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FREE US$1,500 Tag Heuer Watch on a cruise ship! No catch.

By Tom Everett, Editor

When I showed my new $1,500 Tag Heuer Aqua Racer watch to my friends telling them that it had not cost me a penny, I could see the quizzical look on their faces. In truth I could scarcely believe it myself. What was interesting was that, apart from my friends even seasoned cruisers we met on board the cruise ship were clueless as to how it was possible and in unison they chimed “Please share your secret with us!”

So I’m gonna share this secret with all you readers. First off, it is not a secret. Even I was ignorant of the availability to obtain what is called “on board credits” (OBC) on some of my earlier cruises. On some cruiselines they are called “on board spend”. Generally speaking, depending on the ship, you can use the OBC (on board credits)’s for shopping in the ship’s boutiques, spa, shore excursions, tips…in fact for most anything except perhaps, exchange them for casino chips.

You see ships, like airplanes hate to sail with empty cabins. So they will try to incentivized bookings by offering OBC (on board credits)’s on top of discounts on the cruise fare. This is particularly prevalent in the low season or after the industry has been hit by an incident like the Costa Concordia sinking, when there’ll be cancellations and a lull in cruise sales.

The real secret and trick is to sign up for the FREE newsletters like the newsletters in TRAVELAUREATE.COM. You see, like all smart travelers, you’d not have the time or inclination to scour the net all day for deals! I know some seasoned travelers do that, but that’s a loser’s endeavor and a real waste of time. Why do that when you can sit back and let the research teams in sites like Travelaureate do the heavy spadework for you? In fact, I ignore these newsletters until the day when I decide that a trip is due. Then I eagerly await the newsletters and pay real close attention and browse them for special deals and offers, keeping a watchful eye for deep discounts and OBC’s…the deeper the discount and the higher the OBC’s the better. As you scour the newsletter, you’d notice that some cruise lines are more generous with OBC’s than others.

Certain cruise lines like Cunard and the 6 star lines like Crystal, Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas can offer very attractive OBC (on board credits)’s. For instance, in the spring of 2012, I spotted on Travelaureate’s newsletter a 12 night Crystal Greek Isle cruise sailing from Rome to Istanbul offering a deeply discounted price plus OBC (on board credits)’s of US2,000 for balcony bookings. I jumped at the chance and registered my interest with Travelaureate. Alas, the response was the deal was “Sold Out”. Undeterred I asked to be placed on priority wait list with the payment of a small deposit. This often works, as the “Sold Out” spiel is sometimes a normal bait and switch and if you call their bluff, you’d often get the deal. I also emailed my regular travel agent (TA) and requested that they try to get the deal for us. The reply? Yes, it’s fully booked but they managed to secure a cabin with the same price but with OBC (on board credits)‘s of $1,500. Taken… I chimed. Oh, the priority wait list trick did work, for the folks at Travelaureate did call to ask if I was still interested as there were cancellations, to which I replied that I’d already booked (sigh…if only I’d been a little more patient, I’d have got $500 obc more, but I guess you can’t win them all) so all I got back was my deposit.

I then asked the TA to book a back to back 7 night cruise on Seabourn from Athens to Istanbul as I was attracted to the deeply discounted price and the OBC (on board credits) of $500. Done and my dear wife and I embarked on a wonderful trip lasting a full month with extended stays in Istanbul. On board both ships, my dear wife happily shopped for bling in the ship’s jewellers using the OBC (on board credits)’s as the shops are all duty free! Best of all, you can also cash in part of the OBC (on board credits)’s and pocket the cash! What a deal!

When we analysed the 2 sailings and the attractive offers, we can put our fingers on several factors. First, the biggest factor was signing up for Travelaureate’s FREE newsletter! Next, the Crystal Symphony that we were sailing on was due for dry dock for a major refit after our sailing. Further the Costa Concordia incident had taken place just 3 months earlier at the beginning of 2012. Consequently, bad news in the cruise industry is actually good news for deal hunters, for you can be sure that when the uninitiated start cancelling cruises, deep discounts and massive OBCs will start appearing. After all cruising is still the safest mode of transport!

In late 2012, we decided to take another cruise, again to the Greek Isle as we simply loved Santorini, Mykonos and Rhodes. We had also purchased Future Cruise Credits (FCC) on our last sailing some 4 years ago on Cunard’s Queen Mary and they were about to expire. Basically, FCC’s are sold by cruise lines to encourage you to choose their line for future sailings. The incentives offered, apart from some complimentary internet time on board are OBC’s. We had paid in US$300 each which we could use to offset the cruise fare from our TA. On top of that, we were given $300 each of OBC’s for sailings exceeding 7 days in balcony category. We began scouring the TRAVELAUREATE.COM newsletter and soon found a 14 night Cunard QE Greek Isle sailing in November 2012 from Venice to Athens with deep fare discounts plus OBC’s of $700. We requested for an additional OBC of $200 from our TA and the response was “No Problem”. We totaled up the OBC and found that it came to $1,500. My dear wife then told me that this trip, it was my turn to buy bling. As bling was not my scene, I proceeded to QE’s shop and purchased my Tag Heur Aqua Racer for $1,500 tax free using our OBC’s. So that, Ladies and Gentlemen is how I came to get the Tag Heuer Aqua Racer, a watch of my dreams, courtesy of the ship!

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