When is "Charter Cruise" Not a Dirty Word?

August 5, 2008
The term "charter cruise" generally creates quite a stir among Cruise Critic members. More often than not, the buzz is the result of a company or affinity group snapping up desirable space from "regular" folks -- sometimes even after they've plunked down a deposit, requiring them to then rebook their trips or even cancel vacation plans altogether.

But can a charter cruise ever be a boon for cruise travelers? Why, yes it can -- if it falls through, that is. We recently learned that the September 6 sailing of Windstar's Wind Star was placed back on the market due to the last-minute cancellation of a full charter -- at the deeply discounted price of $1,299 per person. According to today's Vacations to Go Newsletter, the price was dropped in an effort to sell out the ship in time for next month's cruise.

For fans of Windstar, whose fleet consists of three sleek masted ships that balance top-notch service and luxurious amenities, a rate like that is exceptional -- but so too is the fact that cabins became available at all. On VacationsToGo.com, for example, the cruise before (August 30) and the cruise after (September 30) are both listed as "sold out," even with fares from a whopping $3,199 and $3,799 respectively.

The closest comparison we could find was an October Mediterranean cruise sale on Windstar's Web site from $1,799 -- still substantially higher than the advertised fare for September 6.

The cabins, no surprise, sold out as quickly as they popped up; however, the low rate could still be available should any recently booked passengers decide to cancel. The take-away here is that "charter" doesn't necessarily have to be a dirty word. After all, cruise lines will only sign off on a charter if it affects a small percentage of already booked passengers and often offer compensation to make up for the inconvenience. And, as we saw in this case, a complete change in plans can make eagle-eyed deal hunters very happy indeed.

To stay on the lookout for the best last-minute rates on the cruises you want to take, be sure to sign up for deals-specific mailers such as Vacation to Go's newsletter and our own Cruise Critic's Cruise Sails.

--by Melissa Baldwin, Managing Editor