Sunday, September 16, 2012

OK I'm back.

Yes, it's been a long time since this blog was updated. No, I wasn't legally dead this whole time; only last week.

I was on holiday!

Having suddenly had a small bout of monetary good fortune, I responded in the only way appropriate— by spending every last penny of my new-found wealth on an epic adventure. I traveled across ALL the Americas! ALL OF THEM!

Obviously some details of my experience (and photos! Don't forget the photos!) will be forthcoming at some point, but first I'd like to relate a few experiences I had in the preparation and booking phases of my trip.


One of the life lessons I learned on this trip is that I'm really not a "cruise" person, and I can provide many insights into that (in a later post). However, I booked this trip without benefit of that foreknowledge and so I set out to book a cruise from Anchorage, AK to Vancouver, BC. (Actually, I wanted to go to Prince Rupert, BC but none of the cruise lines stopped there.)

That's when I found out that all cruise lines advertise prices substantially lower than the actual real prices they actually charge. When a cruise line advertises a price of $800, they mean the actual price of the cruise is $1,600 because the quoted price is "per person, assuming double occupancy." That means the room, which they are actually in the business of selling, because a cruise line has rooms, sells rooms, and can't sell half a room, costs $1,600; if you book two people in it, you pay $1,600, and if you book one person in it, you pay $1,600. So far so good; American hotels work the same way. The problem is that when asked for the price of a room, an American hotel quotes you the actual price of the room; they don't quote you half the price of the room because that's what you would pay per person, if you put two people in it. European hotels may use "per person" quotes for double rooms, but they almost invariably have single rooms as well; cruise lines invariably don't so if you book a cruise as a solo traveler, you are required to pay double the advertised fare.

Understandably annoyed, I googled around for solo cruise options, but only confirmed that cruise lines simply hate solo travelers; nearly every article I found on how to avoid paying double started with: "Find a second person to travel with you (who is willing to pay their own way)." Even the most definitive article on solo cruising that I found (that would be this one) spends a lot more effort painstakingly detailing what programs and amenities cater to solo travelers, on the assumption that the only reason one ever travels solo is because one is looking for a mate or because one is an elderly woman whose husband has died. It confirms single cabins are available on a very small handful of ships (none of which were in Alaska), and referred to cruise lines charging 1.5 fares to solo travelers as offering "discounts," as if the solo-pay-double was expected rather than fraudulent. Which is why I will make my fortune offering all-inclusive cruises to solo travelers with no "single supplement" fares or "per person, assuming double occupancy" adverts.

Incidentally, after much faffing about and struggling to find a reasonable price from the cruise lines, I stumbled across the Alaska Marine Highway System, which is substantially cheaper, which doesn't pull the "per person, assuming double occupancy" trickery, and which actually goes to Prince Rupert! (Bonus!) Sure, it required a two-day layover in Juneau, but two days isn't a layover, it's another destination and it proved well worth it.


So in addition to booking (and ultimately declining to book) a cruise, I also decided to break down and buy a smartphone. Yes, a toy whose limited uses fail to counterbalance its massive price tag, SHUT UP OK! I have developed a dependency on certain parts of the internet and I planned to spend a lot of time without wifi, so I decided to buy a smartphone, because it proved impossible to find a suitable mobile hotspot and most smartphones have a mobile hotspot feature. And I had a limited budget, so I wasn't planning to pay any massive price tags.

That's when I found out that mobile phone companies advertising trickery put cruise lines to shame. The advertised price for a mobile phone is less than half of the actual price; a $650 smartphone is typically advertised as $200. Why? Because the advertised price is $200 with purchase of a new two-year contract. I suspect many people buy their phones with new contracts, but as my holiday was not two years long and required a prepaid service, I was obliged to pay the actual price of the phone. I was also obliged to double- and triple-check to make sure my phone was suitable; it turns out many mobile phones are artificially locked to one carrier even if purchased from a high street shop without a contract. Plus, many American carriers use CDMA networks, presumably for the same reason they call football "soccer."

Ultimately, I did find a smartphone that used GSM networks, which wasn't locked to any carrier, and which was extremely cheap (on account of being secondhand). So at least that worked out.

What didn't work out was that Bell Mobility won the fraudulent advert contest, beating all of its fellow service providers and cruise companies, but I'll cover that some other time.

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