Celebrity Cruises will become the latest brand to adopt a
fare with a nonrefundable deposit, underscoring efforts by cruise lines to stop
booking practices that they don't like.
Starting Nov. 29, Celebrity will offer the nonrefundable
option with lower fares. As is the case with other cruise lines, passengers
will still be able to book trips with refundable deposits, but at a higher
The move comes six months after a similar decision by Royal
Caribbean International, which, like Celebrity, is owned by Royal Caribbean
On a recent cruise onboard the Harmony of the Seas, Royal
Caribbean president Michael Bayley told travel agents that efforts to load
ships early in the booking cycle with a base of confirmed business have been
stymied by refundable deposits.
"Some of our more loyal customers were not too in love
with it in the beginning," Bayley said of the nonrefundable idea. "But
to be honest, in some cases the system was being gamed a lot by some of our
customers who would take out multiple, multiple, multiple bookings, and then we
would have a challenge with the base-loading."
Bayley said base-loading is the pricing strategy that
enables Royal Caribbean to reward early bookings with lower prices and have the
confidence to raise prices to premium levels closer to the ship's departure.
Bayley said nonrefundable deposits help agents by reducing
the amount of repricing and rebooking they do.
"You work hard to get these bookings," Bayley
said. "And then a week or some weeks later, all of a sudden that booking's
going away. You've got to get back into the discussion. You've got to rebook or
reprice, and that's a lot of work. We think nonrefundable is a little nudge to
get customers to commit."
The fare has been a success since Royal launched it in June,
Bayley said. "So, we think it's the right way forward."
One agent said she approved of Royal's new policy.
"Your clients aren't so wishy-washy, they're more
committed," said Susan Pretkus-Combs, owner of Combs, Catalina & Associates,
a Dream Vacations outlet in Orange County, Calif.
Carnival Cruise Line has had a nonrefundable feature since
at least 2009 with its Early Saver fare, said Adolfo Perez, vice president of
sales and trade marketing.
"We started Early Saver years ago. They have been
working for us," Perez said.
Early Saver fares are up to 25% lower, but canceling before
final payment triggers a $50 change fee. Perez said there hasn't been any
increase in their use.