(12:45 p.m. EDT) -- Upscale line Crystal Cruises has slashed prices on five May and June sailings for travelers who are flexible with their cabin choices and can depart on a cruise with little notice.
So what do standby fares on a luxury line -- an almost unheard-of proposition -- mean to you? We've taken a look at the deal and compared it to regular rates and found that while it may not be for everyone, would-be cruisers can still find great value here.
Here's how it works: Interested cruise travelers can put down a $500 deposit and make a standby reservation for their choice of a Deluxe Stateroom with picture window or Deluxe Stateroom with a balcony. Crystal will then offer any available space to the interested parties on a "first requested, first confirmed" basis no earlier than 45 days prior to departure, but possibly as late as three days prior to sailing. Final payment is due within three days of confirmation. However, if you receive notice too late for you to plan, you can choose not to accept the cabin assignment and get your deposit back.
There are, of course, several caveats: If the sailing sells out or too many people are ahead of you on the standby list, you may not get on the cruise at all. (This is unlike a "guarantee" fare, where you're assured a spot but don't find out your exact cabin location until the last minute.) The other catch is that standby fares are not eligible for Crystal's extra-value perks, such as the $500-to-$1,000 per person onboard credits or free airfare.
Crystal started taking bookings for these standby reservations on April 7, 2011, and if your preferred departure is within the 45-day window, you could be confirmed on the sailing quite soon. Remember that the sooner you put down a deposit, the greater the chance you have of snagging one of the remaining cabins on these cruises.
Here's what we found: When you compare the fares, you're still saving substantially over advertised rates, even factoring in the lost onboard credit. Note that the standby fares can be booked by anyone (Americans, Brits, Canadians, Europeans) regardless of country of residency, but prices are only offered in U.S. dollars. Here's the breakdown on the five cruises offered on standby.
12-night Alaska cruise sailing roundtrip from San Francisco on May 9, 21 and June 2: Standby rates are $2,995 (outside) or $3,995 (balcony). Crystal's Web site shows regular fares for the May 21 sailing starting at $4,780 (outside) and $6,020 (balcony).
11-night Baltic cruise sailing from Hamburg to Stockholm on May 22: Standby rates are $2,995 (outside) or $3,995 (balcony). Crystal's Web site shows regular fares for this sailing starting at $6,730 (outside) and $6,920 (balcony).
14-night Norway and Arctic Circle cruise sailing from Copenhagen to Stockholm on June 13: Standby rates are $4,995 (outside) or $5,995 (balcony). Crystal's Web site shows regular fares for this sailing starting at $9,230 (outside) and $10,460 (balcony).
Bottom line: Not only do the standby fares save you thousands of dollars on Crystal's going rates, but rates starting between $250 and $360 a night are excellent for luxury cruises. If you've got the flexibility, now may be the time to try out a luxury voyage if you've already wanted to.
Just remember to factor in airfare: West Coasters who can drive to the San Francisco cruise port may have an easier time taking advantage of the Alaska standby deals than those needing to book last-minute, one-way flights to Europe. If you prefer not to fly by the seat of your pants, it may be worth it for you to pay more for an assured spot on a cruise with more time to make your travel arrangements.
--by Erica Silverstein, Features Editor
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