When most people book a cruise, they typically choose not to pay for it in full right then and there. To reserve a room onboard, cruise lines will accept a deposit, a portion of the full cruise fare, to secure your place.
Generally, you'll find two types of cruise deposits: refundable and nonrefundable. At least, that was the case before the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. While both refundable and nonrefundable deposits still exist, many cruise lines are temporarily offering an unprecedented level of flexibility when it comes to the way these payments are handled. Many lines will allow passengers to keep that "nonrefundable" deposit as a future cruise credit toward another voyage, and some lines are even extending final payment deadlines to offer additional flexibility. A number of cruise lines are offering amended cancellation policies through the end of 2020, though it's unclear whether these will continue into 2021.
What is the main difference between the two, and which one should you opt for? Let us help you check what makes the most sense for you and whether your cruise deposit is refundable.
Is my cruise deposit always refundable?
No. While cruise deposits historically were refundable as long as they were canceled before final payment was due, more cruise lines have begun to offer nonrefundable deposit options. These options are usually bundled as a promotion, offering cruisers additional savings or bonus perks in return for the financial commitment of a nonrefundable deposit. Also, some cruise lines only offer nonrefundable deposits for suite-level cabin categories or guarantee rooms.
Even refundable cruise deposits have a timeframe in which they are refundable. For most cruise lines, as long as you cancel before your final payment date, there is no penalty. After final payment, you will lose your deposit or the deposit and a portion of your cruise fare, depending on when you cancel in relation to your sail date. Check with your cruise line on its cancellation policy and final payment window, as each one can be different.
Deposits are refundable unless otherwise indicated. This will typically be spelled out clearly on the cruise line's website at time of booking, or by your travel advisor. It's always best to comb through the fine print, especially when booking a promotional fare, or consult a cruise or travel professional for reassurance before booking.
In early 2020, as COVID-19 began to take hold, virtually all cruise lines revamped their cancellation policies in an effort to offer reassurance to passengers who were on the fence about booking in an era of uncertainty. While most cruise lines have indicated the flexible policies are temporary, we have seen extensions as the pandemic has gone on. Check with your cruise line or travel agent for the most up-to-date policies. It's also worth noting that many cruise lines are offering future cruise credits, rather than actual refunds, under these new cancellation policies.
What are the pros and cons of a refundable cruise deposit?
Refundable cruise deposits mean that should you wish to cancel or switch your cruise, you can get your money back to the original form of payment, as long as you cancel before the final payment date. Bookings with refundable deposits are often eligible for price adjustment -- before the final payment date -- as well as changing to a different sail date or ship without penalty. Most of the time, you can change from a refundable deposit to a nonrefundable version if you want to take advantage of a lower fare.
The downside to a refundable deposit is that it's often not associated with the lowest price you'll find for your cruise.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, cruise lines have seeing an unprecented number of cancellations and change requests, and passengers are reporting refunds and future cruise credits are taking longer than normal -- as long as 90 days or more, depending on the cruise line and sailing.
What are the pros and cons of a nonrefundable cruise deposit?
Traditionally, people book nonrefundable deposits because of significant cruise fare discounts; sometimes you can save hundreds of dollars per person on cruise costs. Nonrefundable cruise deposits are usually associated with promotions and offers that not only provide fare discounts, but also potentially onboard credit and other added-value perks. If you are comfortable taking the risk, these rewards can pay off once onboard.
Some of these offers, like Carnival's Early Saver program, provide cruisers with price protection -- meaning if they find a better rate in their cabin category on their sailing, they're eligible to receive onboard credit or a free cabin category upgrade worth the difference in price.
Typically, if your plans change or something comes up that forces you to cancel your booking, you will not be able to recoup your cruise deposit. Change fees can be incurred if you decide to change ship or sail date with a nonrefundable deposit option.
During the COVID-19 pandempic, many cruise lines have temporarily waived fees associated with rebooking nonrefundable deposits, and many allow that deposit to be used in the form of a future cruise credit that can be applied to another sailing. You won't likely get your money back to your credit card, but it won't be lost entirely.
Royal Caribbean, for example, is offering cruisers booked on voyages before April 30, 2022, the ability to move their trip to another ship or sail date for no charge, provided they do so by August 1, 2020, as part of the company's Cruise with Confidence guidelines.
Other lines, like Holland America Line, are even offering double the cruise deposit as a future cruise credit for passengers with voyages that have been canceled involuntarily.
Under the "old" rules, nonrefundable deposits didn't offer any sort of flexibility. Note, though, that these new policies are likely only in place for the duration of the pandemic and as cruising returns to pre-COVID-19 levels; it is always a good idea to assess your ideal level of comfort when making any cruise deposit.
Once you decide to go with a nonrefundable cruise deposit, you typically can't switch over to a refundable option. Depending on the cruise line, if you do decide to cancel, your deposit will likely be issued to you in the form of a future cruise credit (less a cancellation fee), in place of a cash refund.
Which cruise deposit is right for me?
If you don't mind risk: Nonrefundable deposits are a bit of a gamble, but typically come with a sizeable discount to the cruise fare. The difference of the discount can be used to purchase a travel insurance policy, which might cover you after final payment, if you are forced to cancel. Now, with cruise lines rolling out more flexibility to encourage bookings during the COVID-19 pandemic, this option carries somewhat less risk than it once did.
If you treasure flexibility with vacation planning: A fully refundable deposit will help to avoid disappointment if you're no longer able to cruise, or want the ability to change the details of what, when and where, without penalties or fees.