Cruise Booking

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By ,   November 23, 2015 ,   Tips & Tricks

On the cruise booking subject is this review about the best booking websites, tips, and the online booking system. How much is it to go on a cruise, and how to get the best prices? For most of the travelers, "how much is it" is the first question, long before asking for the best places, which lines/ships, when, etc. The ship vacation, like all the pleasures of this world, is about money and time.

The average cost of a cruise depends on several factors - the line's rating, the very ship, the itinerary length and date of departure (peak / low / hurricane season), the cabin category, time of booking, discounts, etc. This article surveys the cruise payment plans and refunds of the major passenger ship lines in the world.

Cruise Booking - CruiseMapper

MasterCard, American Express, and Visa are accepted for payments by all the major lines, and some of them add to this list Discover Card, Diner's Club International, Cart Blanche, and Optima.

All the best passenger cruise lines and ship operators require a deposit to reserve your cabin. As a deposit, you'll be required to pay a flat rate. The deposit usually is between $100 and $1,000, or a percentage of the total cost (10 to 25%, depending on the line, length, itinerary, cabin category), and differs for holiday sailings, group booking, and special discount booking. The deposit often is of better price when is done on-line.

The travel agency or the operator will require paying the remaining balance of the fare at the final payment due date. The final payment differs with different lines, and is generally between 45 and 90 days prior to sailings (up to 150 days for longer itineraries). Booking in this period requires paying in full amount. Cruise transfers can only be made within a specific period before the sailing, usually with an additional administration fee charge (a percentage of the initial price).

Passenger shipping companies again differ in their cancellation and refund policies. The refund depends on numerous factors, but mostly on the remaining days prior to the sailing, and strictly in the cancellation period. A refund is infeasible in the events of no-show, or interruption by the passenger after the voyage start. The charges don't include any fees by air carriers, hotels, car rentals, etc.

Most companies don't make exceptions regarding the cancellation charge. Names or departure dates discrepancies are treated as cancellations. Although optional, it is advisable to purchase a trip cancellation insurance. It offers the possibility to exchange dates, and in some cases - a full refund.

Travel Agent cruise booking

In June 2016, CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) officially advised cruise ship tourists to book their vacations with travel agents. According to CLIA, around 70% of all cruisers use a travel agent to plan and book their voyages, and mainly with CLIA-certified agents specializing in ship cruises.

CLIA's 7 main reasons to book via travel agent are:

  1. Travel agents are certificated in general ship cruising, as well as knowaing of the offered products and itineraries / destinations.
  2. Travel agents have the expertise to plan and book multiple vacations every week. This means that they are aware of the best deals and promo discounts. Additionally, some agents may have access to cruise line discounts not available to consumers.
  3. Travel agents save their clients both money and time as they have all currently available offers and information.
  4. All details about the booking and the itinerary can be ironed out in advance of the voyage. 
  5. Travel agents can handle most of the potential shipboard and ashore issues, like lost luggage, cancelled tours / excursions, delays, missed flights.
  6. Travel agents have the best information to find the best for you cruise company, vessel, itinerary, stateroom (type, category, location), onboard activities.
  7. Travel agents receive all kinds of cruise updates in real time, which, among all other things, includes new wellness and dining offerings, upgraded cabin amenities, promo offers, itinerary changes.

Book now - pay later (payment plans, cruise deposits by line)

Top luxury cruises (all-inclusive deals) differ greatly from the other types - considerably bigger deposits and lower refunds.

Cruise Line

ITINERARY LENGTH in nights (DEPOSIT - in USD or percentage)

Azamara

3-5 ($100), 6-8 ($250), 9+ ($550)

Carnival

Alaska ($350), 3 ($100), 4 ($150), 5-8 ($300), 12-16 ($500)

Celebrity

3-5 ($100), 6-8 ($250), 9+ ($450)

Costa

Caribbean ($250); other destinations ($400)

Crystal

(20%-penthouse, 10%-other suite categories)

Fred olsen

(10%)

G Adventures

(non-refundable) - expedition cruises ($750), all other ($250)

Holland America

($350)

Hurtigruten

8+ ($600), 7- ($300)

MSC

4-9 ($250), 10-14 ($350), 15+ ($500)

In July 2017, MSC Cruises changed its booking policy and now requires final payments to be made 30 days earlier - from 60-days to 90-days prior departure. Cancellations made 89-61 days prior departure result in losing the non-refundable deposit. Cancellations between 46-60 days prior departure result in paying 50% of the original price. Cancellations between 16-45 days prior departure result in paying 75% of the original price. Cancellations done 15 days of less prior departure result in paying the full cruise price.

NCL Norwegian

4-5 ($100), 3-5 ($100), 6-9 ($250), 10+ ($400)

Oceania

20+ ($750), 19- ($750)

P&O

(10%)

Princess

(20%)

RSSC Regent Seven Seas

World cruises & 26+ (20%), all others (15%)

RCI Royal Caribbean International

3-5 ($100), 6-9 ($250), 10+ ($450)

Seabourn

(25%)

SeaDream

(25%)

Silverseas

World cruises (20%), all others (10%)

Star Clippers

($400)

Uniworld

($500)

Viking

($500)

($500)

Windstar

Caribbean, Europe & Tahiti ($750), Transatlantic ($500)

Cancellation charges increase as the sailing date approaches, and the refunds diminish. Usually, for cancellations 60+ days prior the departure, no charges are assessed, around 30 days - 50% of the deposit, and for less than 2 weeks prior - the whole deposit. Penalties for cancellations of luxury cruises may reach 100% of the entire fare, even for 30- days prior the departure. Consulting a travel agency is highly recommended, since timetables and all rates are subject to change.

Cruise booking tips

As to the pricing, cruise agencies deal prices compared to the lines' brochure rates (with some exceptions) are nearly identical or at least very very similar. The reason for that is most of the big cruise lines have their no-rebate policies, forbidding the agencies from undercutting the line's rates.

The cruise passenger lines reduce their prices and those of their booking agency partners to ensure their ships will sail full. In order lines to avoid having lots of unsold cabins on cruise ships, bargains are a widespread trend (phenomenon) all the time. Booking through an agency has its major advantages, the biggest one being that if your "passenger fun type" is NCL, Carnival's booking personnel won't tell you that. Instead, they will promote their product as your best vacation option.

As a rule, agencies also do bargains with the lines (ship operators) and often can provide bonuses, such as extra OBC (onboard credits), deals inclusive of gratuities, sometimes even free cruise shore excursion/tours or bonus amenities (bottle of wine, chocolate, flowers, etc), and sometimes they also can offer you discounts based on your residency. The OBC deals vary by line and ship, but generally they go something like this: you book a room for $2000-4000 and you get a free onboard credit $150 (per cabin). So the rule is bigger booking price brings bigger OBC.

Wholesellers (like Expedia and Priceline, for example) buy out huge number of cabins on a particular sailing way in advance. This is a major "why" they can sell deals at lower rates than the lines. The trick is, to get those rates you have to phone them instead of booking online.

One of the most important cruise booking tips is don't focus on the price alone - check the extras, like if the airfare is included in the price. International airfares are one of the main reasons why Europe don't get many Americans and also why repositioning cruises (in Spring/Fall each year) are such a hugely big hit among travelers.

If you have the time to travel on short notice, check first for any available last minute cruise deals. You can book those right away, and their prices are simply unbeatable. Potential savings on booking last minute cruises are up to 75% - best deals for budget-minded travelers with flexible schedules. Another option are the wave season cruise deals.

List of best cruise booking sites (review)

Your two only options are to make the booking through one of the best cruise booking websites, like Cruise.com, CruiseOne, LastMinuteCruises, CruiseDirect, Vacations To Go, Priceline or Expedia, or book through the line websites.

OK

Cruise COM is on the market since 1998, belongs to Omega World Travel (wide range of travel services), great for late cruise deals (from several days to 4 months away)

  • OK: prepaid tips, OBC, free cabin upgrades, complimentary wine (select sailings), cruise upgrade options are very clear on booking.
  • not so OK: Late deals are hard to find on their website.

CruiseOne COM belongs to World Travel Holdings Inc (a leading travel agency, with more than 650 offices in USA and UK (great late deals)

  • OK: Their booking deals are well organized in categories, you can input preferences and requests online, nice cabin-selection online tool, wish list (for saving trips of interest, and also they will send you hotel info on request.
  • not so OK: You enter your email early in booking process, you also must click the "Continue" button repeatedly after each entering - email, passengers number, etc.

LastMinuteCruises COM belongs to Travel Holdings (created 2004, a global company with offices in USA, Europe, South America, Asia)

  • OK: Good content, nice look, user-friendly (easy access to destinations, ports, decks/rooms, cabin amenities, huge photo library, live chat.
  • not so OK: Strangely, a great number of "late" cruises are 10-12 months away.

VacationsToGo COM is on the market since 1984, part of the Vacation Publications Inc (publisher of magazines & books)

  • OK: The VTG's "90 Day Ticker" has its huge lists of last-minute cruises. The site also has a filter for cheapest deals (overall, and also by cabin category - ocean-view, balcony, suite), and you'll notice right away which trips are with free OBC.
  • not so OK: It doesn't offer online booking, not so good web-design and color scheme.

PriceLine COM and Expedia COM

  • These are huge travel booking websites. Along with cruises, you can book through them all kinds of vacation packages, hotels, flights, cars. Priceline has its "Pricebreaker Deals" section for last-minute deals, and at Expedia these are in the "Deals & Offers" section.