Q – Although I can afford virtually all of the cruises described in your “Top Ten” List, I am essentially cheap, a holdover from my former life as a CFO at a large insurance group. I was scrolling the internet and I saw an article that explained how “Cruise Lines Fill All their Unsold Cabins.” This is a popular article as I have seen it come up several times in my searches. The article says that most cruise lines offer unsold cabins at up to 70% off through certain travel agencies. My wife and I will be going on our 11th Crystal Cruise in September and I would like to start taking advantage of the pricing on the unsold cabin space and would even be willing to travel on short notice with Silversea, Sea Dream, Viking Cruises and, of course, our wonderful Crystal. My travel agent tells me she gets the best prices and she doesn’t know anything about these articles and unsold cabin space. I’m certain many of your readers would like to know how to get in on these deals.
A – Wow – you were a CFO? We wonder if, in your executive capacity at an insurance company, you ever came upon fiction masquerading as truth?
We know the article. It is all over the internet and it is nothing more than a marketing scam by a large online web site. It is well written and it appears to be logical. But it is designed to take advantage of naive consumers. Here are the facts:
01 – No reputable cruise line discounts unsold space at the last -minute. They rarely have unsold space. Every ship is assigned an inventory control director. That person has the job of filling every cabin on every sailing, something that is relatively easy to do. They maintain lists of travel agents, travel writers, and company suppliers who they can contact to fill empty space. There is usually a long list of company employees who are waiting for open cabins to sample the product. Last-minute fire sales just don’t exist. If a cruise line determines that it wants to fill every cabin that is not a difficult challenge. They can add lecturers or entertainers. They can pay off some of their bills by trading cabins for services.
02 – Cruise lines, particularly at the quality level you mention, would never upset their favorite customers – the ones who book earliest. They always receive the best offers and no quality line would alienate them by penalizing an early purchase. The lines are just not that stupid.
03 – Claiming savings of “Up to 70%” is easy. The way you do it is to use a mass market line that is doing an ocean crossing in the off/off season. Look at the list price of the minimum cabin and you will probably be able to secure a discount in the 70% range. Think of the advantages.
# 4 – Don’t even assume that luxury cruise lines want to fill all of their cabins. On many longer sailings ships often base their accounting on a ship going out at 80-90% capacity. Antarctica cruises are one example. Ships bound for these waters rarely attempt to sell out every single cabin so they can enhance service levels and crew per guest ratios on itineraries where that is advisable.
05 – Finally, let’s assume that there is a cruise that is light and there is unsold space that a luxury line would want to sell. Rather than upset the Americans on-board who booked early, it is far more likely that the line would offer last-minute pricing in one or more of their overseas offices where payments are made in another currency and thus not discernible tot he American guests on-board.
Many large online travel agencies cannot sell reliability, trust, or expertise. Those traits are hard to find in factory-like call centers manned by commission-based phone agents. The only thing they know how to sell is “price”. But the fact is that none of the top-tier cruise lines would ever alienate their top-producing travel consultants by allowing some online bucket shop to receive preferencial pricing. It just doesn’t happen. Unsold cabin discounts are a scam. Hope our response was not too subtle.