Notes from the field: Finding Cruise Deals
My news feeds have been busy recently with reports about Carnival Cruise Lines and their recent troubles. In the wake of all the buzz, some cruise travelers are out searching for deals. Although it is not a given that the two are related, my experience as a retired travel agency owner has taught me that interest in cruise deals is significantly higher when cruise lines are making news – mostly for bad news (swine flu, Costa Concordia, Carnival Triumph, and Noro Virus).
Regarding Cruise Deals
Like most savvy travelers, I too like a good deal. However, when we are talking “deals” in the cruise industry, we are not discussing bargain basement rock bottom giveaways because they don’t exist. Maybe in the past a cruise passenger might have lucked out and scored a deeply discounted but that has not been my experience.
In fact, I tested out the old practice of showing up at a cruise port with my bag packed ready to pick up a cruise at a bargain price. I actually went to the Port of Long Beach twice to be told that although there has been the selling of no-show cabins in the past, I was told that this practice of buying unclaimed cabins is no longer an option.
- When I was in sales, I did manage to score a very good deal for a single cruiser who could leave on a cruise within 5-days. Although he realized that he needed a little more time to pull the trigger, a last minute cruise of this nature could happen.
- My best luck for finding cruise deals was advising clients to book what they wanted and then we would monitor the price in the event it went down. If the price went down and the cruise fare was for the same fare code, then the cruise line would lower the price.
- Another sure bet is to book a cruise through a travel agent. A travel agent will have access to all the ships and current pricing and promotions. When using a travel agent to help you make cruise decisions, cruise guests are ensured the expertise of a third-party to help determine if a cruise is a good deal or not.
Things to know – Buyer Beware
Not all ships are the same within a fleet. When a cruise deal seems to good to be true, it probably is. The newer ships are bigger, fresher and have more purpose-built amenities like specialty restaurants, entertainment venues, and water attractions. Do some research about the cruise line and compare the year built and or refurbished to anticipate how dated a ship might be. Compare apples-to-apples.
Also, not all staterooms are the same. The lead-in pricing for a stateroom might not be available when a person makes a booking. The practice is to advertise the lowest priced inside cabin, which is in short supply. There are not that many of these to begin with so don’t get your hopes up.
On any given day, there is always plenty of cruise deals available: past passenger discounts, reduced rates, or onboard credit offers are common. In general to take advantage of these offers, cruise visitors need to plan ahead to secure the ship, sale date, and stateroom of their choice at least four to six months prior to departure.
If a traveler can be flexible and is not picky about ship, sail date or stateroom then finding a last minute cruise can be an option. However, be aware of cancellation policies and the costs associated with getting to and from the port, as well as other logistics that might be necessary to meet the ship. Parking, hotels and added expenses can reduce the value of the discount, so be careful.
To avoid confusion and to make sure that you are getting the deal that you are expecting, use a travel agent that specializes in cruise vacations. Get on the phone with someone that knows the ships and the pricing to avoid disappointment.
Buyer Beware: Make sure to read the fine print. Things to look for that might increase the total cruise fare are government taxes, fees and gratuities.