Winter cruises are
no longer the indulgence of the rich and privileged few. In fact, cruises are
the fastest-growing sector of the travel industry. According to Cruise Lines International
Association (CLIA), which represents 19 major cruise lines, more than 10
million people worldwide took a cruise in 2005, and that number is expected to
more than double in the next five years.
Purchasing a cruise
was once as simple as going to your local travel agent and leafing through a
couple of brochures. But with the growth of the industry has come an almost
overwhelming array of itineraries, packages, purchasing options and prices. How
do you navigate through all the information to find the best deals? The tips
that follow will help you clinch the best possible cruise for your
1. Catch the
The January-through-March “wave period” is traditionally the cruise
industry’s busiest booking period. During this time, cruise lines make about 35
percent of their annual sales. This is the time when they pull out all the
stops, offering consumers many hot deals.
This year the deals
may be a little cooler. Unlike the past five years, when a dozen or more new
cruise ships were launched each year, only six new vessels are being launched in
2006. With the slowdown in growth, supply is a little tighter. Still, some
cruise lines are making special offers to entice travelers. For example, Royal
Caribbean Cruise Line was recently offering BlackBerries and RAZR phones as
booking incentives on selected cruises.
2. Call the
cruise line first
Talk with a cruise line representative about the
particular cruises and stateroom categories that interest you. Ask for any
specials and be sure to mention your age and state of residence, as well as
whether you are traveling in a group or have sailed with the cruise line before;
all of these circumstances could qualify you for additional discounts. Use the
quote given by the cruise line as your starting price point.
3. Check the
Sunday newspapers often carry ads for big cruise bargains
in their travel sections. Larger metropolitan-area papers and papers in or near
cruise embarkation cities are especially good for finding deals. For example, to
find discounts for Miami, Fort Lauderdale or Port Canaveral embarkations, you
should check the newspapers in those cities. You can purchase a short-term
subscription to these papers or research them at your local library. If you’re
looking to cruise out of Galveston, check the Houston Chronicle and the
Dallas Morning News, whose travel ads are online.
4. Check cruise
booking Web sites
Large online cruise discount agencies like cruise.com, icruise.com, 1-800-cruises.com and cruise411.com offer some of the lowest
cruise rates anywhere. Travel megasites like Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity often
have excellent deals as well, particularly on last-minute cruises. Recent
comparison-shopping found that prices with the large dedicated cruise sites
tended to fall within a few dollars of each other. Expedia, Orbitz and
Travelocity all offered similar prices that were slightly higher.
abovementioned sites may be selling cruises cheaper, be sure to inquire about
additional and hidden fees, particularly cancellation penalties, which can range
anywhere from $35 to $75.
5. Call a travel
Many consumers feel more comfortable working with a travel agent
face to face. Try both local independent agents and large national agencies like
AAA and American Express. If the cruise line you’re researching has an
agent-finder function on its Web site, use it to find agents near you. The CLIA
Web site, for example, has a “Cruise Expert Locator.”
When you meet with
a travel agent, try not to waste your time or the agent’s. Be direct: Tell him
exactly what you’re looking for and that you are comparison-shopping.
One thing to know
before you meet with a local travel agent is that many charge consulting fees
for their time with you. Like many independent travel agents, luxury cruise
specialist Lucy Hirleman, president of Berkshire Travel in Newfoundland, N.J.,
charges new clients a $50 nonrefundable trip deposit fee.
“We charge this fee
to discourage the shopping around,” Hirleman says. “But if you book the trip
with us, the fee is then applied toward the total cost of the cruise. If you
cancel the trip we keep the fee; however, we allow customers one year to use the
fee toward another cruise or vacation package.”
Local agents are
especially useful for consumers who have special requests or needs and for
cruise itineraries that require visas and other special documentation.
6. Place a
“Cruise Wanted” ad online
Check out CruiseCompete.com. After
you complete a quick registration, you can post an anonymous ad to which travel
agents can respond with their best offers. The key is to be specific about what
you are looking for. An agent or agents will often get back to you with price
quotes the first day.
Once you’ve received several quotes, try to negotiate a lower
price or some additional onboard extras. Online, use icruise.com’s “Beat Your
Quote” feature to see if it will bring your cost down a bit further (this only
works when icruise has agents online; the function will appear in the “Click to
speak with a live agent” section). Cruise411 also offers a lowest-price
guarantee: Should you ever book a cruise with Cruise411 and later find a lower
advertised rate for which you qualify from a competitor, Crusie411 will beat it.
ultracompetitive travel market, many independent agents will do their best to
beat the lowest quote you’ve found. So if a travel agent quotes you the same
rate as the cruise line, you should keep shopping around.
There is a cruise
deal out there that will fit your budget and lifestyle. All it takes is a little
detective work to ward off that big winter chill.
appears on MSNBC Travel &
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