By Paul Motter
Within the last few months there have been two significant cruise purchase policy changes that affect the cruise buyer.
Royal Caribbean changed its unique and formerly very customer-friendly "best price guarantee" policy in late May. Previously, any person who booked a cruise with Royal Caribbean or Celebrity Cruises could watch for price drops up to 72 hours before the ship sailed. If the price droppped they could request a lower final payment, or shipboard credit, equal to the change in price. In many cases, they saved as much as $100-$300.
Royal Caribbean's new policy offers a similar adjustment but only within the first 48 hours after booking a cruise. You can get an adjustment equal to $110% of the difference in price, but you must act immediately by submitting an online form. All three major cruise lines, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and NCL now have this same policy; if you see a better price within 48 hours of booking your cruise you can apply for a lower payment or shipboard credit equal to 110% of the difference.
Why the change? Competition. A year ago Royal Caribbean was trying the "price stabilization approach" -- keeping prices higher and not selling out the ships. But it's hard when the competition is dropping prices. With the best price guarantee, Royal Caribbean couldn't drop prices without having to rebate thousands of cruisers already booked at a higher price. Since changing this policy Royal Caribbean has dropped many prices (time to go shopping!) and had one of its more profitable quarters of the year.
Only Carnival Cruise Lines still has a "best price guarantee" program that applies almost all the way up to when the ship sets sail (up to 48 hours before). Called the "Early Savers Program," it requires a large deposit and booking at least three to five months in advance depending on the length of the cruise. If the price drops you get the difference between what you paid and the new price either in the form of a lower final payment or a shipboard credit.
The readers at CruiseMates are pretty savvy when it comes to these matters and most have already heard and adjusted to these changes, but if you are just a "part-time cruise enthusiast" these changes may be news to you. Just so you know, with Royal Caribbean you can always request an upgrade if you see the price of your cruise has dropped, but there is no guarantee you will get one.
Flat Pricing Policies
Another policy change comes from both Carnival and NCL. It is called the "flat pricing policy." Both cruise lines have always said that no company could list or advertise a lower price for any specific cruise than what the cruise line was listing itself. But they did allow a cruise seller to discount the price of the cruise in private conversation with a client when speaking in person.
That was up until a few weeks ago. Now, you will pay the same price as listed by the cruise lines on their web sites no matter where or how you shop. For the record - Royal Caribbean has had this flat pricing policy for several years now. No agent can offer anything free to the buyer if it is of dollar value to the cruise line (such as spa credits, transfers, soda packages, etc.)
Also note that the flat pricing policy also applies to many luxury lines such as Crystal, but once again, there is nothing stopping a travel agent from offering other incentives.
So, does that mean you might as well book directly with the cruise line? Not at all. The cruise lines can't stop travel agents from offering other incentives like hotel stays or third party travel insurance. Such perks remain just one of the reasons why it is still better to use a travel agent rather than to book directly.
But don't get sucked in by those perks alone if you are not sure the travel agent is fully qualified. No matter what, the best level of service is always the most important factor, especially now that prices are "flat." Never sacrifice great travel agent service just for a "better deal." It is never "a better deal" if your significant vacation investment gets derailed by a travel agent who doesn't know what he is doing.
Discuss this article in our CruiseMates Forums: How does Royal Caribbean's price guarantee policy affect you?