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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

"Wave Season" heats things up with some warm weather getaways.

"Wave Season" heats things up with some warm weather getaways.

As the next winter storm approaches, some of us start thinking about a nice week-long getaway to a much warmer climate. Say, Mexico or the Caribbean. Or we day dream about that Summer cruise to Europe or Alaska. Pehaps a fall-foilage cruise to Canada and New England.

We're not alone. This time of the year, millions of people are dreaming the same dream. Well, not quote as many people as watched the Super Bowl, but you get the idea.
During January through March we celebrate "Wave Season". That annual migration of vacation seekers who visit their neighborhood travel agent, search the net, visit some 3rd-party web sites and scower the blogs and forums for information on how and where to find the really good deals. You know the ones: those that include free stateroom upgrades, onboard spending credits, bottles of wine, a free photo, fancy dinner or chocolate covered strawberries. Plus other perks like not one, but unlimited, complimentary sightseeing tours ashore.
These great bonus-laden offers are promoted as limited-time offers and give the impression they won't be around very long. Some offer a genuine bargain, with as much as 50% off published prices. Some frankly don't, like a cheap $399 one week cruise for an inside cabin on the lowest deck, next to the disco and laundry! That said, if you're a savvy cruise shopper, you can get a great deal on your next cruise vacation.
Here's our answers to a few key questions...
Is now the best time to deal?
Yes, we said deal. Did you know that most cruise lines do not allow travel agents to advertise prices lower than the cruise lines offer to those who book directly with the cruise line. However, some do allow travel agencies to discount by rebating part of the commissions, when dealing directly with a potential customer. If you are shopping the Internet for cruise prices, you're most likely going to find many travel sites quoting either the same price or a discounted price. But, the price you're seeing on a travel agent's web site is not necessarily the best price you can get.
In this economy everyone is looking for new ways to cruise for less. Eveyone knows that seniors get a break, kids do too. But here's a tip that even experienced cruisers may not know. Start your search for a low-cost cruise by researching resident rates. Where you live could entitle you to exclusive savings. Just click on your home state when searching to unlock special fares. Plus, while you're shopping, look for resident rate reminders under the price.
To find out a travel agency's best price on a particular cruise, you should call them, or e-mail them a request for a price quote. Most travel agencies have toll-free phone numbers. Don't hesitate to call or email and bargain with them -- you could save a lot!
Cruise Tip: If you book online, make sure you know who you are doing business with. Never pay by check, and make sure if you use your credit card that the cruise line is the one being paid and not the travel agent (easy to check by contacting your credit card company) . That way, you know your money went directly to the cruise line to pay for your hard-earned vacation. Nothing could be more dishearting that waking up one day to find out your travel agent went out-of-business and never paid the cruise line for your trip. Think it doesn;t happen? It happens just about every year.
Should I book now or wait for a better deal?
Cruise prices are slowly edging up. As more and more cabin inventory is spoken for, the remaining inventory may or may not be sold off at bargain prices. If you are looking for a dirt-cheap cruise costing say, less-than-$49-per-day, you may already be out of luck. Those deals were booked up weeks ago. Fares continue to be generally discounted by the cruise lines, but they won't hit rock-bottom like they did  last year.
Are you experiencing double-booked days, working lunches, late nights? then forget about waiting until Summer, you need an escape, and you need it now! Consider a last-minute cruise and have your spontaneity reward you with big savings. A check online shows a huge store of last-minute cruises at rock-bottom, final-closeout prices. Just shop for a cruise by price, destination, and cruise line for cruises departing in the next 60 days, and you'll likely get an incredible deal on a relaxing at-sea vacation. If you feel like holding out for a better deal closer to a Summer or Fall sailing, that's ok. Many of the contemporary cruise lines like Carnival, NCL or Royal Caribbean will continue to hold so called last-minute, three-day specials and added-value sales throughout the year. Good deals are always out there for the picking.
If you are more concerned about getting the most value for your hard earned money, you will find upgrades like this one: for the price of, an oceanview cabin, you get  a balcony cabin instead. And we've seen some cruise lines offer the cabin upgrade plus up to $200.00 onboard credit. $1000 on some luxury cruises. Spending credits, where available from the cruise line, are house credits that are placed on your stateroom's account for you to use during your cruise vacation. You can use the credit towards merchandise, lounges and in some, but not all cases, for spa treatments or shore excursions.
How Do I Know I'm Getting The Best Deal?
First, do your homework. After you have narrowed down your choice to that one cruise you want, go online. Research the price at the cruise line's web site. Be sure to note the details about what's on offer. The ship, sailing date, cabin type, cabin location, price. Be sure to include all port charges, taxes, fees and any other charges. Look for them. Often they are the really "fine print" the cruise line doesn't make apparent up front, when you see that $399 price point. They could add up and almost double your cost from the sales price shown.  Sometimes the discount or value-added bonus feature advertised does not apply to the sailing date, itinerary or cabin category you want. Don't forget, limited-time offers are just that. When they are gone, they are gone. So, he who hestiates loses.

How good are this year's promotions?  Well that depends.  The offer of free airfare, free shore excursions and $1,000 off sounds great. Until you find out, the minimum fare is in excess of $5000.00 per person, plus taxes and fees! To be fair, that offer is for a super-luxury cruise, few of us can afford. Naturally, You will not find such a deal for a 3 day Bahamas weekend getaway! So buyer beware.
As we browsed the web the other day, we found several online agencies offering additional amenities, and so-called exclusive deals including free travel insurance, onboard spending credit, or prepaid gratuities, as an incentive if you booked directly with them.  Compare these offers with what you can get if you book directly with the cruise line. Often these bonus -extras actually come from the cruise line but an agents promotion may give the illusion that they have some kind of exclusive arrangement, when indeed they don't.
"Wave Season" is heating things up with some warm weather getaways. So, now that you know what to do, don't wait for record cold tempatures and two-feet of snow to motivate you.  Reserve that cruise you've been dreaming about today--and soon you can be waited on hand and foot, frolic on a private beach, or take a moonlit stroll on the deck.
Bon Voyage... Bargain Hunter!

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