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Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Ebb and Flow of Cruise Pricing

Here’s the short of it: cruise pricing is complicated. And somewhat of a mystery. It seems to ebb and flow based on a whole host of factors. It’s taken us 13 cruises to even begin to understand it.
Okay, maybe we’re slow learners. But, I thought I’d share what we now know so your learning curve isn’t as painful as ours was:
·      If it’s too good to be true…Let’s discuss “come-on” pricing. You know what I mean—the ads offering cruises for $250. There may indeed be an option for that price, but I can just about guarantee it’s not going to be the best room on the ship.

That being said, do watch for cruise promotions. The lines run them fairly frequently and you can reap some savings.

If you don’t know anything about how cruise pricing works, here’s the 101 version:
o   Room types. There are several types of rooms. Here they are, from the cheapest, up:

§  inside room (like a dorm room but without the windows)

§  ocean view room (same dorm room but with porthole)

§  verandah room (same room as above but with balcony)

§  mini-suites/suites (in general, hotel-sized bedroom or larger)

§  premium suites (some are as big as apartments, called such things as “Grand Suite or Family Suite”)

o   Categories. Within each of these room types are categories that vary in price. Categories are usually determined by location on the deck (the middle is most expensive because there’s less ship movement) or other reasons

·      First in saves most. We’ve found that the best prices and greatest choice of rooms are nine months to a year before the trip leaves. The difference can be dramatic. Here’s an example: we booked our upcoming December 2013 trip on Princess back in February of this year. The price now for that same trip? Double 

·      Last in also saves—sometimes. You save a bundle if you book last minute, but only when the ship isn’t filled. It’s hard to guess when this is going to happen so you do take a chance if you gamble and delay

·       Book and still save—What many people don’t know is that once you book, if the price comes down (and it’s before final payment time), you can get your trip for cheaper. Your travel agent will have to do that for you, which is one reason that using an agent is a benefit. More on the benefits of a travel agent coming soon

·       Guarantee of a good rate—The lowest rate is often reserved for the “guarantee” rooms. This is where the cruise line will assign you a room, rather than letting you choose. You may luck out—I’ve heard stories of people who have been given much better rooms than they would have chosen. But, then, there’s always the chance that the reverse could happen…

·       Holiday rate is highest. If you can avoid the holidays, school vacations and other peak times, you’ll get a better rate

·       More ways to save. If you’re a member of one of the cruise lines’ loyalty clubs (i.e., you’ve sailed on them once before), you can usually get a discount. Make sure that when you price trips you indicate on the website that you’ve cruised with the line before. Discounts are also often available (varies by cruise line), for:
o   Veterans
o   Florida residents
o   Seniors
If you take some time for planning and are mindful of the above, not only will you save some dough (which you can apply to a future trip, of course!), but just think of the satisfaction you’ll get when you learn your stateroom neighbor paid twice as much as you did!