“Let me know when you see a great deal!” I get asked this often as a travel agent, and I’m never sure how to reply. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I’m often reminded of that old saying, “You get what you pay for.”
I spend much of my day planning trips for customers that are looking at properties, tours or cruises for next year or even as far as 24 months out. While airfare is not available until 333 days out, many people need to have vacation time set and have realized that the further in advance you plan, the better deal. Top properties and cruise ships fill up fast and usually offer the best pricing when initially offered.
One of the best examples of this was one of my favorite customers booked a transatlantic crossing when it was first released. He’s a frequent “cruiser” with this particular cruise line and had some loyalty benefits coming to him. We initially booked an inside cabin for him and his wife. I kept an eye on his cabin and pricing, and kept taking advantage of upgrade offers for no additional cost. When the ship finally sailed, he ended up with a balcony for the same price that he initially paid for an inside cabin, which is usually the lowest price. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s fun when it does.
Cruise lines and vacation spots currently open with the lowest pricing and, as the demands increase, the pricing goes up. Cruise ships pricing and itineraries usually come out about two years in advance. Resorts and tour companies release theirs rooms and pricing about a year in advance. If the pricing does go down before final payment (which is usually 90 days before travel dates), we can usually get the discounted pricing. There are advantages to being a planner.
I don’t mean to sound like there are not travel deals every day. This summer has found Alaska pricing to be dropping. A couple of the bigger cruise lines, at the last minute, rerouted their cruise ships into the Alaskan market. Every cruise line that is sailing there has been impacted and has had to hustle to fill their ships. Last minute bargain shoppers will find great pricing if they are interested in heading to the “Last Frontier” this summer but will encounter higher airfare costs, limited options on preferred cabins and, maybe, shut out of some excursions.
Back in the day when the Caribbean was overflowing with cruise ships and before Homeland Security needed passenger lists a week in advance, there were fantastic deals. Ten years ago, the cruise lines would make great deals just hours prior to sailing to fill up empty cabins. Cruise lines have now “right sized” the amount of ships sailing the Caribbean and have quit doing last minute pricing reduction to fill ships.
My family took advantage of “last minute” deal a long time ago. We were all set to spend Spring Break in Philadelphia touring Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. We then got a call the day before our departure from a cruise line and found ourselves repacking our suitcases with warm weather clothes and heading to Port Canaveral. The draw of the Caribbean and steel drums made us kick our forefathers to the curb.
We boarded a ship for a five-day cruise for something like $150 for the three of us total … my memory is not the greatest and that deal gets better every time I tell it. Whatever the pricing was, we were sailing and we felt like we landed a “bargain.” The downside of our bargain was that we were crowded into a small inside cabin in the bottom of the ship. We were too late to get our preference on dining times and found ourselves eating at 8 p.m. The excursions were full, no doubt, by those planners! We did get away and enjoyed the sunshine and the azure blue of the Caribbean, but we “got what we paid for.”
Marci DeWitt owns a local travel agency, Anchor and Away Travel, a Dream Vacations franchise. She can be reached by email at mdewitt@DreamVacations.com.