“I saw a cruise deal online for $149! Is this price real?” This question comes up quite a bit, and it’s usually followed with another: “Why was the final price so much higher?”
First-time cruisers are often drawn in by the tease of a low cruise fare being advertised in their social media feed or email inbox.
However, when passengers finally see all the fees and added charges, they often feel duped. Veteran cruise travelers understand the complex pricing structure, but for newcomers, navigating it can be confusing.Sponsored Links
This raises the question: are cruise fares misleading and in need of a change?
Cruising is still more affordable
Cruise ships offer more for your money than almost any other type of vacation. There’s no doubt about that. In fact, some cruise lines have publicly expressed their desire to bridge the gap between the cost of land-based vacations and cruising.
According to Royal Caribbean CEO Jason Liberty, there’s still a 40% to 50% premium in the cost of land-based vacations over the cost of taking a cruise.
But here is the issue that bothers some potential cruise passengers. Those advertised cruise prices can feel like a dangling carrot. Whether it’s on a cruise search engine or directly on a cruise line’s website, prices are much lower than what a passenger will actually pay.
Photo credit: Cruise Fever
Cruise fares leave a few things out
When you see a cruise fare listed online, here are some things you can usually assume:
- The price is for one person (which should be doubled for two)
- It’s probably for an interior cabin (no view)
- Port fees and taxes are not included (which also have to be doubled for two passengers)
- Gratuities, excursions, and other “extras” will not be included
The biggest oversight in cruise pricing is the single supplement charge. This simply means that even if you’re going on a cruise by yourself you will have to pay for two people in the cabin. After all, a cruise ship would lose half the farecost revenue for that cabin if they didn’t do this.
The only exception to this is if the cruise line has solo cabins (or studio cabins) which will either waive the fee or reduce it significantly. You can see our list of every cruise ship with solo cabins here.
As a rule of thumb, I usually take the listed cruise fare price and triple it to get an idea of total costs, including some extras like Wi-Fi, excursions, and specialty dining.
Read more: 5 most overlooked cruise costs first-timers always miss
Example of the cruise price jump
I recently saw a cruise deal on a travel search engine for $199. This was for a cruise on Carnival Cruise Line. Knowing the end price would be much different, I clicked through to see what the total damage would be to illustrate this point.
As expected, that $199 cruise fare was for an interior cabin. To try to get a final price as close to the listed price as possible I opted out of any upgrades or perks.
After four pages of filling out basic information and preferences I was able to see the final price: $687.30. That’s a 245% increase.
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The port fees along on this 3-day cruise to the Bahamas were $144.65 per person almost equaling the cost of the cruise fare itself.
And of course, we would still have to add in the cost of prepaying gratuities.
Now, a 3-day vacation that includes a place to sleep, all the food you can eat, visits to a couple ports of call, an entire ship to explore, and free entertainment on board is still an awesome deal under $700 for two people.
The issue some travelers are bringing up is simply the fact that the advertised price should have been more closely aligned to reality.
It should be noted that not all cruise lines advertise fares so aggressively. In fact, there are many all-inclusive cruise lines that do just what the title implies: include everything in the price. While these more luxurious cruise experiences will cost more, the nickel-and-diming practices go out the window.
Many cruise travelers enjoy knowing the exact price they will pay and that they will not have to keep adding charges onto their onboard account the entire cruise. But yes, for this luxury, you will have to pay up.
Cruise lines aren’t alone in this practice
Just last year The Hotel Fees Transparency Act was introduced in the U.S. to combat this issue in the hospitality industry. The bill would require hotels to display prices that display all mandatory fees.
As part of a settlement a few years ago, hotel chain Marriott agreed to include mandatory resort fees to its room rates. So, the desire for price transparency in the travel industry is not exclusive to cruising by any means.
Airbnb is notorious for having exorbitant cleaning fees at some properties, a cost that is not clearly seen in the price listings. While the company has addressed changes in how the fees are displayed in an attempt to be more transparent, these extra fees aren’t going away any time soon.
NerdWallet ran some numbers and found that Airbnb cleaning fees amounted to 25% of the total price and almost 40% of listings had cleaning fees that were 20% to almost 30% of the list price.
So, are cruise fares misleading? It’s a tricky question with no easy answer. While advertised fares often feel like a “bait and switch,” it’s important to remember the context:
- Cruises offer immense value: Compared to land-based vacations, you get accommodation, meals, entertainment, transportation, and port visits, often at a competitive price.
- Transparency efforts are underway: Cruise lines are starting to offer all-inclusive options and some are moving towards clearer pricing structures.
- Comparison shopping is key: Use price comparison tools, factor in hidden fees, and consider all-inclusive options to avoid sticker shock.
Ultimately, the onus lies on you, the savvy traveler, to navigate the cruise pricing maze.
One advantage of the current pricing structure for mainstream cruise lines is that you get to pick and choose the amenities you want, freeing up some extra cash.
As some cruise lines move toward including more for standard rates, there has been some push back from cruisers who say things like “I don’t use Wi-Fi on my cruise so why should I pay for it?”
Read more: How to avoid spending an extra penny on board your cruise