Amid Talks of Record Bookings, Luxury Lines Still Offering Deals

April 22, 2010

Falling Fares

(5 p.m. EDT) -- During the first quarter of 2010, we've seen numerous cruise lines touting record booking days and weeks. But, while mainstream lines like Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line have leveraged their high-volume sales to raise prices, some luxury lines, shockingly, are lowering fares!

Just last week, two luxury lines announced sale fares on peak summer Europe sailings. Azamara Club Cruises is offering two-for-one fares, onboard credit and airfare discounts on all Europe itineraries departing between late April and November, including the peak summer months. And Seabourn, hot off a one-week sale that saw booking numbers rise 98 percent over the same period last year, has dropped prices on 54 of its Europe and Asia cruises departing between June and November. The luxury line is actually claiming that the "new promotion featur[es] the line's best fares ever with prices starting from $2,499 for a seven-day voyage." In fact, in the previous incarnation of this sale, Europe cruises started at $3,550 -- $1,000 per person more!

The situation in 2010 has changed dramatically from 2009, when many luxury cruises were struggling. In general, things seem to be looking up for the lines -- Oceania, for example, saw fares increase after the end of its Wave Season sale on March 31, and many of its sailings are sold out with only wait-list space available.

So what's going on here?

"Having recently rolled out some of the brand's new onboard features and experiences (which went into effect on Azamara Journey on April 1 and Azamara Quest on April 9), we want to give travelers every opportunity to experience the new Azamara Club Cruises," Azamara spokeswoman Tavia Robb tells Cruise Critic. However, this attitude seems to contradict what Azamara President Larry Pimentel said last fall, when he indicated that peak-season Mediterranean cruises, especially July through September, would see high prices increases as Azamara changed to Azamara Club Cruises. Given that Cruise Critic members are reporting on the message boards that ships are sailing half or two-thirds full, or are selling out rather slowly, we have to wonder if this promotion is a last-ditch effort to fill empty berths, as the Europe season is about to begin.

Meanwhile, Seabourn, which has sailed for years with just three 208-passenger ships, will more than double its original capacity when 450-passenger Seabourn Sojourn debuts this June, following last year's launch of sister ship Seabourn Odyssey. "The mechanism at work is that 2010-11 is the biggest percentage jump in capacity of our three-year, three-vessel expansion. It wasn't as big last year, and it won't be as big next year," says Bruce Good, spokesman for the line. "So this is the happy-hunting season for booking a Seabourn voyage. We are offering the best values we've ever fielded, and they are selling briskly, so the time is right for consumers who want a Seabourn yachting vacation at the best price ever." Bottom line? Once Seabourn's capacity increases slow down, expect the deals to disappear.

The takeaway for consumers is this: If you're looking to get the most value for your vacation dollar, 2010 may be the year to look away from the mainstream lines, where fares are on the rise, and turn to the luxury market, where sale fares -- though still pricey -- are yours for the taking.

--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor

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