Many people are tempted by the luxury of a cruise but hesitate to pay luxury prices. However, it is often possible to book cruise vacations at deeply discounted prices by understanding and taking advantage of the way cruise companies fill their unsold cabins.
Cruise lines sell blocks of cabins to travel agents. They may also sell them to travel wholesalers both for resale to smaller travel agents and for sale directly to the consumer. Travel agents can sell cabins up to a specified deadline, after which they are able to return them to the cruise line.
It obviously makes good business sense for a cruise ship to be as fully booked as possible, not only to keep losses to a minimum, but also to maximize revenue from guest spending in facilities such as the bars, gift shops, and the casino.
When travel agents return unsold tickets to the cruise line, the first thing the cruise line does is to contact confirmed guests to offer them free cabin upgrades. An upgrade may, for example, be to a higher deck, or to a stateroom in a better location, or to one with a better view or with a balcony. While this is guaranteed to create a happily satisfied customer, it also fills the expensive cabins and allows the cruise line to offer cheap cabins for resale at attractive prices.
In some instances the upgrade may be offered to enable the cruise line to fill cabins in undesirable and difficult to sell areas, such as extremely noisy or busy locations. Therefore, it is advisable to check the upgrade offer out carefully before accepting it.
Having freed up the cheap cabins, the cruise line can now sell them at a discount, perhaps in combination with additional incentives such as shipboard credits. This is usually done through the cruise line’s major travel agent partners or a travel clearing house such as Vacations To Go.
The advantage to the cruise line is that the agent or clearing house can provide the cruise line with confirmed bookings. However, because these fares are so deeply discounted, sometimes by as much as 75-80%, cruise lines wish to avoid undercutting their travel agent partners or upsetting passengers who have already booked at a higher rate. In addition, they face the risk of giving their ships a “bargain basement” image.
Therefore, they generally place restrictions on publicizing these deals to the general public. Rather than being advertising publicly, these cabins are marketed as exclusive rates for preferred travel agents or frequent customers. The agent may contact clients individually by phone or e-mail, or make an announcement in a membership newsletter.
Cruise ships are rarely fully booked, however. Some unsold cabins are purposely kept on hand for use in case of emergencies. If some passengers have problems with their cabins, for example, having a few empty rooms gives cruise ship staff the option to move them into new accommodations.
Unsold cabins usually become available within 90 days of departure, and are generally available through travel agents who identify themselves as preferred agents for specific cruise lines. The largest discounts are available during the off-season, and may only be available for a limited time. Therefore, the traveler looking for a bargain needs to be flexible enough to travel at a less popular time, perhaps when the weather at a particular location is not the best, to book quickly, and to be comfortable making last minute travel arrangements.