I recently wrote about Norwegian Cruise Line’s attempt to further unbundle cruise fare by charging for room service, but at least one line has decided to try something different and push the needle the other way. Per an article in Travel Weekly, Celebrity Cruises, the upscale variant of the Royal Caribbean International family, is making a permanent change to its pricing structure for all sailings beginning October 1, introducing a “tiered” fare structure with various add-ons included in each tier.
Branded “Go! Big, Better, Best”, the basic idea is similar to the “bundled” fare options available on several domestic airlines. You can either buy a bare-bones fare with nothing included, or, on American for example, can buy up to a “Choice Essential” fare which includes a checked bag and Group 1 boarding. In Celebrity’s case, interior staterooms will remain cruise-only, but when booking ocean view and above, the first and second passenger per cabin are also provided a choice of a Classic beverage package, pre-paid gratuities, a $150 per person on-board credit, or unlimited internet. “Go! Big” includes your choice of one option, “Go! Better” a choice of two, and “Go! Best” all four, while also upping the Classic beverage package to the Premium package. Third and fourth guests sailing in the same stateroom will be provided a non-alcoholic beverage package and 90 minutes of free internet. In a sense, this makes permanent the “123Go!” promotion that has been running on and off since 2013, whereby customers were offered up to three freebies when booking during sale periods. It is also a play on an “all-inclusive” add-on briefly offered by Norwegian last year, though with fewer features and a lower price point.
I decided to do a little research to see how Celebrity’s bundled pricing to see how it compared to other mass-market lines. First, I checked prices on a 7-day Eastern Caribbean sailing, departing November 14th, in a balcony stateroom on Celebrity.
For comparison, I looked at a Princess Eastern Caribbean cruise departing November 8th. I selected Princess because it is a similarly upscale line (under the Carnival banner), and this sailing visited essentially the same ports as the Celebrity sailing.
The “Go! Big” option clocks in at a $220 per person premium to the Princess itinerary. However, if you factor in the Classic Beverage Package ($55/person/day, or $385/person for a 7-day cruise), you actually end up saving $165 per person by going with Celebrity. If you’re not a drinker and would rather go with the $150 on-board credit, Celebrity is $70/person more, a pretty negligible difference. That’s a long way of saying, pricing remains competitive, though your exact mileage will vary depending on the promotions the cruise line you are using for comparison is running at any given time. (Of course, what Celebrity probably banks on is most people selecting the beverage package, and then not actually consuming $220 in drinks.)
My wife and I had a rather poor experience on Celebrity during our Panama Canal/South America cruise in December, 2012, but the line generally receives good reviews among frequent cruisers. If you’ve been thinking about trying a cruise, but have been put off by the nickel-and-dime experience onboard, this new pricing scheme just might be your ticket to a good time. I’ll be curious to see if any of the other mass-market lines try similar pricing going forward. Before you take the plunge, though, be aware that cruise lines are almost always running promotions, especially through preferred travel agents, and those promotions often include gobs of cruise line funny money to use on-board for any purpose. In other words, always shop around first. For example, on our most recent Princess cruise, my wife and I picked up $675 worth of credits for our 7-day cruise. You can pretty much make a cruise all-inclusive with that many credits, without having to pay extra for a bundled fare.