6 Strange Things About Cruise Pricing

carnival horizon san juan puerto rico
Cruise pricing can be tricky, which is why you need to be informed before booking. - Photo by Carnival Cruise Line

Even a seasoned vacation planner can find themselves thrown off when shopping for a cruise. When you’re looking at cruise prices, be sure to keep these six tips in mind.

1. Pricing is per person (not per cabin).

carnival balcony cabin stateroom cruise pricing
Photo by Carnival Cruise Line

If you mostly book hotels, this will be a tough adjustment to make. Say you see a cruise price for $399. Even though it might not be stated explicitly, it’s going to cost the first two cabin occupants $399 each, not total. Whenever you see a fare, you essentially need to double that price, and if you’re budgeting for your whole vacation, factor in additional expenses (see point #2). Third and fourth guests in the cabin (usually children) will pay a discounted rate, although you might occasionally offset the cost by finding a “kids sail free” promotion.

Tip: Cruising alone isn’t a loophole here. If you’re sailing solo and still want to book a standard cabin instead of a studio cabin, you’ll have to pay a “single supplement” fee since the cruise line will be losing out on the fare from the second traveler, along with all the extra money they would have spent on board.


2. Pricing is not all-inclusive.

carnival cloud 9 spa cruise pricing
Photo by Carnival Cruise Line

This one won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s ever sailed before, but for those of you planning your first voyage, you need to know that the advertised fare is only going to amount to about (and this is a very rough estimate) half of your total expenses for the trip. This can vary based on how you spend your time on board and the excursions you take in port, but if you have $2,000 budgeted for a seven-night cruise and the fare comes to $1,500 (for two travelers), your options for food, drinks, and activities will be severely limited. Once you add in excursions at three or four ports, an onboard drinks package for two people, dining at a few specialty restaurants, and gratuities, it’s easy to break $1,000 on a 7-night sailing. The lesson here? Be sure to properly estimate the cost of your cruise before you book. Cruises are still a better overall deal than resorts, but you need to plan carefully.


3. The exact same cabin on the exact same cruise can have different prices even on consecutive sailings.

norwegian bliss endicott arm alaska cruise pricing
Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line

Cruise pricing is largely based on the newness of the ship, the desirability of the itinerary, and the type of cabin you choose. So how come the same cabin on the same ship sailing the same itinerary can double in price from one week to the next? Because the other main factor in cruise pricing is seasonality. Some times of year are extremely popular and lines can charge a premium, whereas they’ll often have to entice travelers with lower fares during the off season.

RELATED: What are the best and cheapest times to cruise?


4. The price for the same cruise can change dramatically over time.

royal caribbean allure of the seas cruise pricing
Photo by Royal Caribbean

Have your eye set on a balcony cabin on Allure of the Seas sailing on July 14th? Don’t be surprised if you check back a week later to find the price has shot up by as much as 20, 30, or even 50%. Cruise prices can be extremely volatile, and while the price of some sailings will stay consistent, others will rise and fall as cruise lines make adjustments in response to market demand.

For example, if a line sells an unexpectedly high number of cabins for a specific sailing in one week, they’ll raise the price since demand is higher and there’s a better chance of the cruise sailing full despite higher fares. On the other hand, if the sail date is drawing nearer and they haven’t sold as many cabins as the, they may do the opposite, which leads us to…


5. Last-minute fares can be incredibly cheap.

bahamas atlantic beach cruise pricing
Photo by depositphotos/worachatsodsri

This will seem counterintuitive to travelers used to booking hotels or flights, as the conventional wisdom is the longer you wait, the more you’re going to pay. But when it comes to flights and hotels last-minute, not booking usually isn’t an option. If a family emergency or last-minute business trip comes up and you have to get somewhere and stay overnight, the price isn’t going to be a factor. No matter how expensive it is, you need to go on the trip.

Cruises, on the other hand, are a bit different. The ship is going to sail anyway, and since much of the cruise line’s revenue comes from money spent onboard the ship, it’s in their best interest to make sure the ship sails as full as possible. If you have a flexible schedule and don’t mind preparing for last-minute trips, you can score some remarkably cheap fares. (We’ve seen inside cabins for as little as $20/night, per person).


6. You can ask for cash back if the price changes.

sri lanka palm tree beach cruise pricing
Photo by depositphotos/toxawww

Imagine walking into Best Buy and asking the manager for $200 because the TV you purchased a few months ago dropped in price and you think they should refund you the difference. You’d probably get laughed out of the store, but try the same thing with a cruise line and there’s a good chance it will actually work. Stay on top of price changes after you’ve booked with our price alert tool, and you might be eligible for a refund from the cruise line.


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Did you find cruise pricing a bit confusing when planning your first cruise?

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