Q – My family is booked on a Holland America cruise to the Caribbean in January. We’ve sailed with them before and we have not yet made final payment. How are we notified if the price goes down? I’ve booked with some travel agents where cruise pricing was automatically adjusted. How does the system really work?

A – Like most policies in Travelworld, it really depends on the supplier. When it comes to cruise pricing stability, the bottom line is that the larger, mass market lines have none. They want to train consumers to use their web sites so they will often suggest that booked guests check “for lowered prices.”. In reality, most consumers are now aware that those who book the first half of almost any ship get the best pricing offer. The primary difference between cruise lines is really the difference between the top-ten rated lines on traveltruth and the lines that are not in this category such as Holland America. Princess, Holland America, Costa, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean do not offer full price protection. The cost could go down and neither you or your travel agent would ever know it. These lines place the onus on the consumer to constantly check for lowered rates. However, even if you found a lower rate, you might discover that it is only available for new bookings. That would mean that you have to cancel your reservation and then re-book. When cancellations are made, someone else could easily be assigned the cabin you intend to re-book. The computer system fills cabins automatically off a wait-list. So canceling a reservation to get a lower rate is a tad risky and not advised.

The luxury lines do not treat their guests in this manner. Normally, the agent is advised if there is a rate decrease and most of the better lines will protect their guests. There are, of course, exceptions to nearly every travel generalization but you should proceed on the basis that a ship with over 1,000 guests assumes that guest A will not run into Guest B who got a better rate. So rates do vary based on a number of circumstances. But the quality lines with fewer than 1,000 guests make the opposite assumption. They assume that guests will meet and talk to one another and they are increasingly cautious about offending anyone who has paid a premium to sail their line – particularly the suite dwellers.

So how do you know what’s really going on and how do you protect yourself? Read the ads in the Sunday Travel Section and work with an agency that automatically does a “final price review” before calling in your final payment. A good cruise consultant will have special VIP access to reservations inventory and will be able to give you the current state of reservations and pricing on any specific sailing. Always ask your consultant “if the price goes down, am I going to be protected?”