In pre-pandemic times, experienced cruisers marked their calendars for wave season, the early months of the new year when lines unveiled their most tempting offers. But this year, the cruise lines aren’t waiting to launch deals.
“I think that cruise lines want to be sure they’re keeping their ships full,” said Angela Borden, product marketing strategist for Seven Corners Insurance. “ Travel has been in such a state of flux since COVID. Nobody knows what will happen. There are so many variables” – including flu, the economy, COVID and the geopolitical situation. “I don’t know that we’ve seen a time like this recently.”
Many travelers aren’t yet aware that COVID testing is no longer required on most lines, she notes.
Bob Levinstein, president of CruiseCompete.com, notes the cruise business model is also a factor. Because fuel and staff costs remain the same regardless of how many passengers are on board, “costs do not go down when you have fewer sales,” he said. “A good chunk of the money lines make is through onboard spend. So they have an incentive to fill every cabin.”
On Levinstein’s site, consumers designate a ship and sailing; travel agents then send offers for consideration.
“Airfares tend to go up as you get closer to departure,” he said. “The closer you get to sailing, the more your pool of possible passengers shrinks.”
But that doesn’t mean waiting to book will necessarily bring the best deal. Pricing models consider cabin types, sailing dates, destinations and other factors. “The pricing is very granular.”
To get a great value, experts advise signing up for alerts from cruise lines you most prefer and get ready to pounce when you see a great offer; some flash deals last only a few days. (Hint: Black Friday is likely to bring a flurry of offers from all types of travel companies.)
Using an experienced travel agent also helps. He or she can tell you how fares will likely shift over time. And if the price drops below what you paid, your agent probably won’t get you a refund, but he or she might get you upgrades or extra amenities.
Celebrity Cruises is offering 75% off the second guest including some December holiday sailings. When all offers are combined, a five-night Western Caribbean voyage on Dec. 18 starts at $550 per person, double occupancy, including taxes.
Carnival Cruise Line’s Early Saver Sale features an offer of $275 per person, including taxes, on a four-night cruise from Miami departing Jan. 30.
Oceania Cruises offers two-for-one deals that include roundtrip airfare with ship transfers and a choice of shipboard amenities, called its OLife Choice. For example, when all discounts are combined, a 12-day South African voyage roundtrip from Cape Town on Dec. 6 starts at $5,599 per person, double occupancy, including air, $3,699 cruise only.
Princess Cruises is offering savings of up to 30% off. A seven-night Alaska cruise departing May 6 from Vancouver, B.C. to Anchorage, Alaska, starts at $728 per person, double occupancy, including taxes.
Vantage Deluxe World Travel is offering an 11-night sailing from Singapore to Bali on Jan. 20 starting at $6,999 with no single supplement.
Windstar Cruises sails from Athens to Barcelona on a 9-day voyage departing June 4 for $3,999 per person aboard its 312-guest all-suite Star Pride.
Jane Wooldridge is a past president of the Society of American Travel Writers and a past winner of the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year Award. She is a longtime Miami Herald journalist.