NCL's new Best Price - Guaranteed program has caveats to make it significantly different from competing plans
All three mainstream cruise lines -- Royal Caribbean, Carnival and NCL -- now offer a "best price" guarantee, but there are significant differences between the programs. News just came out about a new "best price" guarantee from NCL, but there seems to some misinformation out there about how the NCL plan works. So to make things easier, I have summarized the policies of each one below -- in order of best to worst.
But before we go into that, here is what all three plans have in common: With each of them, the lower advertised price you might find must be for the same ship, departure date, stateroom category and number of guests; it must be available for booking at the time you ask the line to match the lower rate; and you must be eligible for the lower rate (i.e. it is not a senior's or child's rate).
With all three plans, if the guest has only made a deposit, his final payment will be lowered accordingly. If the guest has already paid in full, he or she will be given shipboard credit equal to the difference in pricing. These guarantees apply to cruises you have booked but have not yet taken. If you find a lower advertised price than what you agreed to pay, you'll get that lower price. This applies whether or not you have made a deposit or paid in full, but there are other various restrictions.
The BEST Price Guarantee Program: Royal Caribbean
Royal Caribbean's Best Price Guarantee was the first to be introduced, and continues to be the best because it applies to any cruise without restrictions.
The Royal Caribbean plan specifies that if you find a lower price any time after you book your cruise, up to 72 hours before departure, that lower price will be honored. The booked passenger merely has to contact the cruise line or his travel agent to secure the lower fare; there are no forms to be submitted within a deadline period. The line's policies have changed from time to time, but the current program has been in place for a few years and appears to be stable.
Second Best Price Guarantee Program: Carnival Cruise Lines
Carnival followed a few years after Royal Caribbean with a nearly identical program called "Early Savers." The Carnival plan will honor a lower price if it shows up any time after the booking is made and up to two days before the ship sails. Carnival's plan varies from Royal Caribbean's in that it only applies when you book a 3- to 5-day cruise three months or more in advance, or a 6-day or longer cruise five months or more in advance. You must book into the Early Savers program and make a full, non-refundable deposit. In addition to the price guarantee, the program also offers you discounted prices. Carnival does require you to fill out a form to get the lower price.
* Carnival also has a 48-hour, 110% price guarantee - see below.
Third Best Price Guarantee Program: Norwegian Cruise Lines
With the new "Best Price -- Guaranteed" program, NCL offers a 110 percent rebate of the difference in price, a 10 percent bonus over the other two plans. You will get that rebate in the form of a lower final payment if you made a full deposit; if you paid in full when making the booking, you will receive a shipboard credit equal to 110% of the difference.
But there's a big difference between the NCL guarantee and the first two: It's only good for 48 hours after the booking is made.
The cruise buyer must find a better advertised price and submit a claim form within those 48 hours. While that assures the customer can get the best price available at the time the cruise is booked, the 48 hour time limit makes this guarantee much less likely to be invoked than the other two. But by the same token, it is still an improvement over what NCL offered for price protection in the past -- i.e., nothing.
One thing that has not changed at NCL is the option to cancel and rebook at any time - no 48 hour time limit. But there is a drawback: If you cancel less than 75 days (for cruises of five days or less) or 120 days (for cruises of six days or longer) before the sail date, you have to pay a cancellation fee. In most cases, this fee will more than nullify any savings you could possibly get by rebooking the cruise.The fee schedules for cancelling any NCL cruise can be found here: NCL Cancellation Fees.
If the sailing date is 30 to 90 days away, you lose your deposit if you cancel your cruise. If it is 8 to 28 days from sailing, you lose 50 percent of your cruise payment, and if it is seven days or less you would lose 100 percent. The typical deposit for a 6- to 9-day cruise is $250. For a 3- to 5-day cruise, it is $100.
* FYI: Carnival also has the same 48-hour 110% price guarantee as NCL.
Why do cruise lines offer price guarantees?
Price guarantees were invented during economic slowdowns when deflation had cruise prices going lower at the last minute. And last-minute bookings make it difficult for the cruise lines to do financial planning. So they benefit the cruise lines' ability to run their business.
These guarantees are more than just an incentive to get you to book early - they benefit you and the cruise line. And so we encourage you to consider them when choosing a cruise line, and to take advantage of them when you can.