As we all know (or will in a moment), cruise prices this year have plummeted to unbelievably low levels. Never have I seen so many bargains for peak summer sailings to Europe and Alaska--not to mention rock-bottom prices for the fall that are so low, it doesn't pay to stay home! And the bargains are not just found on "second-rate" or older ships, but on the newest, biggest and best ships out there--on prime itineraries during peak dates! Consider one-week rates of $599 and $699 for Alaska, $1099 for Europe, $499 in the Caribbean. Not only are there low "lead-in" rates such as these, which are usually for the minimum inside categories, but you can also find great ocean-view and balcony bargains for $749, $899 and $999.
Two questions arise: "How do I find these bargains?" and "How can I be assured that I'm getting the best price and value?"
As I have mentioned previously, I am a big advocate of booking early to secure space on the ship and itinerary you want and the cabin or category of your choice. By booking early, you'll get the "pick of the litter"--but you might also be quoted a higher price than you'd see later, for the same cabin. Why? Because the cruise lines will always price the ships higher farther out and lower the prices closer in if they see the ships are not filling up. But you don't want to be stuck paying a higher price when you can get it for less. Who in their right mind would? Everyone loves a bargain!
Here are my tips for getting the ship, itinerary and sailing date of your choice, but still getting the best value you can.
- If you set your sights on a particular cruise, go ahead and book early. All you need to do is put down a deposit. Hence, you have nothing to lose.
- Periodically monitor cruise, travel agent and cruise line web sites. Also sign up for their e-mail lists so they'll automatically send you their latest bargains and specials.
- Don't sign up for so many that you'll be overwhelmed, but do read them and keep an eye on pricing.
- Ask your cruise agent about his/her policies and those of the cruise line you booked regarding price monitoring and rate adjustments. Most agents do try to monitor prices and be vigilant, but they can't keep track of every price on every cruise where they have clients booked. Also, be wary of agents who are unwilling to make changes, or who charge excessive change fees.
- Be mindful of the cruise line's policy regarding full payment and when penalties for canceling or rebooking kick in.
- Approximately one week before final payment, ask your agent to check the sailing for any price reductions.
- Don't be bashful when it comes to asking about rate adjustments after final payment, if a lower rate becomes available. Many times the cruise line or even the agent will balk. But if you and your agent are persistent, you may get a reduction to a lower rate without the cruise line charging you a penalty.
Sometimes, getting a lower fare and better value for your cruise might come with a "price," and this is where you have to be flexible.
- If you spot a cruise right before or after your scheduled departure date that has better pricing than yours, consider switching your departure date.
- If you spot a different but comparable cruise ship and itinerary for a better price, consider that option.
- More often than not, lower prices or promotions closer in to the sailing date only apply to "Guarantees" or "Run of Ship" rates, which wont allow you to select a cabin or even a cabin category.
- Many promotional rates introduced close to sailing are not combinable with cruise line air programs. This can be an especially important factor for destinations like Alaska, Europe, Asia and the South Pacific.
Hopefully, getting the best price-and more importantly, the best value--for your hard-earned cruise bucks won't take too much work on your part, and should not be a trying experience. The key is to be flexible and savvy. Do a little homework and surf the net a bit, and you'll be amazed at what you can find!