What the Heck is up with Cruise Pricing?
I've found that cruise pricing remains a mystery to many of my clients- it seems so complicated! Well, it is... sort of. If you've ever checked the price of a cruise and then come back several weeks later to discover a completely different rate, you know what i mean. Today, I'm pulling the curtain back on just what the heck is up with cruise pricing.
Mass market cruise lines use algorithms to determine what the cost will be for a particular stateroom, and it's based on a number of factors:
Date of travel: there are definitely high seasons and low seasons in cruise travel. Often, it's exactly what you’d expect- mid July is super expensive, October tends to be a bargain. But there can be a variance of several hundred dollars per person from week to week within the same season, so it pays to check the rates on either side of your preferred week if you can be flexible.
Metacategory: inside, ocean view, balcony, suite- what kind of stateroom would you like? Generally, more view+more space= more money.
Category: Once you've figured out your meta, there are a number of sub-categories having to do with the cabin's location on the ship. You might find an ocean view cabin for a rate lower than an inside. But the inside cabin might be located midship with easy access to the elevators, while the ocean view might be on a low deck in the back with an obstructed view. If you are rarely in your room and just need the window so you know what time of day it is, that ocean view could be a great bargain for you. But if you have visions of waking up to a view of the islands from a big picture window, then it will not meet your expectations.
Promotions: cruise lines run promos all. the. time. Anything from free beverage packages, free gratuities, 50% off the second person, kids sail free... it's all crossed my desk this year. Some lines run constant promos and even several promos at the same time.
When you book: a lot of folks think that the best rates on cruises are to be found at the last minute. This can work out great, especially if you live near a popular port city, have lots of flexibility in scheduling your travel plans, and don't particularly care which cabin or even which ship you sail with. However, if you have to plan your trips more than a week or two in advance, have a particular itinerary or ship in mind, need to fly to the port or want a specific type of cabin then waiting can backfire big time:
- as cabins sell out, the rate is raised on what's left
- as the ship fills up, occupancy restrictions are enacted to avoid over selling. This means that even though an available cabin may sleep four people, they will only put two in it. If you are traveling with a family of four, this can cost you a whole extra cabin.
- the higher cost of booking air within six weeks of your travel date may completely negate what you save on the cruise, or even outpace it.
- your preferred sailing may sell out, or may be down to very expensive suites.
The most dependable time to book a cabin at a good value is when deployment schedules are first released. It is in the cruise lines' best interest to fill cabins early, so you'll get promos, early booking discounts and/or bonuses, plus a good starting rate and your pick of cabins.
The algorithms track these factors, and others, relentlessly. Every cabin on most of the popular cruise lines has a daily "going rate", meaning the rate that cabin sells for on that day. The rate can (and often does) change every day, and it can even change within the day. It can help to familiarize yourself with the pricing for your preferred trip. If you see a rate that you are happy with, grab it but make sure you understand exactly what cabin you are grabbing.
One other confusing factor: assigned vs. guarantee. Many times, you will see a "guarantee" rate for, say, an ocean view cabin, as well as a higher regular rate for different categories of ocean view cabins. When you purchase at the regular rate, you will get a cabin number when you book the reservation. If you purchase at a guarantee rate, you are guaranteed to get at least an ocean view cabin, but may be upgraded to a higher category if they sell more than they have on the ship. Unless you already have status in the line's loyalty club, an upgrade is unlikely- they will usually upgrade loyalty members before upgrading a guarantee rate. You also have no control over your location and guarantees are usually sold on the lowest category (ie, worst location) within a metacategory. So if you book guarantee, your odds of getting an obstructed or blocked view, or ending up under the dining room, are higher. This is not necessarily problematic for everyone, but it is something to keep in mind- just be sure before you book a guarantee that you will be happy with ANY of the cabins in that category.