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TRAVEL TIPS

Kevin Griffin of The Cruise People, Ltd, London, writes in the June/July, 1998, issue of Freighter Travel Review Magazine: "The general answer to the question "Do freighter lines give discounts is "no." Unlike cruise lines, which set tariffs high and then run rolling campaigns of early booking reductions and reservation deadlines (and then discount even further when they realize that a particular sailing may not be full), cargo ships depend on full holds and certainly don't have time to spend haggling over passenger fares.

The operation of a cruise line passenger yield management system takes time and money, and by comparison containership owners, whose main concern is cargo, begin with a reasonable price for a reasonable service, not unlike a good day's pay for a good day's work.

However, it is still possible to get a bargain. This is done not by shopping around and beating your agent over the head to give you a rebate, but rather by keeping a weather eye out for the chance and by knowing the ways of the trade.

The most obvious saving is for "off season" voyages. Lines offering reduced fares in the off season include Safmarine (between Tilbury and South Africa), Blue Star Line and Columbus Line (between North America and Australia) and Mineral Shipping Company (winter reductions between Rotterdam and Savannah).

The off-season varies by route so ask your agent for full details. The real winner in freighter travel is the single traveller. Unlike with the cruise lines, which normally routinely charge single supplements of 50% to 100%, a typical freighter single supplement is usually only 10-15% and on some ships single fares are actually lower than the equivalent double fares per person.

For the price of a cheap ferry ticket to the Continent, it is also possible to avail oneself of the lower per diem charged by many Polish ships and also by tramp ships operated by Edgon Oldendorff, which typically embark passengers in ports such as Antwerp, Hamburg or Gdynia

Finally, and only occasionally, a ship will come new from a shipyard or from a scheduled dry docking or possible change of routes. In such cases, reductions are sometimes offered to fill passenger berths, but this only happens two or three times a year, and one must be willing (a) to wait for the bargains to appear, as there usually no warnings, and (b) to be ready to move quickly to take advantage of them. The value for money offered by freighter voyaging is generally well-known, and in the end, it is well worth paying the extra cost for an Owner's Suite, typically only about 15%. Compared with the enormous fares charged for suites on cruise ships, these are truly the seagoing bargains of the century."

Most agents will inquire as to whether you wish to purchase trip cancellation/interruption insurance. This is not very expensive. I make no recommendation as to whether you should, or should not, purchase this insurance. You will also need health/accident and emergency medical evacuation insurance. This is mandatory. If you have insurance through a private U.S. company you should check with them to insure you have the required extra territorial coverage. If you are insured through some state or governmental agency be sure that it affords coverage outside of your country. If you are not sure about coverage, or if you have no coverage, it can be purchased through your travel agent. Generally it is not very expensive as coverage is provided only for the duration of your voyage.

It is critical that your travel plans be flexible. It has been my personal experience that ships rarely arrive ahead of the scheduled arrival date. More often than not they run any where from a few hours to a few days late. Accordingly, it is wise to get refundable airline tickets, rather than to go with the "special", or "bargain" rate airlines offer for advanced bookings. With the former you can catch a later flight with little or no penalty, if the ship is running behind schedule, with the latter this is not possible, Plus, if you arrive at the departure port ahead of your vessel you are going to have to shell out for food and lodging that you may not have budgeted for. The few extra bucks you pay for a refundable ticket is worth the additional cost. The same thinking also applies to your return trip tickets. Where airlines may run a few hours late, ships, despite their best efforts, can run days late! There is nothing worse than being aboard ship worrying whether you are going to make your flight home.

If you go to the ship tracking page and follow the directions therein, you will be able track your ship and know exactly where it is at any give time. This is helpfull in planing your air flights. You can go to the home page of many of the shipping companies and check the arrival/departure dates of your ship. These are updated almost daily. It is not possible to get an exact arrival date at a given port until a couple of days prior thereto. If you are scheduled on a vessel owned/chartered by Egon Oldendorff, go to their home page and track the exact position of all of their ships via their satellite tracking system. This is the most accurate tracking system available. Should you be scheduled on a vessel owned/chartered by Hamburg-Sud (including Columbus Line) check here for the arrival departure date of their ships.

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