It is estimated 90% of all cruise sales are still done through travel agents. People often ask if last-minute cruise bargains are legit. Well, good news: they are, but no agency has exclusive access to them.
Travel agents are paid commissions by cruise lines after the cruise has sailed. Commissions average eight to 15% of the cruise sale. Years ago, many agents used a cash-flow strategy called “rebating,” where they reduced the sale price to a temporary loss, but made up the difference with part of the commission. Effectively, they were lowering their commissions to be more competitive and generate more volume.
This strategy gave certain active cruise sellers more pricing power (the ability to drive prices lower through competition) than the cruise lines wanted, so they implemented “flat-pricing” policies. These policies outlawed rebating and said all advertised prices have to match the cruise line’s direct prices, making it so you see the same cruise price no matter where you shop.
But there are exceptions.Some agencies offer added incentives to book with them beyond the control of the cruise line; offering free third-party travel insurance, for example. Other agents get group space that remains lower than the sales price as the ship sells out. How do you get these deals? Use a large volume cruise seller and call them on the phone often to see what they have available.
Royal Caribbean Changes Price Strategy
Coincidentally, a recent development has boosted last-minute cruise bargains. Royal Caribbean once had a “best price guarantee” where they would give you the difference in onboard credit if you saw a cruise you had already booked advertised for a lower price. But Royal Caribbean recently ended this “price guarantee” policy – which means they can, and they now ARE dropping prices at the last minute.
It is still value season until Christmas, and hurricane season is almost over. So let’s go cruise shopping.
2010 Close-in Cruise Bargains
This page will give you all of the October prices from Royal Caribbean in the Caribbean.
On one of Royal Caribbean’s most popular ships, Freedom of the Seas, we see inside cabins at $499. On Oct. 3 you can catch a luxurious, 317 square-feet, deluxe suite for just $1,099 per person, cheaper than the usual balcony price.
This is a good example of how cruise pricing works. Cruise Lines keep prices steady, then lower them when the sail date gets closer. When the ship is nearly full, prices increase.
For example, the Sept. 19 sailing of Freedom has but one category available, the same deluxe suite mentioned above, but the price is $2,249; more than twice the price of two weeks later.
An Unusual Theme Cruise Bargain
MSC Cruises is a European cruise line with beautiful, brand new ships, but the atmosphere is a bit different because the line caters to European customers. The coffee is thick and strong, but the pizza is light and undercooked, as authentic Italian pizza.
This winter they have one of their 11 ships, the MSC Poesia, sailing Caribbean cruises. Until October 15 they are offering special prices on seven-day Caribbean cruises including airfare from the West Coast.
You can get roundtrip air from Los Angeles or San Francisco to Fort Lauderdale, airport transfers and select balcony accommodations all for $999 per person for a seven-night Eastern or Western Caribbean sailing. If you want to do two back to back cruises (14 days Eastern and Western Caribbean) the price is a mere $1,399 per person - $100/day including cross-country airfare.
The Nov. 14 and Dec. 5 sailings are special “Baseball Greats” theme cruises including question-and-answer sessions, a guest pitching contest, story-telling and trivia-game sessions. Baseball players host pitching, hitting, fielding, base running clinics and free autograph sessions.
The “Baseball Greats” guests on the Nov.14 sailing will be Hall-of-Famer Bob Feller, Tommy Davis, Glenn Beckert, Clarence Jones and Stan Bahnsen.
The Dec. 5 cruise features Graig Nettles, Amos Otis, Dave Campbell, Vida Blue, and Stan Bahnsen.
Classic Windstar Sail Cruises
The motorized sail ships of Windstar offer wonderful casual cruising. The small ships feature excellent food and personalized service with plenty of deck activities for enjoying the tropical climates. The following specials are good through Oct. 31:
Seven-day sailings depart and return to Bridgetown, Barbados and visit St. Kitts, St. Martin, St. Barts, Îles des Saintes and St. Lucia. Special 2-for-1 rates from $1,379 (brochure fare $2,759) per person, double occupancy.
- Nov. 28; December 12, 19 (Holiday), 2010;
- Jan. 2, 16, 30; February 27; March 13, 27, 2011.
Seven-day sailings depart and return to Bridgetown, Barbados and visit Bequia, Grenada, Mayreau, Dominica and St. Lucia. Special 2-for-1 rates from $1,379 (brochure fare $2,759) per person, double occupancy.
- Dec. 5, 26 (New Year’s), 2010;
- Jan. 9; Feb. 20; March 6, 20, 2011.
Seven-day sailings depart and return to Marigot, St. Martin and visit St. Kitts, Tortola, Jost Van Dyke (overnight), Virgin Gorda (overnight) and St. Barts (overnight). Special 2-for-1 rates from $1,449 (brochure fare $2,899) per person, double occupancy.
- Dec. 19 (Christmas cruise), 2010;
- Jan. 8, 15, 22, 29; February 5; March 19, 26; April 2, 2011.
As always – if you need to know more about cruising we urge you to consult our Cruising101 FAQ.
I started writing about stock market investing for Motley Fool in 1995, but previously I worked aboard cruise ships. I co-founded CruiseMates.com, the first cruise travel guide on the Internet in New York City in 1999. CruiseMates, one the Web’s top cruise travel guides was acquired by Internet Brands (NASD: INET) in 2006. Once CEO, I am now the editor of CruiseMates – Paul Motter.
Paul Motter is the editor of CruiseMates.com, an online cruise guide. Follow him on Twitter @cruisemates.