(1:10 p.m. EDT) -- The announcement today in the U.K. by Cunard and P&O that they will be offering lowest price guaranteed fares may seem revolutionary across the pond, but the policy is actually already available in the United States. Back in 2009, Carnival launched its Early Savers program, which offers early bookers the assurance of a best price guarantee.
In other words, if I book my cruise well in advance of sail date and select an Early Savers fare, I know that if the advertised fare for that same cabin category on that same sailing date goes down, I can request the difference in fare be returned to me. All refunds are in the form of onboard credits (OBCs).
Three years later, Carnival is still the only cruise line in the United States to offer cruisers the chance to lock in a guaranteed best fare well ahead of sail date. But as of next week, the U.K. cruise market has that beat with three lines all offering guaranteed lowest price fares.
Carnival U.K., Cunard and P&O have launched or will soon launch cruise fares that incorporate a "price promise" that if fares go down after a cruise is booked, the lower price will be honored. With Carnival, the promise comes via the Early Savers program, which just recently rolled out in the United Kingdom. Cunard and P&O offer the guarantee through Vantage Fares, which go on sale next Monday, July 23, and are valid for cruises departing April 2013 and beyond.
With the Vantage Fares, both lines guarantee that you will get your money back in the form of onboard credits or an upgrade should the fare of a specific cruise be reduced after booking. The fares also allow passengers to select the cabin they want (unlike "guarantee cabins" that offer low fares for having the cruise line choose your specific stateroom). A low deposit offer of 10 percent, down from the usual rate of 15 percent, also applies to Vantage Fare bookings made by August 31, 2012.
Carnival's Early Savers program also refunds fare reductions in the form of OBCs. According to Carnival president and CEO Gerry Cahill, the U.S. version of the program has been very popular. "It has cost us millions in the U.S.," he told Cruise Critic.
No other U.S. lines, not even any of Carnival's sister brands, have yet followed suit with this type of fare. Royal Caribbean and Norwegian also have "Best Price Guarantees," but their policies are to offer onboard credit for the difference in cruise fares only if the price drops within 48 hours of booking.
All three lines offering the price guarantees in the U.K. are owned by the Carnival Corp., as is Carnival Cruise Lines in the United States. Cunard, which also operates a U.S. division, told Cruise Critic its price guarantee is a U.K.-only program.
--by Dori Saltzman, News Editor