Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wave Season Promotions

Wave season is here, and cruise line deals abound. Promotions can be linked to specific sailing dates, to a simple booking window, or to a certain type itinerary or cabin category. Here is just a sampling of current specials:

• Book a Royal Caribbean or Celebrity Alaska cruisetour by Jan. 31 and receive $200 in onboard credit (select sailings, but the list is long)
• Book a cabin on the NCL Epic for one of her Eastern or Western Caribbean itineraries this summer (her inaugural season) by January 17 and get up to a 6-category upgrade and a 50% reduced deposit. Remember, our agency’s national conference will be held on this amazing ship in October. Beat us onboard one these Eastern or Western itineraries, and we’ll throw in $100 in onboard credit!
• Book a Royal Caribbean or Celebrity cruise by Jan. 28 from a long list of select itineraries and receive up to $300 in onboard credit, plus a reduced deposit.

We know how discouraging it can be to call about an advertised promotion, only to learn your preferred sailing date doesn't apply. The most common reality check? Learning that that advertised "from $399" cruise rate applies to a date in the fall, when rates are always lower, and not to summer or holidays, when you'll pay premium prices. Or, as a client recently learned, these numerous current promotions apply to 2010 sailings and not 2011. In the latter case, however, clients should not worry! Most cruise lines honor lowered rates for already booked passengers before final payment. For instance, we have clients who sail on Royal Caribbean each year and always book a future cruise while onboard to take advantage of onboard credit offers. Before they actually sail, a past passenger or senior promo pops up (or both!), or rates are generally reduced, and they end up getting a lower rate while keeping the onboard credit. You really cannot lose!

So, we always advise our clients to book early. Don't think that by waiting for a potential "better deal," you'll save money. You're more likely to get your preferred cabin type and location, not to mention your favorite dining time choice, by securing that reservation now, and not later. Don’t gamble on last minute pricing! And if you must fly to your embarkation port, add another reason to book early. Fewer flights mean fewer seats and maybe more complicated connections!

Now, it's true that sometimes cruise lines offer certain types of promotions at the last minute (within the final 90 days) that apply to new bookings only. In this case, they may not reduce the price of previously booked cabins. However, the airfare to get you to the port usually negates any savings you may have reaped. For instance, Holland America's "Flash Specials" through January 17 feature Australia/South Pacific and South America sailings departing March 14 at reduced rates. Great deals if your schedule is flexible, and we can secure flights/seats this late. On the flip side, there are also some great rates for 7 to 9 day Mexican Riviera and Caribbean itineraries sailing in March, which might prove an easier addition to the calendar.

You'll notice that Carnival Cruise Line is not included in the promotions list. That's mainly because of CCL's new Early Saver Program that offers sailings at enticingly lower rates when booked at least 120 days from the sailing date. Buyer beware, however! With the ESP, deposits are non-refundable and non-transferrable, and name changes are not allowed. If you cancel the booking, CCL will hold your deposit in-house for up to a year, but you will be charged a $50 per person service fee. Bottom line, it's a great deal as long as you are SURE the people you are booking into a cabin will actually sail. Of course, if you purchase travel protection insurance and cancel for a health related reason, the insurance company will refund your money. Please, please--when booking under the ESP rate, buy the insurance!

Do all of these in's and out's make you realize how complicated booking a cruise can be? Book through an experienced cruise agent and let a professional take good care of you. Translation: call or email us any time!

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