Could Carnival Lure You Back Onboard With a 110% Money-Back Guarantee?

Costa Concordia lying on its side next to Giglio Island, Tuscan Archipelago, Italy - PREPARATIONS FOR ITS REMOVAL
AlamyThe Carnival Cruise ship Costa Concordia lying on its side next to Giglio Island, Tuscan Archipelago, Italy, prior to its being righted Tuesday.
It took 19 hours, but salvage crews finally turned Carnival's (CCL) Costa Concordia upright on Tuesday. It's going to take quite a bit longer than that to turn Carnival itself around.

Last week, Carnival rolled out the Great Vacation Guarantee, offering travelers a 110 percent refund and free transportation home if they are not satisfied within the first 24 hours of a cruise. Naturally the unhappy passengers will have to wait until the next port of call to leave the vessel. And Carnival will also offer those customers a $100 credit for a future sailing if they ever want to give the company a second chance.

Yes, it's that bad apparently.

Not So Bon Voyage

The world's largest cruise ship operator just hasn't been able to raise steam since a few unfortunate incidents at sea over the past two years have tarnished its reputation.

The Concordia accident was the worst, of course. That disaster killed 32 people last January when the ship ran aground along the Tuscan coastline. Closer to the cruise line's Florida home, an engine fire earlier this year stalled Carnival's Triumph at sea for days.

Remember late-night shows poking fun at the ship that was rendered partially powerless with backed up toilets and stories of passengers scrambling for cold food? That was Triumph. A month later, Carnival's Dream turned into a nightmare when its backup emergency diesel generator acted up. There were some brief interruptions to power to elevators and restrooms. At least that boat was already docked in St. Maarten on the final leg of a week-long cruise. Carnival decided to fly passengers home from there instead of chancing another Triumph-style defeat.

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Smaller incidents have also hit other sailings, but those are the ones that stand out vividly in the minds of potential passengers. These are the events that travelers consider when they weigh the decision to take a road trip, fly off to a single destination, or hit the open seas.

Carnival has a lot of sprucing up to do with its brand, hence the extreme guarantee.

Not-So-Sure Excursion

A cruise vacation should be an easy sell. The ability to pack once and explore several exotic destinations is unmatched by other travel methods. The abundance of dining and entertainment options when a ship's at sea put air, rail, and car travel to shame.

Pack some Dramamine or Sea-Bands for the landlubbers and you're all set.

However, Carnival's miscues are making too many potential passengers rethink the advantages of boarding a ship. It's not just about the ill-fated trips. Booking a cruise also leaves you at the mercy of last-minute cancellations when things go wrong on a prior sailing.

Triumph's failure forced months of weekly bookings to be cancelled. Refunds were offered, of course, but these bumped passengers had to scramble to draw up new getaway plans.

The Great Vacation Guarantee seems to have you covered once you're on the boat, but what if you never get the chance to board in the first place?

Carnival for Carnivores

Will this new desperate guarantee be exploited? Probably. You can already picture some folks booking their trips with every intention of asking to get off the next day after an evening of dining and entertainment. Carnival will have to be lenient here. The last thing it needs is to have folks trying to game the system complain that they weren't allowed to leave the vessel in under the terms of the guarantee.

However, the brand does have an image that needs to be restored.

In its latest quarterly conference call, Carnival pointed out that bookings were up at higher price points on its non-Carnival lines, but it was the exact opposite on Carnival ships, and it's not just the Triumph and Dream liners carrying the stigma.

Carnival warned that pricing on its bookings is lower on all of its major itineraries on the Carnival brand for sailings this quarter relative to last year. In a gradually improving economy, one would expect passengers to pay more. They aren't.

Carnival earlier noted that it may take two to three years to truly restore the brand to where it was before. It's done its part, spending hundreds of millions to add amenities and upgrade its fleet to prevent future fires from taking out both engine rooms.

The product has improved, but the consumers' view of it has not. The Great Vacation Guarantee is an extreme offer, but it's what Carnival needs to do in order to prove that it has finally got it right.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our newsletter services free for 30 days.

Tips to snag travel vouchers
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Could Carnival Lure You Back Onboard With a 110% Money-Back Guarantee?

When Scott Ford was laid off from his job in New York City back in 2008, he headed to JFK International Airport without thinking of anything other than getting on a plane to visit friends in sunny San Diego.

And when the Delta Airlines gate agent announced he needed a volunteer to be bumped from the flight because the plane was overbooked, Ford idly lifted his hand and accepted a voucher for a future flight.

"Suddenly, it clicked," says Ford, a native of Dayton, Ohio, who now makes his home in Portland, Ore. "Since I was unemployed I had the free time and flexible schedule to travel as much as I wanted if I could find a way to afford it."

As Ford accumulated travel vouchers and frequent flier miles by getting bumped from as many flights as possible, he developed a plan to spend every week of 2011 on vacation.

While not every traveler has the time and flexibility to voluntarily miss a flight, Ford's experiences offer a blueprint that some fliers can use to garner some of their own free travel.

Click through our gallery for Ford's top ten tips.

Ford says that if you want to accumulate vouchers and frequent flier miles, it's much better to build them up with a single airline. You can also leverage your loyalty to the airline for extra perks and upgrades.

Your likelihood of getting bumped increases when you travel when everyone else does, such as Friday and Sunday evenings or around holidays.

Ford books as many connections as possible to increase the chances of being bumped on one or more sections of the trip.

Before you book any flight, check the seat map to see how many empty seats are available or call the airline to find out if a flight is nearly full. Book your ticket on the flight that has very few seats left.

If you can't always be flexible and offer to miss a flight, try to add some extra time to the beginning or end of each business trip or vacation when a few extra hours at the airport won't matter.

If you're at the gate early, you'll have time to tell the gate attendant and the person at the check-in counter that you're available to be bumped.

Ask the gate attendant as soon as you arrive if the flight is full and let that person know you're willing to be bumped if they need someone.

Ask the gate attendant if there will be a "weight imbalance" on your flight. Instead of dumping too-heavy bags, the airline will sometimes reduce the plane's weight by bumping one or two passengers, says Ford.

If you do get bumped, it's much easier if you only have a carry-on bag rather than having your luggage pulled from the flight. Alternatively, pack belongings for one night and meet up with your bag later.

Always be calm and polite with the gate attendants so you're the one picked if there are several volunteers.

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