(6:30 p.m. EDT) -- As Mediterranean line MSC Cruises continues to integrate its cruise product into the North American market, the line will implement several changes to its deposit, cancellation and travel agent rebate policies in an effort to better align itself with competitors.
Beginning May 1, required deposits -- up from $100 per person -- will be $200 per person for cruises of 14 nights or fewer and $300 per person for sailings of 15 nights or more.
The cancellation window for sailings of fewer than 15 nights will also change. Previously, passengers were able to cancel within 60 days of sailing without forfeiting anything; now, those who don't give 90 days' advance notice or more when canceling will lose at least the amount of their deposit.
"The adjusted cancellation and deposit policies are meant to help us manage inventory -- particularly as we open sales 18 months to two years in advance of a sailing -- and ensure that consumers are serious when booking a cruise with MSC," says Ken Muskat, the line's executive vice president.
Additionally, passengers will have only 60 days to transfer bookings made directly through MSC to a travel agent. Proper documentation must be submitted, and the booking must also be outside the final payment window and not yet paid in full.
Further, under the new policies, travel agents will no longer be able to sell cruises for fares lower than what MSC itself is offering. That means cash and cash equivalents can't be used to lower cruise fares as booking incentives for clients. Value-added perks like onboard credit and prepaid gratuities are still allowed, however.
Muskat says that the policies will help the line to be more competitive as it continues to gain traction.
MSC's prices have historically been some of the lowest around, which allowed the line to stand out in the North American market, where even a year ago it was relatively unknown.
"[MSC] always [has] to use price a little more than [other cruise lines] do because [other cruise lines] have brand awareness that's off the charts, compared to our brand awareness here," MSC President Rick Sasso told Cruise Critic in an interview in 2015.
The fact that the company is now taking steps to put itself on par with other cruise lines speaks volumes about where the brand is headed.
For the past couple of years, the line has been testing ways to Americanize its Florida-based ships and compete with some of the bigger players in the cruise space. Recent efforts have included partnerships with Celebrity Chef Roy Yamaguchi and fitness company TechnoGym.
--By Ashley Kosciolek, Editor