I recently booked my flights through Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea airfare promotion, and it saved me over $800. However, the experience was stressful and not nearly as convenient as I expected.
Unless you are lucky enough to live within driving distance of a cruise port, you will need to book flights to your embarkation port. If you plan to cruise internationally, the cost of a transatlantic flight can absolutely bust your budget.
Norwegian Cruise Line offers a convenient flight option when booking your cruise. With the Free Airfare offer, the cruise line will book your flights to and from the cruise port. Although it’s advertised as Free Airfare, you technically receive free airfare for the second guest when purchasing the full fare for the first person traveling.
Read more: How to Choose Your First Cruise
Last month, I sailed on Norwegian Star for a 10-night British Isles cruise from Southampton, England. The cruise alone was a fantastic deal, but we also had the option to book our airfare with Norwegian's Free at Sea promotion. Compared to booking flights on our own, booking with the cruise line saved us around $800.
Most people don’t realize that Norwegian Cruise Line does not guarantee assistance to make your cruise if you encounter flight issues. In fact, the cruise line does not even guarantee that your travel party will be booked on the same flights unless you’re in the same stateroom. Without a specific request, you will likely arrive on the day of your cruise, which is never a good plan.
For us, we received significant savings taking advantage of this offer. However, it meant that we essentially booked a surprise flight with no control over which airline, departure times, or routes.
Would I book my flights through Norwegian Cruise Line again? Probably not, unless it yielded significant savings.
Although booking flights through Norwegian Cruise Line seemed convenient and cost-effective, we had little to no control over the flight selection
First, when booking flights to your cruise through Norwegian Cruise Line, you are not able to provide any airline preference. If you’re someone who has status with a certain airline, there is no guarantee that you’ll be flying on that airline.
Because of this, you should be prepared to forfeit any benefits or perks you might receive because of your status, such as free checked luggage, complimentary upgrades, or priority check-in. Purchasing flights through Norwegian Cruise Line does not cover baggage fees.
We requested a one-day deviation to ensure we arrived in time for our cruise
If you cruise often, you should know the golden rule of traveling for cruises: arrive the day before your cruise departure date.
One flight delay or cancelation can cause you to miss your cruise entirely. It’s always best to fly into your departure port the day before your cruise to buffer extra time in a worst-case scenario.
By default, Norwegian Cruise Line will book flights that arrive on the day of embarkation. Arriving on the day of your cruise is always a bad idea, especially when you are traveling internationally. For international flights, you should plan to arrive at your destination one day before your cruise embarks; this means you actually need to fly out two days before the departure date.
To allocate enough time, we requested through our travel agent to have a one-day deviation for our flight itinerary. This would hopefully get us into London the day before our cruise and provide us with some time to explore the city.
Deviations need to be requested with at least 75 days until departure through Norwegian Cruise Line. You can only request one or two-day deviations before or after your cruise, so there is little flexibility to arrive early or stay late after your cruise. More often than not, I want to have a few days in the departure port, especially when flying internationally for a cruise.
When booking with Norwegian Cruise Line, I would highly recommend allocating an additional day before your cruise to ensure you have plenty of time to make your cruise.
After I started researching reviews about using Norwegian Cruise Line’s airfare program, I combed through hundreds of negative reviews from other cruisers
After booking our cruise and choosing to use Norwegian’s airfare promotion, I started to have second thoughts. While this decision could not be reversed, I started to research other cruisers’ experiences with Norwegian’s airfare promotion.
As expected, the results were a mixed bag. Some had great experiences but many people shared their horror stories of using Norwegian Cruise Line to book their airfare. It had me nervous about everything that could go wrong with our flights.
One recent headline shared how one family spent $60,000 on a dream cruise onboard Norwegian Jewel with airfare booked through the cruise line. The family missed their cruise because Norwegian booked their flights on the same day of the cruise embarkation. In this case, the family should have chosen to have a one or two-day deviation to embarkation.
One of the apparent perks of booking your flights through the cruise line is that you will receive assistance to reach your ship if you encounter any flight issues, but this is not really true. Upon reading the fine print, Norwegian Cruise Line cannot assist with any airline changes that take place within 72 hours of the flights. In this case, you have to work directly with your airline.
Additionally, Norwegian Cruise Line does not take any responsibility if you miss your cruise due to the flights booked through the cruise line.
We received our flights within two months of the cruise, although the itinerary was less than ideal
A couple months before the cruise would set sail, we received confirmation of our flights to and from the cruise port. I was pleased to see that Norwegian Cruise Line had booked us on Delta Air Lines, which is my preferred airline.
Unfortunately, we were booked on the last flights of the day and we only had a little over an hour for a connection in Atlanta. For an international flight, this did not allocate much buffer time. I also prefer to book an earlier flight in the day in case of a delay.
As luck would have it, our flight to London was delayed two hours. Because Norwegian Cruise Line had booked us on the last flight of the day, we didn’t get to London until roughly 2 p.m. Had I booked the flights myself, we would have arrived around 9 a.m. to give us enough time in the city.
Our departure time after the cruise was before noon, which added extra anxiety
Another rule of thumb for booking flights around your cruise is to ensure you have enough time to disembark the ship, go through customs, and arrive at the airport for your flight. Most suggest not booking a flight before 12 p.m. depending on the airport.
The Southampton port is a 1.5-hour drive from London’s Heathrow Airport. With a flight at 11:30 a.m., the suggested arrival time to the airport would be 8:30 a.m. This would imply we should be on the road by 7 a.m. to arrive in ample time. With the cruise ship arriving at 6 a.m., we would need to disembark, go through customs, and start our journey all after the ship received clearance.
This was a stressful situation because Norwegian Cruise Line booked us on a flight that was too early for an international flight.
Booking flights through Norwegian Cruise Line also had limitations with flight changes or adjustments
Anytime you book with a third party, meaning not directly with the airline, you will need to work with that third party for changes. The reservation is considered a "group reservation" when booked with Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free Airfare promotion.
I was looking to change my return flight because of the undesirable departure date. Anytime I tried to make a change to the flight, the Delta app said I was unable to make the change.
Booking directly with the airline allows you to make changes or even cancel your flight with the airline. Otherwise, you need to jump through hoops with the third party to make changes. This also creates an opportunity for the airline and cruise line to point fingers at each other if something goes amiss during your travels.
Ultimately, it’s simpler and more convenient to book directly with the airline in almost every situation, but you could pay higher fares to have this convenience.
I probably won’t book my flights through Norwegian Cruise Line again, unless it saves me a substantial amount of money
Booking with the cruise line was supposed to be easy and stress-free, yet I found it to be the opposite experience. Although Norwegian Cruise Line happened to book my flights on my preferred airline, I doubt every experience would be like this. According to other reviews online, you’re just as likely to have a bad experience with Norwegian’s airfare BOGO promotion as you are to have a good experience.
With short layovers and less-than-ideal departure times, I was anxious about my travels to and from the cruise port. Vacation is meant to be relaxing, not stress-inducing. Perhaps I am a bit of a control freak when it comes to airline travel, but I prefer having control over my flights!