| Thursday, 10 Sept. 2009

Cruise buying is a bit like stock investing, the trick is to buy when prices are low so you can still cruise when prices go higher. "Buy low and sail high!" Make a deposit on a low-priced cruise now and take advantage of price guarantees.

Once in awhile we get a "BUY Signal" for cruise purchases. We told you to buy Alaska cruises last April, when the selection was greatest and prices were lowest. We also advised you to book 2009 European cruises last March due to falling airfare and low cruise prices.

We are now getting a "BUY Signal" for 2010 cruises based on currently low prices with the possibility they could go much higher soon due to growing consumer confidence, specifically with cruise buyers.*

Michelle Fee, a founder of CruisePlanners with $100,000,000 in cruise sales annually, says her customers are showing a lot of confidence right now. They have seen their stock portfolios rebound and home values settle. So they are calling and locking in the current cruise values.

An industry newsletter, "CruiseWeek," written by Mike Driscoll, says that many cruise agents are sensing a renewed consumer confidence. Cruises buying activity was up last month over August 2008 - which came before the current economic meltdown, so that is saying a lot.

Oceania Cruises just reported that their 2009 August sales were close to 2007 levels - even stronger than the 2008 levels, indicating a very strong trend.

Michelle said we are entering the cruise industry "value season," between the school year start date and the holiday season - historically the slowest booking period of the year. But value season is followed by "Wave Season," the most robust booking season when cruise demand often jumps sharply.

If the economy rebounds further then next Wave Season could see a rapid jump in cruise prices, according to Michelle.

*Of course we cannot guarantee prices, and we still have the prospect of H1N1 on the horizon. We hope its effect will be minimal, but no one can say definitively how it may affect cruise prices.

Dealing with Illness on Ships

People becoming ill on cruise ships will be a constant topic this winter with H1N1 in the news.

Last newsletter I wrote about a man denied boarding his cruise because he admitted to recent flu-like symptoms on a cheesy little form during the check-in process. He wasn't displaying any symptoms at the time, but he didn't get a second chance to explain that. I hate to bring these forms up because telling the truth renders them somewhat useless, but in fact I am not revealing any secrets here - everyone knows saying you are sick when trying to board any kind of vessel can lead to denial of passage.

Before the onset of H1N1 these forms were somewhat innocuous, but now they are not enough - the cruise lines need to have health professionals at check-in. You can take a temperature in a few seconds with an ear thermometer. MSC has even announced they will have thermal imaging scanners to pick out people with a fever trying to board their ships. That is a good thing in the best interest of everyone, but if it led to denying people their cruises it would also be quite controversial.

I have checked with MSC and they tell me that anyone who scans a fever may be further examined upon boarding the ship, but no one will be denied a cruise based solely on thermal scanning.

Kudos to MSC once again for the courage to innovate and take the extra steps. Between their decision to fight back at Somali pirates and this, I see them as the most perspicacious management in the cruise industry.

According to the British National Health System, flu is most contagious during the onset of symptoms. Symptoms will continue, as well as the contagious stage for three to five days. People NOT displaying symptoms are generally not contagious, according to the NHS. That means that actively looking for flu symptoms, rather than relying on a form, is a far more effective approach.

It is up to all of us, cruise lines and passengers, to do the right thing this winter. If you are in the infectious stage of an illness then please don't try to board your cruise. Please buy travel insurance that covers unexpected illnesses.

A cruise ship can deny you passage to the ship if you are ill, or they can confine you to your cabin or even put you off the ship if you become ill during the cruise. If you are confined to your cabin then stay there. They are doing you a favor by not putting you off the ship.

Are Fuel Surcharges Coming Back?

What difference does it make? One well-known cruise agency, Cruise Deals, is offering to pay any possible future fuel surcharges for anyone who books a cruise with them now - a possible $140 savings per couple. Think of it as a "fuel surcharge" insurance policy.

The cruise lines invoked a fuel surcharge when the price of oil reached $105 / barrel last year and they removed it when oil traded below $70 / barrel for 30 consecutive days. The surcharges are off right now, but the lines reserve the right to reinstate them at any time oil is $70 again. They "reserve the right" but it doesn't mean they will.

Oil is $71/barrel today, and has been as high as $74 and as low as $65 recently. As long as it stays close to $70 the lines probably will not reinstate the surcharge, but if the price starts to settle in the $80-range then the fees are more likely to come back.

Keep in mind that both of the above topics are related to one thing - the end of the current deflationary economic period and the start of a more inflationary period, which many economists say is likely.

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