Cruise travel in 2013 is a done deal for many seasoned cruisers; they bought 2013's sailings more than a year in advance. Cruise travelers on the cutting edge of buying cruise vacations are working on 2014 now. Traditional buying strategies for cruise vacations include buying as far in advance for the best cabin location and often, the best price. But depending on your tolerance for price fluctuations, buying far in advance might not be the best idea in 2013 due to changes in the way cruise lines promote fares.
Make no mistake about it: buying a cruise is getting to be more like buying a commodity or volatile stock. Buying far in advance to get a preferred cabin location – like mid-ship for those prone to motion discomfort – is still a good idea. There are only so many cabins on the ship and the good locations sell first.
Still, buying a flexible fare that allows changes later without penalty can often end up with the best value. Here's how:
Say we buy a seven-night Carnival cruise for two at the lowest possible price, one that has restrictions and charges penalties for changes made after booking. At the time of buying, we're happy because we got our preferred cabin location and the price seemed quite reasonable, a year or more in advance of sailing.
A few years ago, that strategy had a much higher chance of bringing home a win. Odds were that the price paid so far in advance would be the best available and that price stuck.
But that was a few years ago.
On The Cruise Line's Timetable
Today, cruise lines are much more savvy about filling up ships. They have their own strategies in place, designed to have us jump at the chance to book on the cruise line's timetable.
Today, those who purchased their vacation during a cruise line promotion, probably closer to sailing, gained over those who bought far in advance.
Probably not the best buy for the consumer, caught up in the hoopla of a winter sale that touts images of warm beaches on hot Caribbean winter days.
Tips For Getting The Best Value On A Cruise Vacation
Still, in spite of ourselves and our click-to-buy ways, some rock solid buying strategies combined with some critical facts can make for a great 2013-14 cruise bargain.
Pick A Good Time To Sail- Traditionally, slow season for cruise vacations happens in the fall, after kids go back to school, while hurricane season rages on and expenses of upcoming December holidays force a watchful eye on the family budget. That's not apt to change. If you must sail in the peak summer sailing season, do so at the very beginning or very end of the season, when prices are apt to be best.
Buy A Flexible Fare- Fares with strict rules may sound like quite a bargain, until a change needs to be made and the cruise line charges a fee to do so. Cruise lines are just now beginning to offer restricted fares with fees. Led by Carnival Cruise Lines and their Early Saver Fare, at the time guaranteed to be the lowest fare by the cruise line, look for more cruise lines to follow in 2013 and beyond.
Consider Last Minute Buying, The Smart Way- Go ahead and make that booking a year in advance, just be sure that reservation includes two qualities: 1) That you can cancel before the final payment is due and receive a 100% full cash refund and 2) can turn right around and re-book at the lower last-minute rate, if available. That way you have a possibility of having the best of both worlds; excellent cabin location and lowest last-minute price.
Keep Shopping- One of the biggest mistakes travelers make when buying a cruise vacation is not to check occasionally for new promotions that may apply to their booking. This happens all the time and includes some of the most missed opportunities consumers have to help themselves on cost. It's also a good reason to use a travel agent who can research what seems to be a better price. Often, what appears to be a good price is not when all the port charges, taxes and government fees are added in.
It's that last part, to keep shopping and use a travel agent that may be new to many readers. As cruise fares become more complicated, having a friend in the business is a good idea and a good cruise-focused travel agent can fill that role nicely.
By Chris Owen