Discounted cruises hitting the rocks

So there’s no question those discounted cruise prices are being swamped by demand. Just how much will they go up and can you do anything about it?

There probably won’t be a sudden increase in fares. Five to seven percent, says Cruise Critic, or an increase of US$50-70 for cruises at US$1,000.

“So, cruises selling at $499 now would sell for $524 or $534.And, not every sailing will increase the full amount,” the site says.

But the other side of that is the cruise lines are sending a message that not only is the industry rebounding from the recession, but also that the booking window is expanding back to normal.

“Over the last 18 months, the booking curve has contracted so much, and no one likes that — not the cruise lines, not travel agents,” explains Johanna Jainchill, Cruise Editor at Travel Weekly, an industry publication. “Now they’re saying that the price game is coming to an end, and that they will be rewarding people who book early, not late.”

By telling consumers that pricing is going up, the cruise lines are creating a sense of urgency and encouraging people to book earlier than they might otherwise. The intended end result? Fewer last-minute bargains will be available in 2010.

And even worse news: fares have already started going up.

“Here at Cruise Critic, our deals team has noticed that the $50-a-night deals are drying up, to be replaced with more $100-a-night fares. So, even if you book prior to the announced rate increases, you’re likely to be paying more than you would have last year for the same cruise,” it says.

So can you still find deals?

Marcy Hamed, owner of American Discount Cruises & Travel, says that Europe cruises are among the top sellers at her agency. Fares there are also going up but deals can be found on shoulder-season Alaska cruises from May to September and for many Caribbean sailings.

And consider this: even with higher prices, cruising remains a good deal — even at US$100 a night which includes virtually everything you need on a trip.

By David Wilkening

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