
post parties. The conversation went back and forth
for fifteen minutes discussing Cruise Website
Write-ups, Cruise Meeting, Cocktail Parties, Dance
classes, dining arrangements etc.
Finally Marla offered her the option of canceling
her reservation and letting Marla take over so she
could still be included as a part of the group. That
didn't go over very well. There was dead silence at
the end of the phone.
Marla stated that of course she could book whatever
cruise she wished whatever way she wished, but
unfortunately she would not be a part of the SSQQ
Group . . .
Her response was "So, can we still come to the Group
Marla wondered to herself if the woman had listened
to a word she said.
Add another insult to injury.
Marla was not only out $600 in commissions; her
chances of adding enough people to the group to
qualify for the "free" Cocktail Party were
diminishing by the minute.
To be frank, when Marla told me these stories, I was
livid. In both situations Marla had literally "sold"
these women on the trip and offered to book them.
Instead they NOT ONLY deliberately bypassed her to
save a couple bucks, BUT ALSO turned around and
asked to be included in the group activities.
And now you know why we wrote the "Book It or Hook
It" Rule in the first place.
The difference this time is that
both women knew about our rule ahead of time, then
they deliberately ignored it.
One week after Marla spoke to
the woman in Incident Two, the lady emailed her to
say she had changed her mind. It was more
important to be part of the Group than to save a few
Sent: Friday, May 26, 2006 10:58 AM
Subject: New England cruise with SSQQ
Marla, I talked with you on Sunday afternoon
about the New England cruise. We would
love to be included in your group.
We would like you to book us a Balcony cabin on
the port side of the ship if at all possible.
I've checked the Balcony rooms available and my
first pick would be 8042 (port side and near a
main stairwell). Second pick would be 9006.
Call me for my credit card number.
Thanks so much!
Not only did Marla respond to
this good news with open arms, both she and I felt
much better. It is no fun to argue with people
you like over money. That said, this is an
issue where we intend to stand our ground. Otherwise
it will come up again and again and again.
Believe it or not, when the New England Cruise took
place in September 2006, there was an interesting
new development to the story you have just read.)
THE PARTY CRASHERS
(excerpted from the New England 2006 write-up)
There is a Yiddish word known as
chutzpah. It describes
someone who is quite self-confident, but who
also lacks respect for the feelings of
This is the story about a woman who, in my
opinion, had the shameless audacity to force
her way into our group even after we told
her she was not welcome.
If this story
about the couple from Houston who crashed
the party upsets her friends, I apologize in
advance. But I resent the treatment my
wife received and I intend to speak out.
Marla and I have
had a firm rule in place for a couple years
known as "Book It or Hook It".
The rule goes like this:
included as a part of the SSQQ
Group, you must
book your cruise through SSQQ.
Surely you wonder to
yourself, why would anyone even need to make
up a "Rule" like the one above?
At some point before this incident,
someone did something so utterly thoughtless
and stupid that we felt taken advantage of.
Book It or Hook It
Rule was published on our web
site in 2005. The couple that crashed
the New England Trip were well aware of our
rules ahead of time. They ignored
PART ONE -
LOSES A $300 COMMISSION
1, 2006, a woman named
Hope phoned Marla about the New
England Cruise. She explained that she had a
friend who was already signed up for the
trip. Hope said
that she and her husband were interested in
going on the cruise as well.
asked Marla several very general questions
about the cruise. Marla
answered all her questions and then referred
her to the SSQQ cruise website
for more information.
Hope phoned Marla
back and left a voice mail to please phone
her. The message stated this woman had some
more questions that needed
to be answered before she could sign up.
Marla returned Hope's
call the next day. Hope
asked several very specific questions in
regards to cabin dimensions, pricing,
locations, including finding out what cabin
her friends would be in. She said that she
wanted to make sure that she would be able
to be near her friend. Marla
assured Hope that
if she would let Marla book her trip, she
would be located close to her friend.
Hope said she wanted to be sure. So
Marla then phoned Royal Caribbean. After
about 15 minutes of holding plus some back
and forth with the RCCL agent at the other
end, Marla received
that she could
book the cabin next to
to report the good news.
At the end of the
asked if she could use a certain credit card
to pay for the trip. She said that she
wanted to make sure she got her "points".
Marla assured her
that the card named was accepted as a form
of payment. The
woman concluded the phone conversation by
saying she needed to verify with her credit
card company that she could book with Marla.
Marla raised an eyebrow at that
statement. Something told her this meant
trouble. At this point, Marla explained
to Hope we had a
distinct rule known as "Book
It or Hook It" that clearly stated
Marla is the travel agent of record on each
trip if people are going to join our group.
Hope did not call
back. Since Marla sensed that Hope was
serious about going on this trip, a
few days later
Marla made a courtesy
phone call to
Hope to see what was
Marla that her credit card company
told her that she had to book the trip
through their travel agent to take advantage
of the points offered.
Her explanation was sufficiently confusing
that Marla misunderstood this
the woman and her husband were not
making the trip after all.
point, Marla was completely in the dark as
to what was going on. She was
frustrated since she had put in quite a bit
of time and effort into helping Hope, but
she had been in sales long enough to be
philosophical about it.
If this was the end
of story, I would not have had a problem.
But this was not the end of the
PART TWO - CAN
WE STILL JOIN YOUR GROUP?
Two weeks later,
one of Hope's
mutual friends on the
trip approached Marla on
The mutual friend
explained to Marla that
Hope and Joe had
booked the cruise using
Royal Caribbean directly.
They had some points or credits of some sort
from previous cruises that they wanted to
cash in. To do so, they had to book
directly with Royal Caribbean.
This contact is how
Marla finally found out what Hope had really
done. Marla did not appreciate being
deceived, but she was okay with it. As
far as Marla was concerned, it is a free
country. An individual can book a trip
with whomever they wish. No hard
What angered Marla
is what came next.
The mutual friend said
Hope and her husband wanted to be
included with the SSQQ Group at dinner and
for the other
as well. It would
seem that Hope was
too embarrassed to approach Marla directly,
so she asked her friend to be her
Would Marla please call
Royal Caribbean and kindly arrange
for this woman and her husband to sit with
the SSQQ group at dinner????
Marla's eyes grew wide as
She felt like she had just had the rug pulled
out from under her.
Marla had spent a serious amount of time
organizing an attractive cruise. Hope would not have even been
on the phone were it not for Marla's work in the first place.
Then Marla had answered every question Hope
asked plus spent part of a morning on the phone
with RCCL trying to help the woman.
Now Marla realized it had been a complete waste of her time because
it was obvious Hope intended to book the cruise
elsewhere from the start.
Marla was incredulous that Hope now wished to join the group. After
all, Marla had specifically told the woman she had to book with
Marla or forget about the group. Didn't the woman hear a word
Marla put her
foot down. She told the mutual friend to tell Hope that she could
not be a part of our group in any way.
lost $300 in commissions so the couple could save a few bucks in
Then the couple
had the nerve to ask to be included in the SSQQ Group
Activities despite having already been told what
the rules were.
is a term for this. It is called
"adding insult to injury".
You might expect a kid to disobey your
rules, but a grown adult?
Marla and I were both upset at Hope's shenanigans. However
once Marla said 'no' for the Second Time to Hope's friend, we
figured she would get the message and that would be the end of it.
This story should have stopped right here, correct?
Well, it didn't.
PART THREE - SOMEONE
WILL NOT TAKE 'NO' FOR AN ANSWER
later, Marla received this email from Hope's other friend on the
July 25, 2006 1:22 PM
Subject: New England Cruise
Hi Marla, Thanks for the cruise update; I'm getting
really excited about it.
Our friends Hope and Joe, who
are veteran RC cruisers, are signed up to go on this trip. They
had RC credits they "had" to use up.
They are not
dancers so I doubt they will be participating in any serious
dancing with us. I would like to have dinner with them though,
as well as with the SSQQ group. Is there any way we can include
them in our dinner group? Maybe they can make arrangements
for dinner with us from their end, so you don't have to do any
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Tuesday, July 25,
2006 3:42 PM
Subject: Joe and Hope
Marla and I have a firm rule
that people must book with Marla to be part of the group.
Given the way American business throws around incentives and
discounts, this rule was created to discourage people from
bypassing Marla's role as the travel agent.
you mentioned that Joe and Hope are trying to cash in on some
Royal Caribbean credits. Did you know that Royal Caribbean would
dearly love to completely cut travel agents out of the middle?
I have seen RC offer deals that Marla simply can't match. I
frown because it is obvious Royal Caribbean knows EXACTLY what
they are doing. I am sure old Joe Rockefeller used similar
techniques while he was starving out the little oil producers at
the turn of the century. This game that Hope and Joe
are playing is a perfect example of a travel agent being
squeezed and I don't appreciate it.
Caribbean seems to forget that many people would not even be
interested in their trips if travel agents like Marla were not
involved. She was the one who drummed up the idea for this
trip in the first place. You have no idea how hard Marla works
behind the scenes to plan these trips and handle all the
details. She deserves to be rewarded for her efforts.
am sure that Joe and Hope are very nice people and that their
decision to book elsewhere was not evenly remotely "personal",
but the fact remains that they are on their own.
are likely to be several ways to find a compromise. There might
be openings at their table one evening. Even
better, you might try eating together at one of the special
elite restaurants. For example, on the Alaska trip, there was
another couple that did not book with us, but had friends within
our group. On one night, the two couples had dinner together at
one of the special restaurants (Portifinos). The food was so
good they went back and did it again two more times.
would dearly love to find a way to thank you for all the
kindness you have shown me over the years, but this is one rule
I can't bend on. Please forgive.
Sent: Wednesday, July 26, 2006 3:31 PM
Subject: Re: Joe and Hope
Hey Rick, no need to explain, I understand completely. We
will all have a great time, I'm sure.
The big accounting
firms (which I used to be a part of) have been trying to squeeze
out the little guys for decades. Now, it seems the table has
turned on them, ergo Arthur Anderson & Co and others. My
business has never suffered though because most people worth
their salt value the personal attention of a good service
provider ... accountant, travel agent, dance instructor
I have really enjoyed you and your SSQQ
over the past couple of years. Keep on dancin'.
incident marked the
Third Time that we told Hope we did not want her to be
a part of our group. First Marla explained the situation on
the phone, then she had enlisted a friend to talk with Marla at the
studio, and now she had asked her other friend to intercede as well.
Marla and I were remarkably consistent in our responses.
No, No, No!
PART FOUR - WHAT PART
OF 'NO' DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND?
Fast forward two months to the New England
Cruise. It was the first night of the trip.
The first night of dining was bizarre. There was an enormous
line of people waiting to come in through the one door that was
open. Marla and I were the first ones to be seated because we
used a trick. We entered the Dining Room from one floor above
and descended the elegant staircase to become the first people in
our group to be seated.
As I watched the rest of our guests slowly enter the Dining Room, I
shook my head. At every occasion involving "moving people",
the Jewel was so far behind the Rhapsody it wasn't even close.
The Jewel only carried a hundred more people, but they just couldn't
figure it out!
While we waited for the rest of our group to join us, Marla
looked around and did a double-take. She tugged on my arm.
"Rick, something's wrong here. These
tables are completely out of whack. Someone has changed my
My eyebrows furrowed at her comment. I hadn't said anything, but
from the moment I sat down I couldn't understand why Marla had
created such a stupid seating arrangement. It was something I could
live with, so I kept quiet. Why make a fuss and make her feel
bad? What good would that accomplish?
Marla had my immediate attention. I asked her to explain to me
how the tables were supposed to arranged.
"Rick, the tables are all messed up.
They were supposed to be next to each other! I set them up
four tables in a row side by side."
Looking at the odd zig-zag arrangement we were now stuck with, I
experienced an odd sense of relief and anger at the same time.
On the one hand, I was relieved that Marla's original plan had made
sense after all.
But now that I realized someone else had interfered with her work, I
was very angry at the new arrangement. What kind of moron
would do this without even bothering to check with my wife?
"Marla, do you have any idea who made this switch? Can you
think of a reason? This arrangement doesn't make any sense."
as baffled as I was. She was angry that her work had been
tampered with. Thanks to someone's invisible hand, 4 tables
that were meant to be side by side were now not even close.
What had gone wrong?
It had been
Marla's responsibility to arrange the seating for all guests.
Her original plan had four tables - three tables of 10 and one of 8
- located side by side. Now the arrangement was all messed up.
Then we noticed there was one table with twelve people
sitting together. In a group of 38, why would one table have
twelve people? That made no sense at all.
THE PARTY CRASHERS
eyes simultaneously locked on a mystery couple sitting there at the
Table of 12. Both Marla and I stared in disbelief. Our
group was large, but it wasn't that large. I knew the faces and
names of everybody who came with us. These two people were
Marla and I were instantly suspicious.
We looked at each other in disbelief. Was it Hope and Joe?
But how could it be?! Marla had specifically said they
couldn't sit with us. Who on earth would push that hard to
join a group against explicit written and verbal objections?
Besides, they weren't sitting with either of their friends.
That made no sense either. Hadn't they pushed so hard so they
could be with their friends in our group?
The more I thought about it, the more I felt it had to be Hope and
Joe. There were plenty of empty seats around the room.
No couple would choose to sit with a group of strangers without a
I assumed that Hope and Joe had noticed two empty spots at one of
our tables and helped themselves. How convenient that these
two chairs weren't taken! If that was the case, I was
ready to look the other way and leave it alone. This entire
affair had made me feel uncomfortable from the start. What a
lucky break for them that one of our tables had two empty spots.
But then Marla whispered something to me. She said in her
experience the seating was highly organized on Royal Caribbean
ships. Practically every table in the room was designed to
seat ten. Plus our group's natural number was ten.
Therefore it was very unlikely for our group to have a table with
twelve seats by accident. Someone must have specifically
Her words hit home. There were two things that made no sense.
First, the seating arrangement had gotten rearranged behind Marla's
back. Second, there were two people sitting with us who were not
with the group. It seemed quite possible the two problems were
Now I began shaking my head. I grabbed Marla's hand.
Together we excused ourselves from the table and made our way to the
front of the dining room. We found the Maitre d' and asked him
to help us to confirm the identity of the mysterious couple.
We explained what we thought was going on. I told him before
we decided to do anything, we needed more information.
The Maitre d' was reluctant to help at first. He told us this
was a highly unusual situation. He had never heard of a
seating problem like this before.
That is when Marla spoke up. She explained that she was the
group coordinator. She gave him our group number. She
gave him the name of her RCCL Specialist and explained the two of
them had organized a much different seating arrangement. She added
that someone had rearranged everything behind her back. Now
she wanted some answers.
The gentleman frowned. This situation could become very
unpleasant. I got the feeling he wished we would go away, but
it was obvious to him Marla intended to see this through. Plus
she obviously knew what she was talking about. The man asked
to see Marla's Ship ID card. He then checked her name against
the manifest to confirm that Marla was indeed the Group Leader.
Once her authority was established, the Maitre d' asked Marla what
she would like him to do. Marla asked him to research the name
of the mystery couple.
The Maitre d' carefully checked the computerized seating plan for
the dining room. He looked up our tables. He confirmed
our educated guess was correct. The mystery couple was indeed
Hope and Joe. Then he had a little surprise for us. He said
that Hope and Joe had a right to be there. They were sitting
at their assigned table!
Assigned table? I looked at Marla and she looked back at me.
They hadn't just availed themselves of two empty seats. They
had gotten someone to give them permission to sit at one of our
Marla was fit to be tied. She explained to the Maitre d' that
she had personally made every seating assignment in the SSQQ group.
Hope and Joe were not part of the group and they had not been part
of the seating plan.
The more she thought about it, the angrier she got. Because of
Hope and Joe, the entire seating plan of her group had been screwed
up. And no one had shown her the courtesy to explain the
change. Not only had the change been made without her permission,
the change had ruined the configuration of our group's seating
She looked at the man with a furrowed brows. She said,
"On whose authority were these two people
added? And who switched the seating arrangement of our
At this point, there was an interesting shift in the man's demeanor.
Till now, he had kept us at arm's length. But Marla spoke with
such assurance that he began to sense something out of the ordinary
was going on here. Yes, this was awkward, but on the other
hand, he began to see where Marla was coming from. Marla
wasn't scamming him; something strange was clearly afoot. He spoke
"I will do what I can to help clear up this
problem. What do you want me to do?"
"Can you access their accounts and
see who was responsible for this change?"
The Maitre d' nodded. He looked up Hope and Joe's record. He
"Recently a representative of Royal
Caribbean made this seating assignment at the request of the
passengers in question."
He paused for a moment, then added,
"I see here that the couple in
question has taken many cruises with us. If I were to guess,
perhaps they used their status to receive special accommodations."
He paused. "You have the
authority to make a change. Would you prefer they be reassigned to
Marla looked at me. "What do
you think, Rick?"
think that out of respect to Hope and Joe's friends, I have no wish
to embarrass them. Let everyone enjoy the trip. I can live
with it if you can. You're the one who keeps getting pushed
around, not me."
nodded her head in agreement with what I said. Marla told the man,
"There's nothing to be gained by being ugly. Let them sit
where they want. Thank you for at least explaining to me what
was going on."
As a result
of Marla's decision, Hope and Joe were allowed to join our group for
each meal during the trip. No one was told about the problem.
Hope and Joe joined us on other occasions as well. They were
on the periphery of one group activity after another. They
never participated, but they were always in the background watching.
They became our constant shadows.
Since Hope and Joe made themselves a part of our group, I can only
assume they would want to have their picture included. I took this
picture myself at dinner one night in preparation for this story you
are reading. It remains a complete mystery to me why they
smiled for my snapshot.
Were they completely oblivious to how Marla and I felt about their
actions? Or did they simply not care what we thought?
Royal Caribbean has developed a system of valuable
incentives designed to lure repeat customers to book
directly with them.
This email on the left is a perfect example of how RCCL
offers discounts to previous customers.
This practice allows RCCL to bypass travel agents.
RCCL can discount their fares
(see picture below)
at the drop of a hat.
if they don't have to pay a
commission to a travel agent, then they aren't losing any
have little doubt that RCCL would greatly prefer to lessen
their dependence on travel agents.
They stand to make more money if when customers book with
them directly plus RCCL gains greater control when customers
deal with them.
Meanwhile, the travel agent gets systematically undermined by this
what? That is how business in America works. It is
RCCL is looking out for their own interests and I am sure Carnival,
etc. does it too.
And you know what else? Marla and I have the right to
We are not helpless.
Marla and I have something that Royal Caribbean and the
other cruise lines cannot take away from us:
Group Cruise trips are very
attractive and very popular.
Marla and I have been told time after time how much
people enjoy to taking vacations with our groups.
Look at it this way - If the guest wants to hang out with
friends, that opportunity is always there. But if a
guest wants to be alone, he or she has that choice too!
On a Group Cruise, you have the best of both worlds.
Go where you want to go, be with whom you want to be. Enjoy
the advantages and safety of a large group or disappear
whenever you want to be alone.
Group Cruise Card
is a very valuable asset that Marla and I hold. But as we
have explained, we have to protect that
against the lure of Big Business Discounts.
Most people understand our position and are very loyal.
But not everyone...
The lure of savings is very powerful.
I remember one man who
showed up for our Pre-Cruise Meeting for the 2003 trip. He had not
signed up for the trip. What was he doing here? At the
time, I couldn't figure out what was going on. Maybe he
was coming to pick up some tickets for a friend. Who knows?
Since I liked him, I didn't mind him being there. So I didn't give
it another thought.
When the ship sailed, I was surprised to
see him show up for one of our dance events. Where did he come
from? That is when I recalled he had crashed our pre-cruise
So I asked
him what was going on. He explained he had signed up with
another travel agent to save a whopping $20 for him plus another $20
for his son who was along with him.
This saved $40, but Marla
was out $200 in commission.
Some people will bypass us to save a couple dollars.
incident with Hope and Joe should put to rest any doubts
that we are correct in this conclusion.
Hope and Joe's actions prove there are people who are
willing to bypass Marla to save money or get extra benefits.
Then they turn around and try to piggyback our group anyway.
Hope and Joe didn't want to play by our rules. We said
no, but our authority meant nothing to them. They were
going to do it their way whether we liked it or not. So they
went behind our backs to get seated with our group. I
hope it was worth it to them.
Given that lucrative discounts will be a constant nemesis, I
don't see any choice but to stand firm on our willingness to
exclude people from the group. Even if means we have to be
nasty about it, we will stick to our guns. And now you
know why we have our 'Book it or Hook it' Rule
Book it or Hook it
Ė to be a part of our group, you
must book with Marla. It isnít fair to her to go to
all the trouble to book this trip only to see people give
their commissions to other agents.
A FUNNY COINCIDENCE
there was another couple on our trip who initially did the same
thing as Hope - book this cruise with someone else. Like Hope
and Joe, they were experienced cruisers who had likely accrued
similar credits. Perhaps they booked elsewhere to take
advantage of these credits.
This couple learned about
our trip one night when they visited the studio for our Friday Night
Western Dance. I happen to like both of these people. In
fact, they actually met at my studio at a New Years Party. I
asked the lady to dance. As we danced, we also chatted. The
lady mentioned they had just returned from a Mediterranean cruise.
Now we had something in common so we talked about cruises. The next
thing you know, she and her husband were interested in going with us
on the New England cruise.
The following day, the lady
contacted Marla. After a game of phone tag, she and Marla got
a chance to discuss the details. Satisfied that it would be a
fun experience, the couple decided to go. But they bypassed
Marla and booked the cruise elsewhere - perhaps directly with Royal
Caribbean like Hope did.
Then she got back to Marla
for seating with the group. That is when she learned that she
and her husband would not be allowed to join the SSQQ group.
Marla could tell on the phone she was disappointed. The lady
thought about it for a while and probably talked it over with her
husband. A few days later she changed her mind. First
she canceled her reservation and then she asked Marla to book it
Marla was very grateful. So was I.
I was very touched by the kind gesture of this couple.
life, there is a right way to do things and there is a wrong way to
The Business Side of Organizing a Cruise Trip
FORWARD WITH RICK ARCHER
Rick Archer's Note: The following story was
part of the writeup for our 2004 Wedding Rhapsody cruise. I wrote
this article back in 2004 as a way to explain to people just how hard
Marla works behind the scenes.
In the words of one previous customer,
suppose if I looked hard enough I could find a less expensive price
somewhere, but I will never find a travel agent that tries harder to
make her trips successful than Marla Archer."
Champagne Night and
The Life of a Travel Agent
The SSQQ Champagne Night was definitely one of the favorite evenings on the
For those of you who like to understand more about how the "Travel
Industry" works, there is an interesting story behind our "Champagne Night".
not only became my Bride on this year's trip, she was also the Travel Agent
for our group.
If anyone was ever born into a particular role such as this, it is Marla. She has
a genuine gift for organizing
Even before Marla and I met, 'Travel' had always been one of her
favorite hobbies. I relied on an outside travel agent to coordinate
the first three SSQQ cruises, but soon after we met, I realized Marla was a
natural for this role. I used my contacts and secured a position for
Marla as a "travel agent in training". On last year's Jubilee 2003
trip, Marla shared the workload with an experienced travel agent.
She did so well that she was rewarded with more responsibility when she
organized the Mardi Gras trip earlier in 2004. After Mardi Gras,
Marla was promoted again.
This Rhapsody 2004 trip was the first cruise where Marla did all the work
without supervision. Given this kind of responsibility, from the start
Marla put all her
energy into making sure this would be our best trip ever. I think
she succeeded beyond our wildest dreams, but then I am prejudiced.
One of the things that Marla learned is that when you decide to take a
cruise, there are huge advantages to going with a Group as opposed to
booking individually. I have a hunch the cruise industry would love
to repeat the airline industry's trick of cutting out the travel agent.
But it isn't going to happen any time soon because a good travel agent is
still the cruise industry's best friend.
As it stands today, "Destination Industries" such as the ski industry and
the cruise industry realize the value of catering to individuals like
Marla whose leadership can attract large groups of customers.
Both Marla and I have noticed many people greatly prefer to cruise within
a group. Traveling with friends is a marvelous way to share
It should be duly noted that although the
mischief level varies drastically between the Singles and the Couples,
traveling with a large group such as ours seems equally attractive to both
The opportunities to dance are greatly expanded with a group
such as ours and the trips ashore seem more fun as well.
The "more the
merrier" slogan seemed especially appropriate for every activity we had
on this trip ranging from Bar Hopping at Key West to the Bloody Volleyball Match at Chankanaab
Indeed, our Post-Trip Party was equally packed with Singles and Doubles
all smiling and laughing themselves silly at Gary's Slide Slow.
Obviously Everyone had fun whether they came alone or came
together. Cruise trips afford everyone the chance to get to know each other
at a much deeper level. I
find it interesting that several of the roommates Marla put together have
become best friends once they returned to shore. Something about
"partners in crime"...
A SURPRISE BENEFIT OF GROUP
TRAVEL - UPGRADES
Did you know that in addition to increasing the "Fun Level", there are
huge economic advantages to traveling with a group? One little known
story on this trip were the large number of people who received upgrades
in their accommodations.
You might be surprised to find all that money you pay for a cabin barely covers the ship's
expenses. Where they make their money are from the drink tabs, the
excursions on shore, the gift shops, the art show auctions, the bingo, the
gambling, and selling the pictures at auctions. These activities are vital towards
assisting each ship to turn a profit.
Take my dance studio for example. A class of 20 makes more money for
us than a class of 10, but there is no increase in cost to the studio. Therefore the larger the classes, the easier it is to pay the SSQQ rent.
The Rhapsody feels the same way - the more cabins they can fill, the more
profit they make from people participating in the activities.
So the Rhapsody does everything it can short of giving the trips away to
fill as many cabins as possible.
Since it is far easier to sell a cheap cabin than an expensive cabin, as
the departure date grows nearer, the cruise specialist rewards many of
the passengers who have already signed up with "upgrades" to more
expensive rooms at no extra charge. There is no rule as to who gets
the upgrades. These lucky passengers are
usually people who have registered through "Groups" because here
the specialist can ask the agent for suggestions.
Marla enjoyed a terrific rapport with her RCCL Specialist, a man named
Courtne (yes, that's how he spelled his name). Every day I would
hear laughter from her office only to discover she was on the phone with Courtne again. Was I jealous?
Maybe. They clearly were on the same wave length. For example,
I asked him why he doesn't spell his name with a "Y". He answered,
"Because I never ask questions." Marla understood him, but I didn't.
So what? I sure enjoyed the results they were cooking up together.
For his part, Courtne enjoyed the success Marla had recruiting customers
for him to process. She definitely made his job easier by boosting his
One of Courtne's jobs was to create more space in the cheaper cabins.
These upgrades typically go to the group agents, not to the many anonymous
individuals who sign up "on-line".
Because Courtne respected Marla's
work, he enjoyed rewarding her by giving her the Lion's Share of these
opportunities to hand out among her passengers. Due to her special
status as the Agent in charge of the single largest Group on this
particular sailing of the Rhapsody, Courtne offered Marla frequent
As a result, I would guess 90 people
among our group were promoted to better cabins simply due to the
Who received the upgrades? Marla chose evenly between the
first people to sign up on this year's trip and people who had sailed on
previous SSQQ cruises. This quiet upward movement is one of the
unwritten rewards for traveling within our group. I might add Marla
was deeply appreciated for these favors. Some people traveling on a
limited budget said these were the best cabins they had ever seen.
Marla's relationship with Courtne paid off in several other important ways
as well. Marla negotiated a group rate far below any price an
individual would get by signing up solo. Typically she had two
months to sell cabins at this discounted rate. After that the
price is free to rise. However, because our SSQQ Group
performed so well this year, Marla was able to get RCCL to extend that rate far beyond
the original cutoff date.
As a result people signing up through SSQQ were able to get a significant
discount over the price listed on the RCCL Internet web site practically up to the last
Things weren't always this positive. In the process of her work, Marla learned a lot of things the hard way.
There is a real Dark Side to the cruise business.
Marla discovered there is a campaign in the cruise industry to bypass
travel agents whenever possible. This would allow the cruise line to
save money on commissions if they could get passengers to book directly
with them. If they didn't have to pay commissions, then they could lower
their prices. By lowering their prices, people would abandon their
travel agent. Get the picture?
In other words, by cutting out the middleman, they would save money plus
gain more direct control over their customers.
Never was this point more clear than an incident that happened on the last day of the
cruise. Someone made a ship-wide announcement, that every person
who "signed up today would receive a $50 off"
bargain that the ship was offering.
Soon Marla was besieged with SSQQ passengers trying to take advantage of
this offer. She quickly explained to each passenger that
the offer was $50 per cabin, not $50 per person. Divide by two. $25
nearly as impressive.
Then Marla explained that the Group Discount that SSQQ receives is significantly greater than $25.
In other words, for
those people aboard this cruise who were not in our group, this was a
nice bargain. But for members of our group this promotion offered no savings at all.
However, without Marla's explanation, this was a difficult concept to understand.
She had to work overtime to explain to people that the ship's offer was
nowhere near what they would get if they stuck together as a group.
Here was a simple example of how RCCL tries to bypass the travel agents. I can't say that I blame them, but it does make
Marla's job harder because she has to explain the truth behind each
Although Rhapsody 2004 was only Marla's second trip as a solo travel
agent, I noticed that the SSQQ passengers were quickly beginning to learn to
take her word at face value. Although it is true I have an outspoken
wife, I can also tell you she speaks the truth even when it may not be
to her own advantage. It is her nature to be candid.
And believe me, her credibility was tested time and again on this trip.
A major headache was the onslaught of phone calls regarding various web
sites that appeared to offer a better price than Marla's listing.
Marla received calls from at least a dozen people who said they had
seen a better price somewhere else on the Internet or in the paper.
Due to the ease with which both outside travel agents and potential
customers can comparison-shop the Internet, it is almost always
possible to find a cheaper price somewhere. Generally these bargains
are $10 less here or $20 less there. The problem is that the
Internet hosts more con men and swindlers since the snake oil salesman
days at Dodge City. Only the most highly experienced travelers can
detect the difference between genuine bargains and the nonsense promises
laced with hidden costs.
For the record, Marla negotiated an extremely good price for this trip.
However due to all the cruise double-talk, there were numbers that
appeared to beat our price from time to time. Marla
would patiently look up the prices herself and explain what was going
on. Not once did she turn up a site that truly undersold her
However not everyone was convinced that the SSQQ price was the best
price out there.
Marla finally decided not to argue about the price
anymore. The price was competitive; let's leave it at that. She pointed
out that if each person went for a $10 bargain
here or the $20 bargain there, two bad things would happen. First, if the
$20 was that important, then go for it, but don't expect to be part of
the group. Second, none of these people would count as part of
our group when RCCL got around to counting up how many perks our group was
due. By signing on elsewhere, the person would be sabotaging the
overall group. Marla had to make these people see that we had to work together in order to
maximize the benefits for the group.
Marla's leadership paid off. Slowly but surely everyone came around
to Marla's thinking.
Marla discovered that none of these people meant any harm. They
simply did not understand the big
picture until Marla cleared it up for them. As the result of Marla's
patience, with the exception of only one couple, 120 people signed up with
It wasn't always easy for Marla to earn the group's confidence.
She received her fair share of lumps and abuse in the first two years.
For this particular trip, one of Marla's customers treated her with complete contempt.
The argument began over an aspect of cruising that confuses everybody
known as Port Fees.
Everyone who sails pays a port fee. Marla pays a port fee and so do I.
I promise! The City of Galveston has built a very expensive dock for RCCL, Carnival,
and other cruise lines to use. Similar the concept of a Toll Road,
Galveston gets that money back by adding a "Port Fee" to the
ticket of each
The "Port Fee" issue causes rampant confusion, especially with people who
are new to the cruise game.
Take this classic example: One Travel
agent says he or she will put you on the Rhapsody for $400 while another
agent promises to put you in the exact same cabin for $560. The first agent
simply has neglected to mention the $160 Port Fee. He or she isn't lying,
but you aren't getting the whole picture up front either.
Since it is human nature to call the less expensive offer first, you phone the
$400 person and give them the first crack at your money. To your
great regret, once you make the call, you find out the bottom line is the
same as the more expensive offer. You realize you won't save money
by going anywhere else. Since you are on the phone anyway, why
waste any more time by calling someone else??
So the agent with the
less expensive offer gets the sale.
Is it any wonder that most agents prefer not to list the actual price up
front?? If you think this racket sounds similar to the come-ons you
hear from the car dealers, you would be correct.
Like I said previously, all the cruise discount double-talk led to constant inquiries from people phoning
or emailing Marla to ask why so and so charges this but Marla charges
that. These daily headaches over at most 20 bucks quickly taught Marla that Travel Agents
have to work very hard for their money.
These frustrations were
minor, however, compared to the way she was raked over coals by a man
who openly questioned her intelligence. This particular SSQQ traveler was so rude to Marla that she began to cry.
This man had
paid for a single cabin. A cabin on this trip sold for $800. This translated
into $400 a person. So he paid the entire $800. Since he was
traveling alone he only had to pay one port fee
of $160. $800 + $160 = $960. In his mind he had paid for the entire
cabin including his port fees.
Then a couple months later our passenger invited a young lady to join him in
the cabin for FREE. "Won't cost you anything!
Cabin's all paid for!" he promised.
However when the lady inquired about the free cabin, Marla
disagreed - someone would need to pay another $160 Port Fee. The man
called Marla and told her she was wrong. "I already paid the #$%* port fee!
You told me the cabin was completely paid for!"
Marla tried to explain why he or the lady still needed to pay a second
port fee, but he wouldn't listen. He called her a liar on the phone and
questioned her intelligence using very unattractive words including the
I know this for a fact because I
listened to the message he left on her answering machine. Marla was
right all along. Someone - either the man or the woman who joined him late
in the game - would need to pay the extra $160. Marla didn't
appreciate being insulted, but she held her ground until the man quit
blustering and started to listen. He eventually paid up another $160 to
get his woman on board. For her trouble, Marla ended up with nothing
more than extra gray hair for her trouble. Marla never gets any commission on port fees,
just headaches and a stiff neck.
The Weird Travel Agent Bypass
Another maddening incident was the couple that signed up on-line through
another travel agency, then turned around and asked to be included in the
This incident baffled me because they paid $170 more by signing up
The woman had phoned or emailed Marla on several occasions with inquiries
about the trip. She had been on one of our previous cruises.
Marla told her that she and I would be delighted to have her join the
trip. Imagine Marla's shock when she found out the lady and her
friend had by-passed her and signed up for the same cruise using another
Marla received an email saying they
had signed up elsewhere "in order to save her the trouble" since Marla had
mentioned being very busy planning her on-ship wedding.
But the couple didn't think Marla was too busy to do their seating arrangements
The same email that
explained why they had not used Marla's services also requested that
Marla make sure they were seated at our group dinner tables.
Their online travel agent
was unable to do this for them. So they paid $170 extra for less
Marla had not only lost 2 commissions, now she was being asked to
act as their travel agent for nothing. She went ahead and
scheduled them with our group, but it still made no sense.
Not only was Marla hurt by this bizarre action,
the entire Group was sabotaged
There are "perks" granted to each group based on the size of the group.
The number of cabins necessary to receive these perks changes from trip
While the number may vary by peak season versus slow season, anyone can figure out "the higher
our number, the
more the goodies".
By signing up on-line, this couple cost the SSQQ Group two spots because they were not registered as part of our group.
What if the magic number
had been 90 but we only had 88 who counted as part of the group?
Stand Up and Be
Don't laugh; as they say,
every man counts. On the six trips SSQQ has taken, twice we
have missed a cut-off and once we
barely made it.
On our first cruise in 1998 we needed 35 for a
party, but only had 30. They gave the party to us anyway, but they reduced the time
of the party and cut out the hors d'oeurves entirely.
In 2001, we magically crossed the Magic 100 barrier at the very last minute.
qualified us for a huge bash courtesy of the Carnival Celebration. And Celebrate we
did! The 2001 trip was a fabulous success.
Earlier this year we missed out on a party. On last
February's Mardi Gras Trip we took 39 during the off-season only to miss the 50 cut-off.
It might seem like we missed the number by a wide margin, but in truth
there were several nibbles right up to the last minute. Had one or two
of those inquiries gone our way, maybe the others would have joined the
Mardi Gras 2004 was the trip where I learned that every little bit
counts. As anyone trying to recruit for a college football team
will tell you, the faster everyone stands up and gets
counted, the easier it is to recruit the "undecideds" to join us.
It Helps to be Big
On the 2004 Rhapsody Trip I learned first-hand the advantages of why it is
useful to travel in a group. Despite meeting all our "perk" numbers
without breaking a sweat for this September trip, we needed all the
muscle we could muster!
A perfect example of the benefits of size
developed when Marla had to fight to secure the Shall We Dance Lounge for our
wedding reception on the first night.
Typically Shall We Dance is used
for "Kids Orientation." In the summer several hundred
children come on any given cruise. However in late September it was time for
kids to be in school.
Without bothering to actually count, the Rhapsody Cruise Director automatically
penciled the kids in for Shall We Dance and stuck us in the tiny Viking
I was furious. I expected our group would outnumber all the
kids on this particular cruise by a significant margin. Marla did
everything she could, but this issue seemed to go nowhere. The
Lounge issue stayed on
the table for a month. It still wasn't a done deal till the final week before the
Finally, I decided I had no choice but to use a threat. I hate
being a jerk, but sometimes that is what it takes. I
emailed that I intended to bring our entire group into Shall We Dance whether the
kids were in there or not. Then we would let the actvities coordinator explain to
120 adults who wanted to dance why a bunch of kids deserved that room more than we did.
In other words, someone either wasn't thinking or couldn't have cared
less. But we got the
room shortly after my tirade.
Do you think we would have won our argument
if there had been 50 of us? Probably not.
Size counts! If
you are going to act like a bully, it helps to have a big gang backing
Now you can see why the twin concepts of
and Be Counted and United We Stand, Divided We Fall are real issues
when we organize our group trips.
As far as I can tell, for the 2004 trip only the "Marla's too busy to
help" couple broke ranks. I went ahead
and included this couple in our group. I did it for the simple reason that
I liked them. I didn't understand their actions or their reasons, but I didn't
see what good it would do to cry over spilt milk. I was pleased to note they seemed to have a good time.
However for future trips I think all of our passengers need to understand
this issue more clearly. From now on, if someone does not book with
Marla, that person cannot be part of the group.
So what does all this have to do with Champagne??
crossed the 90 threshold, we were able to qualify for our next group perk.
Courtne gave Marla the option of converting the perk into commission or
giving it away in the form of a Champagne bottle to be given to each cabin.
Marla decided she wanted to thank everyone in her own way for coming along
on her Honeymoon Cruise. So as a result each cabin received a
complimentary bottle of champagne. Let me add many people
acknowledged her gesture with plenty of hugs and thanks.
However there was one very peculiar problem -
no one seemed to be drinking their bottles!
The problem with a bottle in a cabin is that you have to share it with
your roommate. Bottles are tough to cut in two. A lot of these
roommates had just met. For example, two guys who barely knew each
other weren't as excited about sharing a bottle with each other in the wee
hours as you might think.
Therefore many bottles
were left sitting in the rooms unopened.
Such a terrible waste!!
Rivas had an idea. Why not have
everyone pool their resources for a big 6 pm
bash on Thursday Formal Night before our
group picture at 7 pm? Such a Smart Girl!
This idea was well received.
Lots of people signed on for this concept.
Mara doesn't drink much herself, but as you
will soon discover she is excellent at
getting other people drunk.
Several of the people on the trip do not
drink, so they thoughtfully contributed
their bottles to this party.
Talk about adding fuel to the fire!
There were Champagne bottles everywhere,
probably close to 50 of them!
The rate of Champagne consumption varied
dramatically from one person to the next.
I heard some people took a couple sips. That
But what about the
others who poured their champagne into the
buckets the bottles came in and used
straws!?! Why not just chug the
bottle? Or lay on your back and turn
on the faucet?
Unfortunately Marla and I had
a meeting with the Captain at this
same time. This meant we had to miss the significant Champagne event. Therefore we
have no "insider stories" to share. However I do have in my
possession some very interesting pictures. I will let them tell the story.
One thing I noticed is you could use pictures to guess the
amount each individual had to drink.
For example, study carefully the pictures below of Zeke from Cabin Creek and
Gina Lollobridgida. These portraits will serve as an up-close study on the effects of alcohol.
Both woman are strikingly attractive in their red dresses and black hair.
Both also appear to be under the influence. You job is to see if you can tell which Lady in Red
has had the larger intake of champagne.
Speaking of red, note the
rosy cheeks on Lolo. She is a Royal Flush. Or is that a Royal
My, what rosy cheeks!
And don't you love those bedroom eyes?
They say every picture tells a story. Here are two final looks at
In the picture above, Mara is sipping while it appears Leroy takes his
Champagne a little more seriously.
Doesn't Leroy know that drinking too much Champagne makes you sleepy?
6. FIRING CUSTOMERS!
Written by Rick Archer
APPEARED IN THE MAY 2008 NEWSLETTER
The adage as we all know is that the customer is
always right. That said, this sentiment seems to in question
these days. For example, I
have a friend who tells me she fires her customers
occasionally when they stand her up for appointments.
She does it in a nice way,
but makes it clear it is time for them to find a replacement
That said, if truth be told, I don't fire very many
students. I would estimate maybe one person a year gets
excommunicated from SSQQ. There
are a couple I would like to strangle, but by and large the
people who come to the studio are friendly, honest, and
decent people. The vast majority of our customers are
marvelous human beings.
WHAT DOES A STUDENT HAVE TO DO TO GET
In the past, most of the complaints have been directed at
me. But today, I am going to do the complaining. I am upset
with a student whose name and identity will remain
One really easy way to get fired as a student is to be rude
to my wife Marla.
As I write this article, SSQQ
currently enjoys one of the happiest Eras of my
30 year career. There are so many
people who contribute to this Era that the list is
If I name a few, I insult the ones I leave off.
If I name a lot, this 15-page Newsletter doubles in length.
So for now I will stick to one person.
At the top of the List is my wife Marla.
Thanks to her hard work, I have a special name for this
It is known as the
LOVE BOAT ERA.
Not only does Marla keep a steady hand on the business
details of SSQQ, her work with the two SSQQ cruises each
year is phenomenal. No one
but me sees the daily work Marla puts in answering the phone
with both current and potential Cruise customers,
interacting with Royal Caribbean and Carnival booking
agents, and typing endless replies to an endless number of
email questions. Add to that her interaction with her host
travel agency, her constant review of the travel
possibilities on the Internet, and all the paper shuffling
she handles, you have one very busy woman.
As I am fond of saying, "Many of you, few of me."
Well, when it comes to the Cruises, Marla operates under the
same conditions. There is only one Marla, but this year
(2008) there are nearly 200
cruisers (many of whom are brand new and feeling
Not only does Marla patiently answer many of the same
questions day in-day out for different people, there are
some cruisers who seem to make a hobby emailing Marla
practically every other day. One person has emailed Marla 38
times regarding one cruise. Nor is he/she the exception.
There are two other people with over 30 emails. Many
of you/ Few of Marla.
When I ask Marla if it gets old, she nods yes, but then she
quickly adds that every job has its good sides and bad
sides. She understands that diligence in regards to
correspondence is part of making sure that each cruise is
well organized and that new people feel they are going to
IN APRIL 2008
MARLA RECEIVED AN EMAIL THAT CROSSED THE LINE. HERE IT IS:
Date: 04/15/2008 5:38:49 PM
Subject: Cruise in August
"Good Afternoon Marla,
I was looking at the Cruise you are putting together in
August but the prices seemed high.
When I went onto the Carnival Cruise site, I found the
attached rates. (RA's NOTE: NO RATES WERE ATTACHED)
Also, I know that for every 8 or 10 people that sign up,
there is one free cruise for the person putting it together.
Am I mistaking? Is there something added into the price of
the cruise for the SSQQ people that is not included in the
price listed on the Carnival website? My friend and I would
like to go but not if we have to pay more than Joe Nonssqq -
PS - If you search the Internet, MANY of the travel agents
are offering $100 per person discount and/or double class
upgrades. Certainly SSQQ wouldn't charge their people more
just to make a couple of bucks."
RICK ARCHER'S NOTE:
"Certainly SSQQ wouldn't
charge their people more just to make a couple of bucks...
ha ha ha"
This email upset Marla. Not only did this individual have
their facts WRONG, Marla didn't appreciate the insinuation
that she marked up the price.
For the record, Marla received an average of about $25 a
person in commissions for last year's
2007 dance cruise. This is no one's business, but I
thought I would share it with everyone nevertheless.
From the start, Marla has organized these cruises as her way
of making a special contribution to our studio. She has a
natural ability for this job. Marla also puts her heart into
Marla could make more money at this, but she generally
returns her perks to our passengers in the form of cocktail
parties, champagne parties, and upgrades.
As the Almighty is my witness, if you divided the hours
Marla puts into these cruises into the commission she
receives, her rate would be well below the federal hourly
minimum. She does this work from her heart, not for the
Despite the pleasantries, the innocent little questions and
the joking banter, this email from
ANONYMOUS should be read for what it is: a
poorly veiled innuendo that Marla marks up the price. I
counted 7 different passages that called into question the
price tag in one way or another.
This was the email equivalent of a slap in
the face. I was angry when I saw that email. This person
crossed the line and now I had something to say.
RICK ARCHER REPLIES:
Subject: Cruise in August
Date: Wed, 16 Apr 2008 06:26:31 -0500
SSQQ has been doing these cruises now for eight years.
You have the distinction of sending perhaps the least polite
initial email regarding the cruise trips we organize that I
have seen yet.
If you have so little initial confidence in us, I doubt
things are going to get much better.
I will remove your name, but rest assured this email is
hitting the newsletter later this week.
Sent: Wednesday, April 16, 2008 6:58 AM
To: Rick Archer; firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: RE: Cruise in August
Might I suggest that you re-read the email and see that it
was not written as you have interpreted?
I regret that you have taken such a defensive position, and
while I do not believe that you have meant a threat of
trying to defame me or damage my name and reputation, how
else am I supposed to read your email.
Having met you, I would not believe you are one who treats a
simple question with such defamatory remarks. If you have
such strong feelings, might I suggest a more professional
action, such as a phone call or personal confrontation?
I have been coming to your facility for XXX and have brought
dozens of new clients. Do you really think it is my attempt
to intentionally harm SSQQ? Certainly not but my question
was valid and just, based on current information available.
Mr. Archer, the email was sent to Marla with reasonable
expectations of privacy. I do not give permission to
broadcast it through your newsletter with any reference to
my name or being, and I would encourage you to contact me to
discuss this matter if you so feel inclined.
With Business Regards, ANONYMOUS
RICK ARCHER'S SIDE NOTE:
I said, "You have the distinction of sending perhaps
the least polite initial email regarding the cruise trips we
organize that I have seen yet."
Last time I checked:
1) To be defamatory, you have to identify the person
2) To be defamatory, you have to say something false.
RICK ARCHER REPLIES:
Subject: RE: Cruise in August
Date: Wed, 16 Apr 2008 09:55:43 -0500
No one said you were trying to harm SSQQ, but the tone of
your first email clearly insinuated that Marla was inflating
the price (which is not true). I believe Marla has already
replied to you with the facts of the matter.
Now as for your second email, since I have been publishing
student emails in my studio's Newsletter now for the past
ten years, what gave you the impression you could write us
"with a reasonable expectation of privacy?"
I previously told you I intend to publish the letter with
your name omitted, but now that you have bullied me into
submission, I will again promise to omit your name. I will
also omit your name when I publish your follow-up letter as
Don't worry. You have my word on that as you did the first
time. I have no doubt your pristine reputation will be
Out of curiosity, if you think your initial email was
harmless as you so claim, why do you feel so compelled to
Sent: Wednesday, April 16, 2008 10:59 AM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: This is not the correct manner / media for these
My email was directed as a personal correspondence to Marla
and in no way was intended as a student email regarding
SSQQ. If I was aware of the fact that others beside her
would be reading the message or if that it was open to
possible publication, it would have been written with this
in mind. Is it SSQQ policy to hold all correspondence open
to publication? Is that posted somewhere?
Of course it is your decision as to what you decide to
publish but might I suggest that as you read my email and
interpreted it in an incorrect manner, I read your email
also equally as offensive and as an attack and threat
against posing a reasonable question about one of your
products. If that was not your intent, then I too might have
incorrectly reacted as you did.
I did smile with your "lawyering up" comment. Although I am
not licensed, it appears my training over the years is
starting to show through. As a XXX in many companies, I am
constantly amazed at the manner in which we are forced to
communicate. Also, at $250 - $400 per hour, my legal staff
is always willing to make mountains out of molehills. No
wonder there are so many derogatory lawyer jokes.
I again extend the offer of a phone call or face to face (I
am there 3-4 times a week) as I am sure you will agree that
there is no benefit to each of us escalating this relatively
minor annoyance or damaging relationships.
RICK ARCHER'S NOTE:
I did not respond any further. However, I did go ask Marla
what the truth was regarding the initial email from
Here are Marla's responses:
I was looking at the Cruise you are putting together in
August but the prices seemed high. When I went onto the
Carnival Cruise site, I found the attached rates. (RA's
NOTE: NO RATES WERE ATTACHED)
As of the day that I received the initial email from
ANONYMOUS, the rate on the SSQQ site was absolutely
identical to the prevailing rate on the CARNIVAL site.
However, Carnival did not bother to list the fuel surcharge
($35) or taxes ($80). This is a common practice in the
industry used to make the prices of the cruise seem less
than they really are.
Also, I know that for every 8 or 10 people that sign up,
there is one free cruise for the person putting it together.
The long-time industry standard is that every Sixteenth
person goes for free. This is a deeply misunderstood rule.
The reality is that Cruise Fare Only is free
. Port Fees ($160),
Taxes ($80), and Fuel Charge ($35) must be paid regardless.
If ANONYMOUS brings me 15 completely new passengers who have
never been on an SSQQ cruise before, I would be more than
happy to comp the Cruise Fare, but ANONYMOUS would still be
responsible for the remaining $275 for port fees, taxes, and
Am I mistaken? Is there something added into the price of
the cruise for the SSQQ people that is not included in the
price listed on the Carnival website? My friend and I would
like to go but not if we have to pay more than Joe Nonssqq -
For the record, there is absolutely NO MARKUP in the SSQQ
price. I get paid a commission and that's it.
I would like to point out something else. Here is a list of
past perks provided by SSQQ as our way of thanking people
for becoming members of our group:
1. SSQQ pre-Cruise meeting
2. Free Admission to the SSQQ Saturday Party prior to
departure the following day.
3. Private cocktail party
4. Free dance lessons
5. Champagne party
6. Chocolates delivered to cabin
7. Group dining
8. On board credits
10. Organizing Group photo (and posting it on the Internet)
11. Rick's Cruise Writeup
12. SSQQ Cruise After-Party
If ANONYMOUS were to sign up directly through
Carnival's Website, he or she would receive none of those
And let me add, if ANONYMOUS had come to me prior to our
Group Registration Deadline on April 10th, he or she would
have received a discount of $95 to $135 off the prevailing
rate offered at that time by Carnival.
Thanks to our Group Discount, we
were a hundred dollars below market price.
There were several
warnings of the upcoming deadline well in advance, both on
the website and in previous newsletters. You can't wait
PS - If you search the Internet, MANY of the travel agents
are offering $100 per person discount and/or double class
upgrades. Certainly SSQQ wouldn't charge their people more
just to make a couple of bucks."
The same day I received the initial email, I visited
Travelocity, one of the largest Internet Travel
booking engines, to check on this claim made by ANONYMOUS.
Their rate was identical to Carnival's prevailing rate.
There was no offer of $100 discounts whatsoever.
If ANONYMOUS thought there was a suspicious discrepancy,
Travelocity chose not to list Taxes ($80), and Fuel Charge
($35) in their posted fare. Since this adds up to $115,
perhaps this caused the $100 misconception on the part of
Let me add I saved an entire document worth of comparative
shopping I did that day in response to the email from
ANONYMOUS. If anyone - including ANONYMOUS - wishes to see
that document, please email me (
) and I will forward my research on the spot.
You have my word that everything I have said is correct to
the best of my knowledge and I can prove it too.
RICK ARCHER'S NOTE:
While ANONYMOUS and I were exchanging emails; ANONYMOUS also
wrote to Marla one more time.
Sent: Tuesday, April 15, 2008 9:28 PM
To: Marla Archer
Subject: RE: Cruise in August
"Do we want to go?" Of course we do! Who wouldn't want to
join the rag tag miscreants of SSQQ? It looks like a blast.
I'll just need to see if I buy through you guys or online.
Would we still be allowed to play with the group if we
bought our tickets online?
The simple answer is: NO. YOU
ARE NOT WELCOME.
It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who book
elsewhere, then expect Rick and Marla to welcome them into
the Group with open arms. Why
do people suspend their innate sense of decency in order to
save $10 here or $20 there?
If I read between the lines what ANONYMOUS is saying to me,
it goes something like this:
"Marla, I heard you organized a marvelous rag tag group
of miscreants. By the
way, I just signed up for that same trip online.
That means I took $25
out of your pocket so I could save $10-20 out of my
pocket, but now I want to hang out
with you guys. Surely you won't have a
problem with me joining your miscreants?"
Where do people get this kind of nerve?
ANONYMOUS wants to get something for nothing. This attitude
is so irritating I almost wonder if it was said deliberately
to provoke me! If so, nice
shot. You scored a bull's eye.
'Crashing the Party' is an industry-wide
headache. Not one group
organizer would permit such a thing. Every
website I visit has some sort of prohibition against people
joining without an invitation.
Throughout the Travel Industry -Vacations to Go
and Sundancer Cruises are two examples -
everyone who organizes group cruise trips has to deal with
HERE IS SUNDANCER'S POLICY:
"Dances & Workshops will be "Private Parties"
only available to our group!
You must book with Sundancer Cruises to
participate in Workshops and Dances."
VACATIONS TO GO'S POLICY:
Q- "Can I book with my local travel agent
or directly with the cruise line and still join
your singles group activities?"
A- "Sorry, no. To be part of our singles group,
you must book the cruise through Vacations To
Go. Any singles onboard who did not book through
Vacations To Go will be denied access to our
special events, cocktail parties, shore
excursions and dining."
SSQQ has an almost identical policy to Vacations to Go.
Known as the 'Book
it or Hook It' Rule, we were forced to institute
this policy after several abuses.
Our policy states: "You must book your cruise with
SSQQ in order to be part of our group."
In the case of ANONYMOUS
("I'll just need to see
if I buy through you guys or online/ would we still be
allowed to play with the group if we bought our tickets
been fired from the trip so it is a moot point.
As we wrap this story up, there are some things I would like
to say to everyone who has taken a cruise with us, be they
past, present, and future.
I do not want anyone on my trip who distrusts me to the
degree expressed by ANONYMOUS.
I tell the truth. Always. Whatever I print on the web site,
that is the truth as I know it when I print it. You have my
word on that.
If you think I am gouging people I consider to be personal
friends to line my pockets, please find another agent or
book on the Internet. Just leave me alone and don't
ask to join the group!
I have chosen to defend myself this time, but from now on I
won't bother. I will simply post this document on a
permanent spot on the SSQQ travel web site. Then if anyone
doubts my word, I'll just email him or her the link.
Of course people have a right to ask questions about
pricing! I answer questions
all the time. But please ask in a
respectful manner and try checking your facts first.
I have now successfully organized eleven cruise trips over a
period of six years. My work is published on the SSQQ web
site for anyone to review. I know what I am doing and I
stand by my record.
Our cruise numbers grow every year for a reason - people
have learned to trust me. And I am grateful for your
But I do not appreciate having my reputation challenged,
especially by someone as ignorant as this customer!
Nor do I appreciate having sarcastic, demeaning people
challenge my integrity or my competence. This is exactly the
kind of condescension that takes the fun out of my work.
If you will treat me with respect, I will organize the best
trip I possibly can for you and I will answer your questions
to the best of my ability. But please don't question my
word. That is all I ask.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
From: K P
Sent: Monday, February 05, 2007 3:18 PM
Subject: Book It or Hook It story
Thanks, Marla, I am really looking forward the
By the way, I just read "Book It or Hook It" stories from ssqq.com,
and I just want to tell you, out of the $492 for the cruise, I
wouldn't care if you made $491 in commission.
I don't even consider your commission any of my business, I just
look at the great price and whether we have the time to go on the
Thank you and keep up the good work. K