How to Find the Best–and Accurate–Cruise Prices


Carnival Cruise Ship Destiny

Carnival Cruise Ship Destiny

Roughly 85% of cruises are still sold by travel  agents, and like most professionals, they have their trade secrets. One such  covert term is “cruise value season,” a period of time I did not know about  until I had been in the business several years.

Cruise value season just started and refers to  cruises that sail between the start of the school year and the beginning of the  holiday season. Holiday cruises sell well and generally cost more than any  cruise, and summer cruise prices are also higher because that’s when families  take vacations. The period from mid-January through  May is called “wave season” in the trade, and are ships filled by northerners  looking to escape the bitter winter cold.

The slowest (hence cheapest) weeks for cruising of  the entire year are usually the second week in December and the second week in  January.

Better Value Season Deals

As I was looking for some of the better value season  cruise deals, I had a common experience that probably confuses a lot of cruise  buyers. I was on the website of a well-known cruise agency called CruisesOnly, which is part of a larger company  called World Travel Holdings that supplies cruise inventory to warehouse chain  BJ’s,, Priceline and other well-known retailers that sell  cruises.

Browsing for cruises through travel agent websites  has advantages and risks. Travel aggregator sites help users compare all  the major brands’ cruise prices at once. I am not going to find prices for NCL  cruises on

CruisesOnly displays prices on a cost-per-day basis  because it helps me find the best cruise deals quickly. With that said, I never  consider a price at any travel agency website to be fully accurate until I  verify it.

The cruise price quotes shown on websites can be  wrong. In most cases they are loaded into the website’s computer in the morning,  but prices can change drastically over the course of the day. If the price has  changed, it will not be reflected in the search results on that agency website,  but the updated price is the one you will have to pay when you try to purchase  the cruise. For an actual purchase transaction, the cruise agent’s website goes  to a central database for all cruise lines and fetches the current price. It’s  too costly for an agency to display up-to-the-minute prices for people just  browsing.

Consumers should be wary of any site that promises  the cheapest cruise prices. All cruise sites will eventually charge you the  price set by the cruise line. So, while last-minute cruise bargains are a  reality, no single site has any last-minute pricing advantage over the  competition.

Here’s the proof:

I recently went to CruisesOnly to seek out last-minute prices for the current  value season and found a four-night cruise on Celebrity Millennium showing the  unbelievably low price of $173 for a balcony cabin – even cheaper than an  inside cabin listed for $199 per person. To test the accuracy of the website, I  followed through with purchasing this cabin to the point where it actually asked  for my credit card. I discovered the total price, with  taxes, would be $700.82 for two people. The math did not add up: The taxes were  only $90.41 per person and the cruise fare was listed at $173 per person. The  final price should have been $173 cheaper.

Looking to solve the mystery, I went to the  Celebrity Cruises’s website and priced the very same stateroom. The cruise line  broke down the charges as $347 cruise fare for the first guest and $173 for the  second guest only – exactly half price. The CruisesOnly website had uploaded the best price for that stateroom from that morning as  $173, but it was only good for the second guest in the room. The purchase price,  with tax, was the same on all websites: $700.83.

CruisesOnly had picked the lowest price for that  stateroom, but it did not see that it only applied to the second guest in the  room. To be clear, this likely would have happened no matter where you priced  the cruise – except for the actual cruise line website. And that is the moral of  this story: for accuracy in prices, the cruise line is the final  authority.

That is why I only quote prices from the websites of  specific cruise lines in this column: I know they are the most accurate. Still,  I advise people always to book through a travel agent after they have  verified the correct price with the cruise line. Even though I quote prices from  the cruise line “supplier” websites, I don’t recommend buying the cruises  there.

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