For holidaymakers worried about the economy, the significant devaluing of the pound against the dollar over the past few months might actually mean impressive savings for U.K. travelers on U.S. luxury cruises -- for now at least.
Earlier this year, Crystal Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises (as well as mainstream lines) published fares for 2009 cruises in pounds via a very strong pound-to-dollar exchange (£1 to nearly $2). As of today, the exchange rate stands at £1 to $1.37, resulting in somewhat of a built-in discount of roughly 25 percent.
However, the discounts may be short-lived. In response to currency fluctuations, both lines have announced price guarantees -- or, more accurately, price warnings -- to their U.K.-based passengers. Essentially, both lines have set deadlines for those passengers who want to lock in the 2009 rates as published; as long as you are booked and paid in full by a certain date, you will pay only the published brochure rate. After that time, rates are subject to currency fluctuations.
So what's the deal?
Crystal Cruises. Guests with new and existing bookings paid in full by 27 February will pay only published brochure rates, locking in the pound-favorable 2009 rates. After that time, rates are subject to currency fluctuations.
How can Crystal raise your fare after you've already booked? It's all in the fine print: "The Company reserves the right to increase prices at any time up to 30 days prior to departure to allow for variations in exchange rates ...." Basically, the cruise line will absorb a small increase (up to 2 percent), but has the right to pass anything beyond that on to the consumer. But know this: As part of 1992 statute, the consumer, too, has the right to cancel for a full refund -- if an increase due to currency fluctuations totals more than 10 percent of the fare paid. You have 14 days after the invoice date to decide; click here for more info or contact the line for a copy of Crystal's 2009 Atlas.
So let's say, for example, you paid £3,000 pounds a person, and the rate was hiked to £3,500 outside of the 30 day window. Crystal would cover 2 percent of the total cost, or £70 pounds, bringing your balance to £3,430. But because the increase to you would be greater than 10 percent of the original fare, you could cancel -- and would have two weeks to do so.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises. RSSC is giving its passengers a longer grace period in which to lock in fares. Prices will remain at the published rates -- established when the exchange was $1.95 to £1 -- until 30 June 2009. The major difference here, according to Anneli Boggust, marketing executive for RSSC, is that your rate is protected as long as you book by its deadline, whereas Crystal requires a final payment in order to guarantee the better price.
At this point, no other U.S.-based lines -- luxury or otherwise -- have adopted such policies regarding U.K. fares. A spokesman from Holland America, which caters to a large number of British passengers, offered the following: "The rate was determined earlier in the year at an exchange rate that was certainly different, but we haven't changed it or announced a change." So again, the currency fluctuations could mean big savings -- for now.
--by Dan Askin, Assistant Editor
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U.K. Luxury Cruise Passengers: Pay Now or Prices May Increase
January 22, 2009