For the average cruise traveler, say the word “interline” and you might as well be speaking a foreign language. But for those in the know, the word unlocks all sorts of special advantages and travel goodies.
For interline booking, it turns out, provides reduced rates for airline employees, their immediate family, parents and retirees who want to take a cruise vacation at a special price.
In addition, other travel benefits are available to U.S. military personnel and veterans, members of police and fire departments and employees of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. As Wikipedia writes:
"Interline discounts on cruises and hotels can be booked through interline travel agencies. To qualify, the traveler must provide proof of eligibility, such as a copy of their airline ID badge or letter of employment on airline letterhead."
Interline has always been a bit of an insider's game, with only select agencies proficient of making it work on behalf of clients, so we try to shed some light on the subject in this Q&A. All you really need to know is that interline can save you lots of money in your travels if you're eligible.
Now that cruise bookings are booming again, even if ships aren't sailing yet, I thought it would be a good time to interview Diane Fish, whose Twin Fish Interline travel agency (a Cruiseable partner) has been booking cruise travelers since 1995.
JD: A lot of folks aren't aren't familiar with what interline is. Help us understand.
Diane: Interline is the term used when you work for an airline like Delta and you are going to fly on another carrier as one of the benefits of working for an airline. It's a buzzword in the airline industry that refers to a rate that applies to airline employees and retirees and their immediate families. And a lot of people and family members don't even realize they're eligible for these reduced rates.
So it could apply to any person in any department of any airline.
Any employee, any department, anywhere. And their immediate family. There are hundreds of thousands of airline employees working and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t explain to an airline employee the benefits they can take advantage of. They get the air with their employer and they get the cruise or land from us.
And all the airlines take part in this?
Yes. If you work for Jetblue and you want to fly Southwest, there is an interline department at each airline. There is an agreement, with negotiated rates, accessible through an airline employee portal, that the public is not privy to.
Do airline employees go directly to the other airline, or do they go to a travel agent to take advantage of this?
They actually have a pass bureau. The pass bureau is where they get their passes to fly on other carriers as well as other benefits. Every airline employee has to log in and list themselves for a flight, go to the airport and wait until the airline clears the flight, and then the employee can pick up the pass to board the flight. Understandably, there is a hush clause where the employees do not talk about it, do not brag about it, they keep quiet. And when they travel, they pay taxes only.
Can they get on pretty heavily traveled flights or do they have to wait until something opens up?
The airline will not put them on a flight that's full. They must take care of the paying passengers. But a lot of my clients now are looking for deals on airlines as well, so we are actually selling them airline tickets.
Tell us a little about your agency Twin Fish.
We’re not the biggest, but we’re the best. The clients who have been with me for 20 years are still here. They trust us. We handle reunions, weddings, and we've arranged 50th wedding anniversaries. So many you just can’t imagine. And we handle travel for a lot of airline employees.
How do those employees find out about Interline?
A lot of them don't know about it. They have to be inquisitive, they have to kind of ask questions in person and online. We’re happy to help them get their benefit. A lot of these people take a job in an airline, they think it’s just like a job in a bank. Then they realize there are travel benefits. And then they realize that not only they are eligible, their parents are eligible, and in some cases, their in-laws are eligible. So are their children, and the benefits continue when they retire.
What I think would be smart is for airlines to take us on as their interline department, because we can help their people get so many benefits at other airlines, and at hotels and cruise ships, too.
How do cruises come into the interline picture?
It’s a marriage. Airline employees get free air, and my agency doesn't book issue airline tickets, but guess what? The airline employees who fly from the U.S. to Barcelona or Rome need something to do when they get there.
Why not take a cruise? They can hop on all the major cruise lines for a lower fare than the general public. You can get some really nice rates from Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and others. It’s a privilege that they aren’t supposed to discuss with the general public, but it’s a benefit that they get for their service.
What kind of discounts are we talking about for cruises or hotels?
They vary. Sometimes as much as 50 to 75%. People think they can get a better deal by researching it on the Internet, but the fact is that they cannot.
Why do the cruise lines do that?
It’s a rate code established many years ago that only agencies like mine provide. I’m one of the few companies in the country that does this. It is not known to the general travel community.
Our agency negotiates reduced rate travel for airline employees to get a benefit they are entitled to, so they should call us for all their travel needs.
What about hotels?
Yes, special rates there, too. We're able to help airline employees, airline retirees, active military personnel and veterans find rates lower than they can find online at hundreds of hotels around the world.
I don't think interline is very well known in the hotel world.
Marriott does it right for its employees. Every Marriott employee knows they get Marriott employee rates worldwide. And they can book in Europe, they can book in China. Marriott educates their employees on benefits. The airlines do not because they don’t own the product.
I talk to new employees at airlines every day, and they think they can get a better rate at Expedia. But what they don’t know is our relationships are for airline employees, so if I call a travel company up and I request an airline employee rate for our client and I say my client wants a place in Tahiti with a bungalow over the water, the online price would be $500 but the contract rate I have with the company gets it for $450, and the airline employee gets it for $235 per day. There is a rate structure in place from 50 years ago. Young people don’t realize they can get so many other things if they use the right channels.
You mentioned military discounts.
On Princess Cruises, if you are a military veteran, you can get an onboard credit up to $250 based on the number of days you travel. [See Princess Cruises benefits for military personnel.] We will fill out the papers, send them in, and we can provide you the onboard credit that you get, but most other agencies don't know the process.
What are the kinds of experiences you've heard about from travelers who've taken advantage of these programs?
One of our partners is Club Med. If you don’t want to take a cruise but want go to an island and want all-inclusive, I have to tell you, Club Med is the bang for the buck. The rate is half price for interline bookings. The reduced rate benefit at comparable resorts is $200-$250 per night. Club Med is going to be $85-$150, depending on the time of year. For instance, rates today start at $115 a day at Club Med Cancun and $105 at Club Med Ixtapa next month. We sell so much Club Med because of the value they provide. We have Turks and Caicos. We have a small private island on El Salvador. We have celebrities, we have ball players on there, and it’s fabulous.
I have one special client who went to the Turks and Caicos Club Med for a special 70th birthday. She had the time of her life as a single woman there. And then we have families who really enjoy the experience -- they go snorkeling and do all the water sports.
One other thing about Turks. The thing to understand about Club Med is they pick the beach first, then they build the property. so they have the best beaches on whatever island they are on, and if you like beaches, that is the place to go. I have to tell you that the Maldives property is like going to Tahiti for about one third of the price. All the honeymooners who want a magical escape, you go to the Maldives and you are going to pay less money. Over-the-water bungalows, all inclusive.
The Cancun property is also amazing, with family units where the parents get a king bed, then twin beds for the kids. You walk out the door you have your lounge chairs, your shower outside and you walk a few steps to the beach. There's a family section, another section for couples and honeymooners. Club Med just hired Cirque du Soleil to do their trapeze programs, designed to teach the general public how to do the trapeze. I did it. The kids did it and they loved it. Then they put the kids in a show. It’s a great place to go to have a total family experience.
Right now we have interline rates through February. You have to be flexible, to wait for the price. If you call me right now and book, we will give you a private offer, and if the rate goes down before you pay in full, we can switch it to the reduced rate benefit!.
It sounds like airline employees have two good choices, to go on a cruise, or a land vacation to Club Med or other properties.
Absolutely. I would like to tell people, don’t leave the money on the table by booking direct. Use your travel agent, who understands the process and the best value and who's able to provide the best pricing and the best sound advice.
If you're interested in taking advantage of discounted interline travel rates, military rates or other special savings, call Cruiseable at 1-877-322-3773 and we'll connect you with the agent with expertise in that area.
In our series Smart Money on a Cruise
- Super Guide to Booking a Cruise
- Guide to all-inclusive pricing on cruise ships
- Complete guide to tipping on a cruise
- Cheat sheet for deposits, payments & refunds
- 3 best travel rewards credit cards
- 15 tips on how to save money on a cruise
- Patti's 7 money-saving tips for cruise travelers
- Walter's 8 money-saving tips for cruisers