We’ve all seen the "great deals" out there for cheap Alaska cruises: "75% Off" "Discount Alaska Cruises!" "Best Rate on the Web!" They’re designed—as all good ads are—to lure us in and book the cruise. There’s just one problem:
Those “deals" are meaningless. Here's the straight dope on Alaska cruise sales:
Are these companies lying?
Not exactly—they're just trying to lure you in. Here’s how: The cruise companies list a price called a “tariff" or “brochure fare." It’s the same as a car’s “sticker price"—the price something would be if there were no competition. But of course there a lot of competition, and the ships still want to fill up their cabins. So no one pays “tariff," because the lines discount their rates.
Here are some questions travelers often ask when looking at deals:
This deal says 75% off—but 75% off of what? The answer is usually the tariff. Tariff is convenient because cruise lines can offer discounts off that inflated number, so they’re not lying when they say 75% off—it's just not any better than Alaska cruise deals offered by most resellers.
What is an Early Booking Discount (EBD), Early Savings (ES), or Love Boat Savings (LBS)? Mostly marketing. They're all cruise specials that cruiselines will publish right next to the tariff, noting that if you book by a certain date, you'll receive a significant discount. These are discounts that are issued by the cruiselines and, generally speaking, all cruise resellers pass them on to the customer. So if one so-called "discounter" is offering it, you'll find most other resellers are, too.
Here are the other stumbling blocks travelers encounter in evaluating cruise deals:
This is common strategy to draw you in: to publish the lowest-price category first. After all, what’s more attractive: a 7-day Alaska cruise for $700 or one for $2,000? Of course, the $700 price is for the lowest level of cabin—usually an inside cabin with no window. And especially in Alaska, you may want to have a veranda to appreciate the gorgeous scenery whenever you want—and in privacy. See Which Alaska Cruise Cabin is Right For Me?
Always ask what fees are included—such as port charges, any taxes, and other non-discountable amounts, or even fuel surcharges. Because the fees can be significant, it will appear that the price is much cheaper if they're not included.
Some cruise promotions may include extra treats, such as pre-cruise hotel packages and/or cabin upgrades. Some lines may even give you a shipboard credit for on board purchases (i.e. you’ll start your cruise with a balance you can spend). In some cases, you may even see an offer of free airfare.
Cabin and season confusion
One way cruise pricing is marketed is through different cabin categories and different seasons. Sorting this out is no easy task: there can be up to 25 categories of cabin and 8 different seasons!
Size and View. Some cabins can be very similar in style and almost next door to each other, but have a large difference in price. Why? There may be a little extra space. There may be a veranda. And the price that some agencies list may be for a well-located cabin but one without certain amenities—like a view—that you may want. (On the other hand, you may rather book a cabin without a veranda, and use the money saved for an extra shore excursion.)
Mini-Seasons. Adding to the confusion is that ships offer many different “seasons.” No longer is there just high season, low season, and shoulder season—the seasons (and prices) practically vary by week. So when agencies list a “high season" rate, it may be merely the least expensive of four high-season rates.
Bottom Line: Your Strategy
So what can you do to be sure you're getting the best rate?
Compare apples to apples. When looking at more than one package, break out the costs components and make sure you’re drawing a fair comparison.
Find out what the price—the real price—i s. That means ignoring the “discounted rat e" you’ll see in bold letters and big type and consulting a travel professional.
Make sure the port charges and other charges are clearly stated as being included. If they’re not, the cruise can seem much cheaper…but you’ll end up paying much more.
Consider value-added amenities that are not reflected in the price: shipboard credits, stateroom/suite upgrades, amenities such as wine, or shore excursions.
Look closely at the price breaks when you compare categories of cabin. There may be a huge cost in booking, say, a cabin with a veranda—so assess whether you really want one.
Look for repositioning cruise s. When cruise lines have to mo ve their ships from a winter market like Florida to a summer market like Alaska, they may offer great deals.
Compare different weeks. Just a little bit of flexibility could save you hundreds of dollars.