The cruise lines thought they had a great plan. Deep discounts were given last year at the bleakest moments of the Great Recession when cautious buyers hesitated to book. After the first of the year, consumers felt better about it all and bookings increased. A strong Summer sailing season seemed to solidify a feeling that things were getting back to normal. That was good news for cruise lines eager to raise pricing back to a pre-recession level. The news was not so good for consumers now able to book but finding higher pricing. Buyer hesitation again set in but this time cruise lines are reacting differently.
Ongoing evolution programs at many cruise lines were well underway. A focus on upgrading and adding new entertainment options raged on with new-breed poster-child Norwegian Epic raising the bar. Carnival and Holland America complete high-profile fleet revitalization programs on existing, older ships. Royal Caribbean tweaks Oasis-class features for new Allure coming up shortly and rolls out Broadway shows to some other ships. Celebrity continues an inward focus with on-board enrichment programs like never before.
Whatever is paid for a cruise now, consumers are getting more for it that they would have two years ago.
Cue the end of Summer, back-to-school expenses taking a toll on the sought-after family cruisers, and a “I don’t think this recession is really quite over” posture of other buyers. Cruise lines again find themselves with excess inventory that needs to go be sold. Not wanting to return to deep price discounts any more than they have to, different pricing strategies evolve too.
Most commonly, reduced deposits, complementary upgrades and onboard credit offers abound. Select sailings are seeing ultra-low fares for those that can travel in the next 90 days indicating a return of the “last-minute bargain” a feature almost extinct earlier in the year. Let’s take a quick look at each of these attractive offers.
- Reduced Deposits- no doubt about it, this is a winner with cash flow conscious consumers. Royal Caribbeans recent “WOW” sale produced a lot of bookings and the reduced deposit was a big factor.
- On-board Credit- all things equal, adding on board credit, money to spend on the cruise, is a popular option. But check those prices to be sure you’re not spending your own money. Carnival is notorious for offering free upgrades and on-board credit in some form or another…if one is willing to pay the price, often higher in an amount equal to the “free” on-board credit
- Upgrades- Carnival’s “best possible upgrade” is often a good deal with no hidden charges. Other lines, like Princess Cruises, may offer an upgrade to the next higher type of cabin like “buy an Ocean-view, get a Balcony” that can represent great value.
- Free airfare- $99 round-trip airfare to sail on Norwegian Epic adds great value for those unable to drive to the port. Look for airfare values to continue with various domestic lines and as usual for River Cruise lines in Europe.
October is National Cruise Month and the cruise lines are going all out to capitalize on that, culminating with what is called the Worlds Largest Cruise Night on October 13. Look for great values coming up this month and especially in the next couple of weeks as each line promotes their best values of the year.
We’ll be on board Royal Caribbeans Freedom of the Seas a week from today on Sunday, October 10 with Doug Parker and Matt Bassford from CruiseRadio plus Sherry Laskin, the Cruise Maven and owner of the Vacation Shoppe along with a live feed from the Queen Mary in Long Beach with Tracy Gallahgar from the Travel Channel in celebration of Worlds Largest Cruise Night. Check in at CruiseRadio.net for that broadcast also featuring all the latest with Stewart Chiron, The Cruise Guy, America’s most-quoted cruise expert who will be calling in from Cunard’s new Queen Elizabeth from Southampton England where the Queen herself will be on hand christening the new ship.