So, you've decided to go on a cruise. A friend mentioned that you could take a seven night Caribbean cruise for about $200 so you go online to find that price. After looking at a dozen different sites the best you have seen is $650. You shake your head and wonder at the luck of your friend that found something for much less. You have also noticed while looking that some sites have the same cruise for quite a bit more. If you followed through with the best price site and actually bought the cruise, you may have finally learned that the cabin you actually wanted turned out to be $846 per person. How the heck did you go from $200 to $846?!
What makes up a cruise price?
There are a number of different elements plus several twists
turns that determine the final price for a cruise. A list of
Base price - this is the standard price for a cabin. The ship's cabins are divided into categories and each category has an assigned price. Basic categories are inside cabins, oceanview (as opposed to outside) staterooms (as opposed to cabins), suites, and balcony suites. Cabins go up in price when they are located on a higher deck - this is true for all categories. Cabins located on a given deck have higher prices if they are "midships".
essentially taxes that the ports charge the ships to tie up to their
pier. Port charges increase if a ship stays more than one day
the reason you will never see a ship depart after midnight.
Generally port charges will range from $60 to $80 for a short cruise
and $120 to $300 for a longer cruise. They also vary
the ports included on the itinerary. These numbers are added
the base fare per person.
Government fees - an extra tax that governments assess. They will also vary according to the itinerary but are generally $30 to $200. They are also per person and added to the base fare.
Other fees - from time to time other charges are levied. The most common, especially recently, are fuel surcharges. They have been about $9 or $10 per person per day.
Why the variation from place to place?
So, how can the
prices be different from site to site? Are cruises like a TV
where the same model is priced differently at Best Buy, Walmart, and
Sears? How can we understand the differences?
What's included in the quoted price - it is very common that a website will show what is known as a "from" price. Generally "from" means the lowest price in each category. Many sites also take some liberty as to what they include in the price they quote. Occasionally they will leave out port charges and often they will leave out government fees. They are supposed to mention what's in and what's not, but it's not always done or included very clearly (look for some really small print).
common routine is to talk about an Eastern Caribbean cruise from $xxx.
You are thinking to go in June and are hopeful that you can get that
price. When you really get into the details, that price is only
available in April. The June price is 50% more than April.
Timing - when a cruise is first made available for sale, there is usually some sort of early booking discount that is taken directly off the base price (port charges and government fees generally don't change). When the early booking promo expires, the prices go up. If the cruise is selling well (headed for a sellout), the price will stay the same right through sailing. But, if bookings slow down, there might be a discount offered later in an attempt to fill up the ship.
Organization selling the cruise - there is a perception that certain groups get better prices than others. Over the years, most cruise lines have discouraged the distribution channel from changing prices in the single cabin sales world. What is common for large organizations is for them to set up a group. If an organization commits to a number of cabins, they can often negotiate a lower price. While most of us might think of a group being made up of members of a club or church, there is no requirement that it must be that way. You may see a lower price because a large organization negotiated a group price and is now letting anyone buy into that group.
Cabin location on the ship - can affect the price. We know the price goes up for midship cabins and higher decks. There are other issues that you won't be aware of unless you look closely at a deck plan. There are some oceanview staterooms that carry a lower price because their view is obstructed. That might be because there is a lifeboat hanging right outside your window or maybe that the cabin window looks out on the Promenade deck - which means that you could have people walking just outside your window.
Other promotions - can affect the price. Sometimes there are senior citizen fares or Florida resident fares available. Specials are occasionally made available to past passengers. Other promotions include a discount, cabin upgrade, or shipboard credit if you are a past passenger or use a specific credit card.
How do you decipher all this?.
you have to find out what's included in the "from" price.
Usually, on a website, that means going through almost to the end of
the buying process. You may need to register or otherwise
your information details. Occasionally you will have to enter
credit card number. The theory is that you will go far enough
that you won't want to take the time to back out when you find that the
price is more than you thought. "It's probably the same on
those other sites anyway."
Then you need to be sure that you are comfortable with the actual cabin that goes with that price. For years it was very common that the lowest price on Carnival was actually a few cabins that were smaller than the rest, usually with an upper and lower bunk only, and located on the very bottom deck with the infirmary and crew cabins.
There are people who have very specific ideas about where their cabin should be located. In all our years of cruising we have not found that location made much difference, but here are a few things that are commonly brought up about where you should be on the ship:
- if you are concerned about motion and the possibility of seasickness,
then you should choose a cabin on a lower deck in the middle of the
ship. That is the spot that will feel the motion the least.
Engine noise - locating aft on a lower deck could result in engine noise or vibration in your cabin. This problem has been much reduced as ships got larger and more modern. They have learned to insulate the engine room and many of the new ships are powered by turbine engines which reduce noise and vibrations.
Ocean noise - locating in the bow is supposed to increase the chance of noise from the water. Actually I find ocean noise soothing but once again, the larger ships have all but eliminated the problem.
after all of the above, just to be sure you are getting the best price,
you have to go back to the other 11 sites and go through the above with
each of them. OR, you could just call your trusted travel
agent. The operative word there is "trusted". There
agents who can be just as misleading as a website.
We have heard people say that they are going to buy on the internet because they won't have to pay a commission to an agent that way. There is no cruise line operating today that will sell to you at a price that is less because they have saved the agent commission. Websites are also run by agents who make their money on commission from the cruises they sell. Every once in a while some group or other will come up with a scheme that essentially says that if you buy from them, they will split their commission with you. I can tell you that the cruise lines frown on such a practice and usually stop selling through that agent when they are caught. From the cruise line's point of view, that sort of thing undermines the whole sale process.
In the end, your best bet is to find a professional agent that you feel comfortable with and ask them to do the shopping for you. There is another giant benefit that comes from using an agent and that is service. That website you went to just doesn't care about you as a person and there isn't always someone there with the knowledge or inclination to help when something goes wrong.
We hope this exercise has been helpful and that you will better understand what kinds of things we review on your behalf in order to get you that best price.