So, we compared pre- and post-hike fares for both lines to see just how much consumers will be impacted by new increases.
Well, when cruise lines say they'll raise fares, they mean it! Some fares did indeed go up. But before we go into specifics and math, it is interesting to note that there weren't really any major, blanket increases on specific types of cruises (say, to already pricier Alaska or on brand-new ships). And only a few fares went up as high as the max percentage quoted.
Here are the results of our fares comparison:
What We Found: We checked Carnival summer fares on March 19 and again on March 22, the day of the fare hike. Surprisingly, most of the fares only went up 1 percent (or $10 to $15 per person) -- including July and August Alaska cruises on Carnival Spirit, an August cruise on new Carnival Dream, and varying lengths of Bahamas cruises on Carnival Pride and Carnival Sensation.
The Biggest Surprise: Some prices didn't change at all, including a July Caribbean cruise on Carnival Liberty, and -- even more shocking -- some fares actually went down, including another July Alaska cruise on Carnival Spirit.
The Biggest Increase: Fares for three-night Bahamas cruises on Carnival Imagination in July and August went up 5 to 6 percent -- though the actual price difference was still only $15 to $20.
What We Found: We checked NCL fares on April 1 and again on April 2, hike day. The price increases varied widely, even among cabin categories on the same sailing. For example, on a seven-night Alaska cruise on Norwegian Pearl, inside prices went up 5 percent, outsides 2 percent, balconies 6 percent and suites 1 percent (with price differences ranging from $20 to $100).
The Biggest Surprise: Fares for the new and innovative Norwegian Epic (with the exception of its Christmas week sailing) only went up 1 percent or less, with most fares increasing only $10 to $50. New ships typically command higher pricing, so Epic didn't need a huge fare hike to bring rates in line with demand.
The Biggest Increase: We saw the biggest fare hikes for the itineraries NCL mentioned in its press release: Hawaii sailings on Pride of America went up 6 to 8 percent in June and September; a late-August Baltic cruise on Norwegian Sun went up 7 to 10 percent; and an Alaska cruise in August on Norwegian Pearl had a 5 to 6 percent increase on inside and balcony cabins (though other categories, and the two other departure dates we checked only went up by 1 to 3 percent). It's interesting to note that NCL promised only a 7 percent increase, but fares on some cabin categories on these itineraries went up more than that.
Incidentally, we also checked fares with Oceania -- not because they announced a hike, but because they happened to be ending a big sale on a similar date, March 31. The three fall fares we monitored did not increase in price at all, and were listed as part of a new promotion ($3,000 off two-for-one cruise fares plus free airfare), with an expiration date of August 31. The three August Mediterranean and Baltic sailings increased in price by $500 to $1,500, with the August 5 Nautica sailing showing whopping 26 to 35 percent increases (however, all cabin categories for that cruise are showing up as "wait list only").
So what's the take-home message? Ultimately, the increases are following the laws of supply and demand; cruises that are selling well or are occurring during peak travel periods are going to sell at a higher price point, whether a cruise line announces a fare hike or not. Your best strategy is one you've heard before -- book early for the most popular cruises at peak travel times because as those sailings sell out, fares will go up.
--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor
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