Although this article discusses discounted liveaboard scuba diving trips in Similan Thailand, the information can be used to explain the situation in most other countries around the world. Boat operators and dive centres worldwide normally work in very similar ways to in Thailand. They own and run the boats, and the trips are sold through direct bookings as well as through their booking agents (often referred to as resellers). Some customers prefer to book directly, and others like to book through an agent. Find more Information on Is it better to book direct, or through an agent?.
Who offers discounted liveaboard scuba diving trips in Similan Thailand?
If a trip is available at a discounted rate, it is available both directly and through agents. It would be unfair for agents if the boat operator was the only one offering a special deal. Likewise, it’s not fair to any agents who are not informed or permitted to sell at a special price when others are. It would also be unfair for the guests who book through any source that can’t offer the special deal. Therefore, if a trip becomes available for a lower price, the boat operator informs all of the agents to promote the special deal. The special price is available through whoever the customer chooses to book through.
Why are some trips discounted and others not?
In most cases, the reason for discounted liveaboard scuba diving trips in Similan Thailand is to encourage more bookings on a particular trip. This trip may be near to departure and not full, or it may be at the beginning or end of the scuba diving season, and therefore not as popular as trips during the high season and peak periods. Just like hotels and flights, the boat operators need to have enough paying guests in order to run a successful business. Some boats* run at a loss for occasional trips so as not to upset the few guests who booked, but no business can continue to this on a regular basis. Also, if a trip is reserved for a full charter or large group booking and the customers cancel near to departure, the boat operators need to resell the spaces. They might offer a discounted price in attempt to recoup some lost income or opportunity, or they may use the forfeited deposit by the cancelling customers to offer the discount to new customers.
*MV Oktavia is one of the best examples for not cancelling trips. They are very anti-discount, but they are also very honest. If there is a trip with not enough divers to make a profit, Oktavia will run at a loss rather than upset the booked guests by cancelling the trip. We very much appreciate Oktavia’s policy and we send them many guests each season, who always return happy.
When are the discounts available, and for which trips?
There are three main times when discounted liveaboard scuba diving trips in Similan Thailand are available.
1 Early-bird booking discounts are when the customer books their spaces many months in advance and pays in full. This enables the boat operators to improve cash flow as well as encourage bookings throughout the year. Even our largest & most-luxurious liveaboard boats have early-bird booking discounts. For Similan liveaboards, the booking deadline is normally August 31st or sometimes September 30th. One or two of our boats don’t set the same kind of deadline. Instead their early-bird deals have a deadline of 3 or 6 months prior to departure.
2 Last-minute discounts are for trips which are not full and have many empty spaces. The boat operators offer deals such as 10-20% off of the trip price or free equipment or Nitrox fills. The last-minute deals normally begin no more than 2 weeks before departure, and only on selected boats. Most of our boat operators prefer not to offer last-minute diving deals because it can upset guests who booked before and paid the full price. Also, they are happy to run at 70-85% occupancy, earning a little less profit but everyone on board is happier.
3 End of season discounts are normally announced in March or April for trips which depart in the final month of the scuba diving season. However, MV Andaman & Nangnuan’s end-of-season trips are available at 20% off even if booked many months in advance. The dive centres who offer end-of-season are normally at the lower end of the budget range, but not always.
If I booked & paid full price and then the offer is announced? Can I get it as well?
This is a very sensitive topic. In most cases, the answer is ‘no.’ However, guests who book early and pay full price normally get the better choice of cabin. The last-minute discounts are only for the ‘remaining spaces’ and these are most often in the less popular cabins. Please think about the following factors:
When you fly on a plane or stay in a hotel, do you think everyone paid the same price?
If you were given the option of ‘paying a bit more than some other guests’ and ‘paying early but your trip is cancelled because not enough others paid’ which would you choose? In most cases, the boat operators are just trying to attract more divers so that they don’t run at a loss. Most dive centres do not copy Oktavia’s policy, and they will cancel the trip sometimes just a few days before departure. That is normally very upsetting for the guests who did pay and have to accept a refund for the cancelled trip.
Can I get a discount on a peak-period trip, such as at New Year?
In most cases, these trips are fully booked many months in advance. However, some of our boats who offer early-bird discounts allow us to offer the same discounts on all trips. But you just have to be quick, and pay in full before the deadline. Flights and hotels become more expensive and less available at peak periods and most travellers book a long time in advance. Therefore, if you also book your Similan liveaboard many months in advance you can also get the special price. Be quick though, because they will sell out fast.
Why can’t I negotiate to find the best deal?
There are some very good reasons why negotiating for the best price is not allowed.
Price War: If negotiating happens, then very soon a price war will begin between agents and even the boat operators. If there is a price war, any benefits to customers will be very short term. A price war would result in agents reducing their income from commission and the boat operators reducing their profit, as well as reducing the number of agents they use and the commission rates. Very soon, there will be fewer agents making almost no commission, and therefore the level of customer service will decrease accordingly. Please read the paragraph at the bottom of this article about automated booking systems to understand why this is not good for the customers. In addition, if the boat operators reduce their profit, then the guests will suffer from a worse service on the trip, including quantity & quality of food & staff and even safety issues could be affected. Nobody in the industry wants this to happen. The boat operators do not fix prices between them like dive centres on Koh Phi Phi do. However, the quality of diving service and the fiercely-competitive situation on Koh Tao is a warning of what would happen for Similan liveaboard trips if a price war happened.
Fair For All: This means fairness between customers and between those selling the trips. Fairness between customers is important to us, and we are happy that negotiating for the best prices is not allowed on the trips that we sell. Although this paragraph contradicts the one above that refers to flight and hotel bookings, it is important to understand that on our Similan liveaboard diving boats guests spend several days together on board and they socialise, chat and often discuss their booking experiences. It is very uncomfortable if someone discovers that they paid a different price to someone else for the same experience that they share together.
Fairness between those selling the trips is vital to stop the price war and to ensure that all agents work equally hard to give the best service, including after sales. This is something that we pride ourselves on doing, and our reviews and feedback support the service that we claim to give all of our divers. It’s not fair if one agent can sell at a lower price than another, or if the boat operators offer a discount for a direct booking instead of allowing the agents to earn some commission. The system that we have works very well to ensure that it’s fair for everyone involved, and gives the customers the best experience. All agents sign binding contracts to commit to not discounting, and those who try to discount are guaranteed to have problems in the future, sometimes their contracts are terminated.
Choose your seller for the right reasons: If everyone selling a trip is offering the same price, then the customer can choose who to buy from for the right reasons. These reasons normally include who gives the best service, which includes fast & appropriate responses to emails & messages, helpful advice on which trip would best suit your needs, and actually asking you what is important to you. It can also be that a particular person you deal with speaks the same language as you, or you interact with similar interests or sense of humour. If you feel that you really like one agent or person selling dive trips but another has a lower price, then you would have to make a sacrifice. With the prices the same, you can choose to buy from the right people who make you feel comfortable.
I have seen the same price cheaper online. What can I do?
A few agents show lower prices for one of two reasons. These are genuine mistakes and cheeky marketing. However, the trips cannot be sold cheaper.
Genuine mistakes happen, and nobody is perfect, including us. Sometimes an expired special offer will continue to be shown after the deadline, or an agent may forget to update their prices when the trips’ prices increase. This usually happens at the start of each season in October. If a trip is wrongly advertised by mistake then the agent or reseller needs to apologise to the customer but still charge them the correct price.
Cheeky marketing is sometimes tried by a few agents, in particular a worldwide agent based in Switzerland. Cheeky marketing usually involves advertising the non-diver price, which is lower than the diver price. Then when the customer tries to make a booking the diver price needs to be selected. Also, the world’s largest liveaboard booking agent misleads with the ‘per day’ rate on liveaboard trips. For example, a 4-day 4-night trip spans 5 calendar dates because of the evening departure. This large agent will divide the trip price by 20% to show a per day rate, when in fact the per-day rate should be 25% of the trip price. We feel that both methods are wrong because it’s misleading. We display our prices excluding national park fees and equipment hire, which some people may think is misleading. However, a lot of our divers have their own equipment and we also have quite a few customers who are Thai, and the national park fee rate is lower for them.
PayPal fees and free gifts
Agents are not allowed to offer or advertise discounted prices or negotiate to seal a deal, and our boat operators are honest in not undercutting their agents. However, booking through us is actually better than with other agents or booking directly for several reasons. In addition to us giving independent and unbiased advice on which boat best suits your needs, booking through us is better value for the you. As well as our free gifts, such as t-shirts, drybags and towels, we do not add a fee for customers using their credit card to pay. Quite a few online agents and boat operators pass on a 3-5% fee for taking money from customers who pay using a card.
Why Can’t I Use an Automated Booking System?
Unlike when booking a flight or a hotel, when you book a scuba diving trip you need to deal with a human and not a machine or system. Also, it’s important that the human understands diving, as well as customer service and pre-trip logistics. When you book a hotel or flight, the system just needs to know availability, prices, and customer names. But for diving, there are so many variables. These include your diving experience and certification level. For some boats there are minimum requirements, but there is always some flexibility and human common sense involved. Also, the availability of spaces is always changing. Divers need to check liveaboard availability and then they usually need a couple of days to confirm their travel plans before committing to the dive trip. This causes spaces to be ‘on hold’ for a few days at a time. Automated booking systems just don’t work for Similan liveaboard diving trips. Customers need to be able to deal with a human who knows diving and has a good relationship with the boat operator.
So in summary, pretty much all Similan Islands scuba diving liveaboard trips are sold at fixed prices for plenty of good reasons. It is fair for everyone involved and it ensures that a price war doesn’t result in standards and possibly safety being compromised. Official discounts are available through all sellers, but these are limited to deadlines of the booking period or for low-season trips.