Theresa Norton | July 01, 2015 2:54 PM ET
Get Ready to Bundle!
We first asked the question last November — “Is traditional cruise pricing gone for good?” — after seeing several lines bundle more value-added extras into cruise fares.
The evolution of cruise pricing started with limited-time promotions a few years ago and now is changing the way cruises are bought and sold, as more goodies can be bundled into the fare.
The latest salvo was launched this week by Celebrity Cruises and its new, permanent value-added fare structure.
Celebrity started things with the “1-2-3Go!” and “Pick Your Perk” programs, which let consumers choose which extra amenities they want during their cruise — beverage packages, prepaid gratuities, onboard credit and the like. They were so popular that the premium line brought the promotions out again and again, but for limited times.
Norwegian Cruise Line also offered an all-inclusive package last August, which significantly moved the needle. The Freestyle Cruising line took another tack with the Norwegian Sky, offering free unlimited beer, wine and premium spirits on its three- and four-day cruises starting in January.
Luxury all-inclusive line Silversea Cruises has been enticing travelers by selectively offering more and more extras — such as free shore excursions and free-Wi-Fi. Just last week, Silversea announced all 2016 Asia cruises will include free shore excursions, free Wi-Fi, round-trip economy air, transfers, and a two-night, pre-cruise hotel stay.
MSC Cruises made a significant permanent change last fall, introducing four pricing levels ranging from a basic cruise-only fare to completely all-inclusive.
And now Celebrity Cruises has made the biggest move so far with its new “Go Big, Go Better, Go Best” pricing change, effective July 6. This new fare structure is good on all sailings in the line’s current open deployment, from October through April 2017.
All bookings for ocean-view stateroom categories and up can choose from four amenities — prepaid gratuities, $150 onboard credit, a Classic Beverage Package, and unlimited Internet. (Inside cabins still will have cruise-only pricing.)
Coincidentally, Norwegian also just launched a limited-time holiday bonus on sailings over Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays when booked July 1-15. Those bookings include up to $200 onboard spending credit and up to four extras, such as a beverage or dining package, shore excursion credits, or free Wi-Fi.
What is clear is that consumers like these packages. The higher cost initially is worth it, to them, to get the extras they want. Plus, Celebrity’s Dondra Ritzenthaler says they save money booking the bundle in advance compared to what they would pay if they bought those same amenities onboard the ship.
And if consumers are happy, so are travel agents, especially since their commission is calculated based on the extras bundled into the cruise fare. That's a vast improvement over slashing fares to stimulate bookings, a strategy that also slashes travel agent commissions.
So I asked Vicky Garcia, COO and co-owner of Cruise Planners, what she thinks of Celebrity’s new pricing plan. She was enthusiastic, to say the least.
“Brilliant! It’s a win-win-win!” she said. “We totally support Celebrity’s new ‘Go Big, Go Better, Go Best’ value-added pricing plan. Creating cruise deals and packages with a more all-inclusive offering helps clients feel like they are getting more bang for their buck while increasing commissions for agents who can now earn on drink packages, web packages and the like. And for those budget-minded clients, they still have that option (to pay cruise-only fares) versus going fully all-inclusive.”
The movement toward more inclusive pricing is slowly but surely moving forward, especially as more cruisers lament what they see as more nickel-and-diming onboard. It’s likely we’ll see more cruise lines offer optional value-added packages.
“This is a change for the best, and a change that will be felt throughout the industry,” Garcia said. “We have already seen some other contemporary lines offer more inclusive promotions, as well as luxury brands and river cruise lines, but these permanent shifts from the big players to more inclusive will attract new clients to cruising too, and I’m certainly hoping that others will follow suit.”
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