Thursday, January 15, 2009

Waiting for Last Minute Cruise Deals or Lower Prices For Your Preferred Cabin or Suite? You May Miss the Boat!

While all you have been hearing is news of new sales by the cruise lines, the fact is that while prices may be lower, passenger loads are actually increasing nicely and are, on some lines, even ahead of 2008.

Princess just sent out an email that the other day was the busiest booking day in the line's history.  SeaDream Yacht Club just stated in a conference call that it anticipates increasing its fares.  CLIA (Cruise Line International Association - the industry association) stated earlier this week that overall cruise line sales are up about 2.8% over last year.

To what extent this trend holds true for the luxury lines I am not sure.  Personally I am finding many Seabourn cruises this Spring to be very short on suites; one A2, a couple of A3s and such.  My cruise on the Spirit in September is essentially sold out.  Obviously that is not true for all cruises, but the sales are getting more bodies on the ships.  On the other hand, Regent is getting pretty aggressive as to added value while pretty much maintaining their "highest in the industry" pricing; Silversea is not seeing (from what I can tell) full ships, Crystal is apparently having light loads and Seabourn is running fairly aggressive discount promotions.

I have seen a definite trend toward less cruises, but for longer cruises with higher bottom lines.  Essentially my luxury clients are seeing "value" and, especially in rough economic times, "value" can be more important than price.  So rather than taking a one week cruise that last year would have cost $9,000, this year's similar cruise costs $6,000...so spending $12,000 for two weeks is such a great "value" makes the decision easy.

To be sure, I (and many travel agents) are spending almost as much time repricing previously booked cruises as booking new ones.  As a result I have figured out quite a few pricing strategies that can provide even greater "value" to my clients.  (I could let you know what they are, but then you wouldn't need me...at least as much!)

What I am wondering, and I have no data on this, is if the cruise lines (especially the inclusive luxury ones) are trading dollars for passengers, but are losing revenue because of the lower fares.  (Less passengers paying higher fares vs. More passengers paying lower fares)  On the mass market lines, the holy grail of onboard revenue plays a large part in revenues, so I can understand the discounting a bit more.  Only time will tell if luxury net revenues are up or down. 

But, if you are looking at cruising in 2009 I am getting the feeling that NOW is the best time to book your cruise.