OPERATOR: Hello, Cigar Order Hotline. How may I help you?
OPERATOR: Certainly. Can you tell me what cigars you’ve been smoking?
OPERATOR: I see. Those are machine-made cigars.
CALLER: What does that mean? Continue reading
In September of 2010 I wrote an article on aging Seconds and Bundle cigars. As I was writing that piece I went off on a tangent I began to write about some of the misconceptions about bundles. Realizing I had the makings of a follow-up article, I saved my notes.
Misconception #1: “All bundle cigars are seconds.”
Wrong. Not all, but a lot of bundle cigars are “seconds,” and there are a number of reasons for this. For one, many bundles consist of cigars rolled by apprentice torcedors. After all, what would you expect from a trainee? But even experienced torcedors can produce cigars that draw poorly, are rolled too tight, too loose, or have bunching issues. In some cases, the wrappers may be too veiny or unevenly matched in color; the cigars could have plugs, etc.; all things that usually don’t pass “first” quality level inspection. So, these cigars are sold as “seconds,” which is also why they’re much lower in price.
Alternately, many bundles are made specifically as “firsts.” One of the best examples I can think of are my all-time “go-to” everyday cigars, Flor de Oliva. As the “bread ‘n butter” line for Oliva Cigars, they can’t afford to make “cheapo” cigars, nor would they ever consider it.
Moreover, many of the top-tier factories produce bundled “firsts” if for no other reason than to cut costs. (Remember, you also pay for the box.) Other good examples of bundled firsts are La Floridita, GH2 by Gran Habano, Siboney by Alec Bradley and Occidental (also from Alec Bradley),
Imperial, and of course the Famous “Value Line” and “Thousands” series cigars.
Misconception #2: “Bundle cigars taste bad.”
Well, a lot of boxed cigars taste bad, too. I think this comes from the idea that the tobaccos used in bundle cigars are of lower grade. Most of the bundles, especially those from the better factories, contain the same filler tobaccos used in the higher-priced boxed brands. No doubt, there are manufacturers who will use lower grade tobacco for filler, but the farms don’t have specific tobacco fields for bundle cigars and others for boxed cigars. As the tobacco is sorted, the factory supervisor decides which leaves are used for each blend. All of the tobacco is eventually used regardless of the length of the leaf. For example, one of the better “mixed-filler” bundles (long, medium and short filler) are the Flor De Gonzalez Bundles.
No doubt, there are plenty of toss-away bundle sticks made with low-grade ingredients, but a lot of bundles are also surprisingly tasty. Moreover, seconds of already popular brands should taste as good as the original, even if they’re not as pretty.
Misconception #3: “Bundles are not premium cigars.”
Almost all bundles are “premium cigars” by definition. Unless the cigars are entirely machine-made, hand-bunched and rolled cigars are considered “premiums” even if it doesn’t say “hecho a mano” on the package.
In some circles, “seconds” are not considered premiums. But like anything else, some seconds are better than others, too. Good examples of these are the Rocky Patel Seconds, Factory Selects, and Originals. Technically they’re seconds, but mostly due to imperfections in the wrappers, not necessarily because of construction. And since these cigars are seconds of some of Rocky’s bestselling high-priced cigars, they are premiums in every way. Supervisor Selection is another great “seconds” buy since it is identical to another highly popular Alec Bradley mainline edition.
Misconception #4: “Bundles are only for middle-class cigar buyers.”
Class warfare has no place with regard to what a given cigar smoker prefers to put to their lips. To each his own, as they say. There are plenty of upmarket and luxury cigar smokers who buy bundles for any number of reasons; from being able to smoke a decent cigar when a high-priced stick is not in order, for handing out to friends, smoking on the golf course, etc.
The reverse is also true. By buying bundles, a lot of so-called “middle class” cigar smokers usually save enough money to pick up a box of a high-priced box brand they want for those special occasions. By the way, there are plenty of cigar smokers who are so loyal to their bundle brands they’d just as soon pass on a box of anything else.
Finally, and this is not a misconception, bundle cigars can serve as an economical introduction to many a brand’s premium cigars. As mentioned above, popular brand seconds will give you a good, yet cost-effective taste of what you can expect, not only from the boxed version, but the overall quality of the manufacturer. If they make a good bundle cigar, chances are other cigars in their stable will be good as well.
An educated consumer is our best customer.” That’s the motto for SYMS, the nationwide clothing store chain. Fortunately, the internet allows consumers to price check at warp speed, making that motto even more relevant for just about everything we buy, and that includes premium cigars.
So how do you find the best buys in premium cigars? Surely there’s no lack of online discount cigar websites. And although the most popular online cigar stores have a pretty loyal following, the majority of cigar smokers seem to go wherever they can find the lowest price for their favorite cigars. (“Sorry I cheated on you baby, but I still love you more than anyone else.”)
With regard to the big guns like Famous Smoke Shop, et. al., the difference in price can be as little as $1. I actually had a customer who would buy Partagas at a competitor’s site because they were a buck cheaper. However, on my suggestion he would try new cigars, sometimes more expensive, but more often less expensive than his beloved Partagas. So trust, though primarily a loyalty factor, also plays a role when it comes to good buys; that is, as long as the person making the suggestion is trying to save you some cash.
Trust ties into one of the most important factors when shopping for cigars online or off – customer service – which begs the question: Would you rather buy from an unknown entity just to save a couple of bucks, or buy from a company who’s going to help you out of a jam when you really need it?
Unless they phone-in their cigar orders, most online customers don’t usually have to deal with customer service until there’s a problem. So, Rule #1 is: Try to find an online cigar store that not only has fair prices, but also provides excellent customer service.
Now let’s take a look at some of the ways you can actually find good quality cigars online and keep your budget in the black.
Look for less expensive alternatives to your current favorites. Experimentation is part of the fun of smoking premium cigars. By trying something comparable to cigars you already enjoy, you may discover some cigars you like just as much or even more. Famous Smoke Shop has a Value Priced Alternatives page on the site featuring exclusive cigar brands. The upside is most of them are made by the premier manufacturers, too. Alternatives don’t have to be “house brands,” but beware of online cigar stores that compare apples-to-apples.
Start with a 5-Pack. This is especially important when trying new or alternative cigars. There’s no point in shooting your load on an entire box (or bundle) of an unknown entity. This is especially important when buying house brands.
Another good reason for buying 5-packs is, when you want to have some pricier cigars in your collection, but the box price is cost-prohibitive. Even if the pack equates to $10 a cigar, it’s better than spending roughly $200 for 20.
Read the copy. The better online cigar stores have descriptions for the cigars they stock. Read it carefully so you know what you’re getting. Do the cigars have the right strength, wrappers, flavor properties, etc. you’re looking for? Does the item come with free shipping or other offers? Missing details can be the difference between a return customer and one who will flame a store on the boards for not being on the up-and-up.
Look for deals & offers. As noted above, you can get a lot of bang for your buck if you find cigars that come with free shipping, free cigars, accessories, or deeply-discounted promotions. Even if the box is being sold at full weight, a free 5-pack or sampler goes a long way. Famous also has two pages on the site specifically dedicated to such offers: A page on which all the brands come with free shipping on box orders, and a page on which all of the brands include “Free Stuff.”
Name brand hits and collections. If you’re a strict name brand buyer, Famous has a Best Of page offering samplers from practically every major cigar brand in the industry at reasonable prices. It’s a great way to discover the line extensions most brands have to offer, again, without committing to a box.
So, what if you’ve already found some great new cigars in a particular size, but you’re curious about how the other sizes taste? There is a difference, and a solution! It’s called a “Test Flight” – a sampler of one specific brand containing all (or mostly all) of the sizes & shapes in that edition, usually at a nice price point.
Experienced cigar smokers have figured out all kinds of ways to get good deals. It just comes with the territory over time; sort of like how a hitter trains himself to discern between a curve ball and a slider. Unless you have unlimited cash supplies and price is no object, hopefully some of the above will help you keep a little more money in your wallet.
Cigar Monster is not exactly “fond” of change, so we were surprised when he DEMANDED a new feature on his website. We were even MORE surprised that he immediately liked our suggestion.
Name Your Price is pretty much what it sounds like – sporadically throughout the day, we’ll place items on the Monster and allow you to Name Your Price. After the items are placed in your cart, simply proceed through checkout. If you offer is accepted, the purchase is processed and shipped as normal. If your offer is NOT accepted, it’s back to the drawing board.
The benefit is two-fold.
- You’ll get even greater discounts, and
- You’ll see a FAR bigger selection of cigars to choose from
Note that Name Your Price will never appear during the Mash-Up, so it’s up to you to check the website as often as possible, or following CigarMonster on Twitter. Note also that thresholds change daily, so even if your bid is rejected on one day, it just might be accepted the next time you see it.