A Cruise Back in Time: Fares Then and Now

September 20, 2012 | By | 3 Comments

While reading an old copy of a book that once belonged to my travel-loving grandfather, I was startled when a makeshift bookmark fell into my lap. It was a yellowed advertisement for cruises — specifically, sailings aboard Cunard‘s iconic Queen Elizabeth 2 — torn from a USAir magazine, circa October 1982.
Itineraries noted on the page included several Australia/New Zealand voyages from Los Angeles, as well as sailings between Fort Lauderdale and New York that featured the Panama Canal. The listed per-person prices, ranging from $2,340 to $9,455 (including airfare), seemed a bit steep to me, especially because they’re 30 years old. Or perhaps I should say that today’s fares seem inexpensive in comparison, when you consider factors like inflation. But is that really the case, given the recent deluge of alleged nickel-and-diming? So, although QE2 has since retired and is now slated to become a floating hotel in Dubai, I decided to compare the old prices with fares for similar cruises in 2013 on one of Cunard’s other ships — Queen Elizabeth.
Editor’s Note: While these sailings are similar in nature, it’s important to note that they aren’t apples-to-apples comparisons.
Example 1
Then: 12-night Panama Canal crossing from Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles on QE2, departing January 19, 1983, with fares from $2,340 per person (including one-way air up to $300)
Now: 15-night Panama Canal crossing from Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles on Queen Elizabeth, departing January 20, 2013, with fares from $1,995 per person (not including air)
What does it mean? Although the time of year, departure ports and disembarkation ports are the same on both of these sailings, the ports of call differ on each itinerary. The “now” sailing also does not include return airfare from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale. (In a quick search on Expedia, a one-way flight between those cities on February 4, 2013, would set you back anywhere from $125 to more than $400.) The difference in fare prices is $345, so depending on what airfare would cost for the “now” voyage, it appears that these rates really haven’t changed much at all over the years. That said, it may also be important to note that the latter sailing is three days longer than the “then” one.
Example 2
Then: 22-night Australia and New Zealand cruise from Los Angeles to Sydney on QE2, departing January 31, 1983, with fares from $4,360 per person (including free return air)
Now: 21-night New Zealand, South Pacific and Hawaii cruise from Auckland to Los Angeles on Queen Elizabeth, departing February 20, 2013, with fares from $3,695 per person (not including air)
What does it mean? The sailings in this example differ a bit: the departure and disembarkation ports are reversed (and one is Auckland instead of Sydney), the “now” itinerary includes South Pacific and Hawaii ports that the “then” itinerary doesn’t, the sailing length of the “then” cruise is one day longer, and the sailing dates are in different months. The “now” voyage also doesn’t include airfare from Los Angeles to Auckland. (Another Expedia search tells us that this one-way pre-cruise flight on February 19, the day before the cruise begins, would run between $575 and more than $9,000.) The difference in fare prices is $665, which could be enough for a flight from the U.S. to New Zealand, so it’s probably safe to assume that there’s not a lot of difference between prices then and now.
Overall, it’s comforting to see that prices — even for mega-ship “luxury” sailings like those offered by Cunard — haven’t increased drastically … and 30 years is a long time! Perhaps it also makes me a little less wary of some of the extra fees — alternative dining, onboard shopping, late-night room service, exorbitant beverage fees, etc. — that cruise lines have thrown our way of late. What’s your opinion on how things have changed since the 80’s? Leave your comments below.
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    3 Responses to “A Cruise Back in Time: Fares Then and Now”

    1. glrounds
      September 20th, 2012 @ 4:37 pm

      7 day cruise on the Carnival TROPICALE around 1982 to the Mexcian Riviera – $699pp

      7 day cruise on the Carnival SPLENDOR this November to the Mexican Rivera – $489 ! !

    2. Mary Douglas
      September 20th, 2012 @ 4:45 pm

      Only part of the picture is show in this article. Inflation must be factored in to get a real sense of the value comparisons. For instance, $2,340 in 1983 equates to $5,412 today. $4,360 in 1983 equates to $10,085 today. It costs less than half of what it used to for similar cruises. The inflation coasts are calculated using the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator found at http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm

      It is clearly obvious that passengers get much more for their money today than 30 years ago, and that the complaints of service and food not being as good today is more a result of bellyaching than valid reasons to complain.

    3. mary wilson
      September 29th, 2012 @ 7:54 pm

      In 1956 Sydney/Southampton on Oronsay cost One Hundred and Twentyfive pounds – Australian – in a four-berth cabin, bathrooms down the hall!
      My salary as a 21-year-old was Three Pounds Ten shillings a week. It took a long, long time and moonlighting as a waitress to save up. However, it was my best investment ever. I met the love of my life on the first morning at sea! We saw Columbo, Cairo, and Athens on the way. We have been on many voyages since – and the GFC has hit hard, but our favourite vacation is still affordable – we are off to Singapore from Sydney next month on Millenium -its definitely cheaper and so luxurious in 2012 – and now we have our own bathroom!

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