Saturday, November 8, 2008

Strategies for Booking Cruises in This Economy: Follow Them and You Will Not Rip Your Pants Sitting on the Fence.

Regardless of the economic pressures, or possible because of them, we all want to take a cruise.  But with job insecurities, retirement accounts depleted and general tendencies not to spend money on anything but necessities, the concept of taking a cruise seems so "pie in the sky". The reality is...and I have written about this twice already, but from different perspectives...a getaway can be a real benefit. 

The question - assuming you are reading on - is: "How do I get the best bang for my shrinking buck?  I gotta getaway, but don't think I can afford it."

First, the easy one:  If you have the ability to get away during the period of December through February there are some incredible deals; where thousands of dollars have been shaved off of cruise prices on mass market, contemporary and premium cruise lines.  If you have ever thought about doing a South American cruise this is well and truly the time to do it.  Offers such as free air, half price for the second passenger, complimentary upgrades are now the norm. 

Second, from a contemporary/mainstream cruise line point of view, I would look very hard at two things:  (1) What is really included; and, (2) What is the service level onboard? 

Why, you may ask, would I not look first a "price"?  The reason is that there is a very real tendency by some lines to cut back on service and push the holy grail of onboard revenue.  So in the end your great deal costs you a lot more than you ever anticipated...and you are stuck on that ship for a week or more.  It is those little things like charges for specialty restaurants that really aren't that special (though some are!).  Or charges for ice cream, pizza or a towel taken by someone from the pool area that you had to schlep from your cabin. 

Complimentary activities can be more enjoyable or enlightening (such as lectures and demonstrations) than bingo or a spin through the shops or the casino.  What about a good library of books or audio?  If your cabin is comfortable and, if you like, there is a good selection of movies you may not feel the urge to be out in the public spaces in order to feel more at ease or entertained. 

Clearly on a $599 cabin you can be spending 100% of your cruise fare on additional onboard revenue items in a heartbeat.  So by careful planning you can actually cut your total cruise cost by as much as 50% or more.

Personally, I look at service even before I look at what is included.  If I have good service then the overall feel of the cruise is better and, honestly, I tend not to spend as much trying to find my peace.  I two minute chat with a friendly pool attendant may forestall that urge to "just do something"...like buy that $3.00 ice cream or that $1.50 soda.  Solid service in the main restaurant makes the food taste better (or not be as important), so you don't feel the need to spend for a specialty restaurant just to feel...well...special.  Someone casually stopping by my lounge chair and asking me if I would like a glass of water makes things feel more caring.  It is, to be sure, the feeling that many need right about now.
So having figured out (1) Service; (2) What is included; and, (3) Price you may still have the hesitancy about booking a January or February cruise in November.  If you think waiting will serve you better, I would caution you that while the deal you wanted may still be available, you may well be applying it to a two or three category higher cabin thereby losing hundreds of dollars dashing your plan of getting a better deal. 

The fact is that prices will only go so low and then that is it.  So if you think you will save more than the cost of that three category higher purchase you can risk it.  Personally, I do not think at these prices it is worth it.  (Remember, when the price is dropped to a certain point the cruise lines know that lowering it further isn't going to attract enough new passengers to offset the anger of all those that paid more money.   I think we are, or are about to be there.)

The other day I was at a meeting where various travel agents discussed their philosophies.  Some were pushing the way to increase revenue is by assessing fees; a fee for consultation, a fee for booking, a fee to cancel, a fee for airline info, a fee for passport info.  Geez!  Personally, I find that counterintuitive.  You may make a few dollars on this person or that, but when the cruise passengers are concerned with making a commitment to a cruise and it is going to cost them significant fees if they find they just can't afford to go the only thing that happens is they are not going to book now, but will wait.

Goldring Travel never charges a consultation, booking, cancellation or other sort of fee.  So you have the ability to book now, assuring yourself the cabin and category you want with absolutely no downside other than paying the fully refundable deposit.  So the best way to "keep your options open" is to give yourself the option:  Book now following the above steps and then decide when the final payment is coming due if you are comfortable going.