How to know if You’re Getting a Good Cruise Deal

Photo Copyright: TalkingCruise

When booking a cruise you are presented with many choices, such as, when to go, where to go, what kind of accommodations and you can even select the promotion you want. With all those choices required at the time you make your booking, wouldn’t it also be great to know whether you are getting a good or even a great cruise deal right from the start.

General Guidelines for the Best Cruise Deal

Let’s start with general guidelines to follow in order to maximize your potential for receiving the best cruise deal.

Book Early, even as soon as cruise lines release new sailings will give you a longer timeline to compare rates and get price adjustments (subject to specific cruise line pricing policies). Other than sailings in “distress”, where cruise lines keep dropping rates to fill ships, cruises booked early tend to be the best prices you will see until the cruise departs.

Book Off-Season, which for popular destinations like the Caribbean will mean Fall through early Winter. In fact, the two to three week period between Thanksgiving (U.S.) and Christmas historically have some of the lowest cruise prices.

Use a Cruise Price Threshold, to compare cruise prices to a known range of pricing during various cruise demand periods to establish a Good Cruise Deal (GCD).

Non-peak travel periods
Shoulder Season – May & Sep for Alaska & Europe
Low Season – Labor day to Halloween, Thanksgiving (U.S.) to Christmas for Caribbean
GCD – Does not exceed $100 per person, per day for the lead-in room category.

Mid to Peak Travel Periods
Spring Break – Feb to Apr
Summer – Jun to Aug for Alaska, Caribbean & Europe
Holidays – Thanksgiving Week (U.S.), Christmas & New Years
GCD – Does not exceed $150 per person, per day for the lead-in room category.


The Cruise Pricing Landscape is Changing

There used to be a time where you simply asked for the lowest available price on any cruise and all other things would essentially be equal. So whether you booked under promotion A or B, other than the price, the other aspects of your reservation (cancellation penalties, deposits, and sometimes perks) would be the same. Today, cruise pricing has changed and not only are there sometimes several pricing options (fare-codes or pricing programs) offered by cruise lines applicable to the same cruise, it’s also less obvious what the differences are.


Not Just about Price

Getting a good deal on a cruise can sometimes be more than just a good price. Flexibility and inclusions can make even a higher priced cruise option a better deal under individual circumstances. The cruise industry is heading towards offering lower prices when you select certain promotional rates. These rates may require you to accept certain conditions like non-refundable deposits or requiring full payment at time of booking, but they can also provide extra incentives in addition to the lower price.

Cruise Price vs Flexibility:

Example: Carnival Cruise Line – 7 Night Caribbean Cruise

Early Saver Rate: $509 per person

  • Non-refundable deposit
  • $50 per person change fee
  • Price protection up to 2 days before departure*

*Price protection allows repricing of a cruise fare with the difference paid as a non-refundable onboard credit

Standard Best Available Rate: $549 per person

  • 100% refundable deposit (until final payment**)
  • No change fees (until final payment**)

**Approx. 90 days before sailing

Also Watch Video: How are price drops handled after booking your cruise?


Example: Royal Caribbean – 7 Night Caribbean Cruise

Non-Refundable Deposit Rate: $670 per person

  • Non-refundable deposit
  • $100 per person change fee
  • Onboard Credit (bookings made 6 months in advance or more)

Standard Best Available Rate: $750 per person

  • 100% refundable deposit (until final payment**)
  • No change fees (until final payment**)

**Approx. 90 days before sailing

Get Specific Details

The marketplace is bombarded with offers on cruises and they seem to change from day to day. There has also been an increase in cruise lines packaging “all-inclusive” offers where drink packages, specialty dining and other typical extras are included as perks. Sounds great right? The first thing you need to know is these freebies are hardly ever free. In fact, they could be adding hundreds of dollars to the price of your cruise.

There are 4 major cruise lines that regularly offer these types of promotions. Celebrity Cruises, Holland America and Princess Cruises offer bundled perks with increasing frequency, where Norwegian Cruise Line has essentially made this their business model. In fact, NCL has been offering a version of their “Free at Sea” bundled offer for several years.

With the “Free at Sea” offer, you essentially get to pick which perks you want and you get more perks depending on the category of room you book. Again, sounds great, but there are hidden service fees if you select the “free” beverage package or specialty dining package. What if you don’t drink and are satisfied with eating at the included restaurants? There is an option to book an “a-la-carte” price, which NCL calls a Sailaway rate. These rates are not always clearly identified when booking and not offered on every sailing, but they essentially give you a lower cruise price without any extras. You can also only get these rates on a ‘Guarantee’ basis, so you select the stateroom type, but specific categories and locations are selected for you by Norwegian Cruise Line.

Free at Sea vs a Sailaway rate:

Example: Norwegian Cruise Line – 7 Night Caribbean Cruise

Free at Sea (Beverage & Dining Package) – Least expensive Balcony Stateroom: $1,199 per person

  • Taxes – $160.99 per person
  • Beverage Package Service Fee – $112.14 per person
  • Dining Package Service Fee – $12.42 per person
  • Total: $1,484.55 per person

Sailaway Rate – Guarantee Balcony: $999 per person

  • Taxes – $160.99 per person
  • Total: $1,159.99 per person

Using the example above, if the perks were not that important to you, with a Sailaway rate, you could save $324.56 per person (double occupancy) for essentially the same cruise and balcony stateroom. Even if you didn’t select the beverage and dining packages and had no extra fees other than taxes, the higher base cruise fare of the Free at Sea offer would put you $200 per person over the Sailaway rate.

The bundled perk offers from Celebrity Cruises, Holland America and Princess Cruises do not apply extra fees for the perks they provide, but depending on the sailing, may not be able to be removed in order to get a lower cruise fare.

Perception of Value

In the end, getting the best cruise deal may just be about perspective. A deal for one individual may differ from another based on what they perceive as value. For some, the inclusion of free drinks is important and they place a high value on it, maybe even more than it’s actually worth. For others, it may be just about getting the absolute lowest price ever. It is also a fair assumption that as long as a cruise consumer is happy with what they paid, it’s really not important if someone else may have received a lower price. The price-value relationship of a particular cruise will vary between individuals.

Also Read: Tips to get the Best Price on a Cruise

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