It's hard to know who to turn to right now when it comes to getting answers to your burning cruise questions about future cruise credits, rebooking canceled cruises or simply: "When can I sail again?"
Travel agents are on the front lines of the current slate of cruise cancellations and rebooking and know better than anyone what travelers should expect during this uncertain time.
We spoke to Chuck Flagg, master cruise consultant with travel specialist Cruise Planners, and Rob Clabbers, president of Q Cruise + Travel, a Virtuoso member agency, and a luxury cruise expert, to get the answers to some of the crucial questions on cruisers' minds.
Chuck: This is something that is specific to each individual brand. Most lines are offering either full refunds of the fare paid or up to 125 percent of the value of the cruise fare as a future cruise credit (FCC), which can be applied toward the purchase of another sailing. Most lines are allowing passengers to apply their credits to cruises departing until the end of 2022, but you should always check with the line in question first.
Rob: It varies. If you get an additional credit, such as a 25 percent bonus if the cruise is cancelled by the cruise line, in that case people might say, 25 percent is better than what I get on the stock market. But for other people for whom it is just not likely they'll be traveling in the future, they might say they'd prefer to get their money back.
Rob: It depends on what you book when you book and with whom you book. Most cruise lines have more flexible cancellation policies at the moment, many of which don't require final payment until much closer to departure than usual. Many also will allow a refund up to a certain amount. Once you get within penalties, the majority of cruise lines will actually let you use that penalty and turn it into a future cruise credit. Each scenario will vary a little, so you should talk to your travel advisor about that.
Chuck: With many lines, you can rebook immediately. Carnival, for instance, was able to move a portion of the money paid on a cancelled sailing to a new booking. The FCC may take a bit longer to be applied.
Rob: As soon as you find something that is interesting to you and that you would like to do. We're seeing that availability is getting limited especially if you want to do something that is a bit unusual in terms of itinerary or if the destination is more unusual. If you find something you like, book it.
Chuck: The perks may not be transferred to your next cruise. I believe this is going to be brand specific, and the current promotions at the time of rebooking will be in effect.
Rob: Because most cruise lines will protect your fare and give you the best option early out, especially with luxury lines, yes, you should. Availability is getting limited. Should a better price become available, you can take a look at it and readdress. Right now, booking policies tend to be much more flexible. Once the business goes back to a more normal space some of those booking policies may disappear.
Chuck: People are booking out to 2022 and even to 2023. I would recommend booking Alaska as early as possible for the best cabin selection. I also tell people to get their deposit on a river cruise as early as possible. There are fewer staterooms available for sale, and I do predict a huge demand for travel once we are all through this.
Chuck: I always tell people to book when they are ready. Travel professionals with a brand like Cruise Planners have tools like our Value Tracker to continually monitor pricing of different sailings for a lower price and or an upgrade if available.
Rob: For 2022, we are already seeing pricing is going up a little and there are fewer benefits included. You may not get the two- or three-category upgrade that you would have had on Seabourn if you booked this year.
Rob: Right now you can, but you have to go an American-registered small ship, such as Lindblad or UnCruise (Alaskan Dream Cruises and American Cruise Lines are also sailing). Keep in mind, Alaska is also a great destination to visit by land and there are land programs being offered by Holland America Line and Princess Cruises this year.
Rob: If you can still get space anything, American Queen Steamboat would be a good option. And obviously the newly announced sailings in the Caribbean and the Greece sailings on Celebrity, Seabourn and Silversea. There is still some availability but it may not last long.
Rob: In 2022, pretty much all the ships will be back in full swing. But because of booking patterns I wouldn't really call that normal. Getting to that year is so abnormal. Hopefully by 2023, everything from last year and this year is a little bit more behind us.
Rob: For the next couple of months, if not a year, my expectation would be that to cruise you would need to be vaccinated. That that would be a requirement. Will that be ongoing? We're not sure. I think the cruise lines understand there will be a number of clients that choose not to go on a cruise if they do not want to be vaccinated. But this is how the cruise line can get started again. This is the way they can get back in business, get back in the water.