To sum it up first...
First - the old policy is completely gone unless you booked your cruise before May 17. In that case you are still fully entitled to the old best price guarantee. With new bookings it works like this:
If you put down a deposit only before the final payment is due you can watch for price drops and put down the final payment whenever you want at the lower price. You are NOT obligated to pay the price the cruise was when you made your deposit. But you must make the final payment before the penalty period starts (usually 90 days ahead of the sail date) or else pay whatever the price is on the day final payments are due.
If you happen to have made a full payment and the penalty period has not yet started and the prices drop you can ask for an upgraded stateroom selling for the amount you paid for your stateroom (assuming all the cruise fares on the ship went down) and RCL will try to accomodate you.
In the absense of these two conditions (meaning you booked during the penalty phase by making a deposit) you are stuck with the 48-hour best price guarantee limitation. If you see a better price within 48 hours you fill in a form showing the lower price and you will receive a 110% shipboard credit for the difference between what you paid and the new price. This offer ends 48 hours after you book your cruise by making the reservation and leaving a deposit.
Just when we had rated Royal Caribbean's price guarantee plan as the best in the business they change it!
When NCL instated a new best price guarantee May 5th we wrote an article to describe and rate the plans from NCL, Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Lines. We had rated Royal Caribbean's as the best in the business, and we even said it appeared to be stable, but we guess it was just too good, because they just changed it - to become nearly identical to the lowest rated plan.
The new Royal Caribbean "Best Price Guarantee" says cruises booked after today, May 17th, have only 48 hours to find a better price before the guarantee expires - but you do receive 110% of the price difference should you be lucky enough to find one.
What do These Changes Indicate?
The very fact that Royal Caribbean would choose to implement this policy right now has at least one important implication to me - that their cruise prices are probably headed lower. Why would I make such a bold prediction? There are four significant signs:
- Cruise prices were headed higher - until the stock market and the Euro nose-dived two weeks ago. There is a softening economy in Europe; the Euro now fetches $1.23, down from $1.38 just eight weeks ago and $1.46 last summer. Royal Caribbean says over 50% of its revenue comes in foreign currency. It is less price-sensitive going forward to make cruises cheaper in dollars than it is to raise them for everyone else.
- The price of oil has dropped from nearly $88 to $70 barrel just since the stock market "event" two weeks ago. This is a hugely significant drop leaving the cruise line with lots of wiggle room for cruise prices.
- The third reason is that the old policy allowed cruisers to book as far out as desired for the best selection and not worry about missing a price drop. That risk alleviation in booking early is now gone which will likely lead to a shorter "booking window" which usually leads to lower prices.
- Finally, if prices were going higher they wouldn't need to change this policy now, or to put it another way; well, you figure it out.
Rating the new Cruise Line Price Protection Plans
All three of the major cruise lines now offer this nearly identical 48-hour/110% guarantee we are discussing. The difference is that now, for both Royal Caribbean and NCL, this is the only price protection plan offered. Carnival also offers a "real" price protection policy called Early Savers which guarantees prices until up to 72 hours before the ship sets sail.
The BEST Price Guarantee Program: Carnival Cruise Lines
We now rate the Carnival "Early Saver" price guarantee as the best in the business since it is the only one that will honor a lower price if it shows up at any time after the booking is made - up to 72 hours before the ship sails. Carnival's plan 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 Early Saver program also offers you discounted prices.
Second Best Price Guarantee Program: Royal Caribbean
Just for clarity, the old Royal Caribbean guarantee had no restrictions - if any cruiser found a better price on a booked cruise they got the lower price. That was a really good - maybe too good to be true, as we said.
Like NCL, Royal Caribbean now limits their guarantee to people who find a better price within 48 hours of booking a cruise. Furthermore, the price must be advertised by Royal Caribbean - travel agent special offers, including groups or rebate discounts, are not considered.
Significantly, this new policy only applies to reservations made after today, May 17th - not to cruises already booked. So, if you have a Royal Caribbean cruise already booked you can and should continue looking for a better price. Just keep this policy in mind for future cruise bookings.
The only reason Royal Caribbean has a slight edge over NCL is the possibility to cancel and rebook. Royal Caribbean's cancellation policy is only slightly more forgiving than NCL's. With Royal Caribbean you can cancel with no penalty if your sail date is 60 days away (or more) for cruises of 1- 5-days and 70 days or more for cruises of 6-days or longer.You can see the Royal Caribbean cruise cancellation schedule here.
Third Best Price Guarantee Program: Norwegian Cruise Lines
With the new "Best Price -- Guaranteed" program, NCL offers the same 110 percent rebate of the difference in price for a better advertised price found within 48 hours after the booking is made.
NCL is number three for a slightly more restrictive cancellation policy. 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.
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.
More Details on Price Guarantees
Here is what all price guarantee 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.