Cruise passengers might have to get used to the idea of
nonrefundable deposits now that a second big cruise line has introduced them.
Starting this month, Royal Caribbean International added
nonrefundable deposits to its deeply discounted fares. Consumers won't get back
the deposit if they decide to drop the cruise before making the final payment.
The forfeited deposits could be as much as $900 for some
suites on longer cruises.
Travel agents had mixed opinions about the spread of
nonrefundable deposits from other travel segments, where they are common, to
cruising, where they are not.
"It's certainly not helpful, but it's the way the world
is going," said David Broth, manager of Caves Travel in Pikesville, Md.
Broth said agents would have to take time to explain the
fares to customers. "It's another thing that I, as an agent, have to tell
The upside, he said, is that lower fares should be
attractive to clients and help sell the cruises.
Royal Caribbean announced several other changes along with
what it is calling the Non-Refundable Deposit (NRD) fare. When booked at least
six months in advance, customers will get an onboard spending credit of $100 as
a reward. But the NRD fares also come with change fees, another first.
Royal Caribbean said that "in an effort to deter
continual or late ship/sail date adjustments" it will assess a
$100-per-person fee for changing the sailing date or ship on a booking made
under an NRD fare.
Consumers can opt for traditional fares with refundable
deposits on all cabin categories except Grand Suites and above, for which the
NRD fares are the only option.
Several travel agents, including Broth, applauded that feature
because under the current rules upper-end suites are often blocked in Royal
Caribbean's booking system.
"There are [agencies] that lock the suites up. It will
probably stop some of that," Broth said.
Royal Caribbean is the second large cruise line to introduce
NRDs. Carnival Cruise Line has an Early Saver fare that comes with early
booking incentives but also includes loss of deposit even before final payment.
A spokeswoman for Norwegian Cruise Line said its deposits
are refundable except on last-minute bookings made within the full-penalty
Royal Caribbean said the NRDs are "an opportunity to
simplify our promotional landscape, while also providing our guests with added
confidence to book early and our travel partners the reassurance of more
qualified, dependable business."
Susan Gannon, senior director for marketing and development
of cruise products at Ensemble Travel Group, said that NRDs have been common in
other segments of the travel industry, "certainly on the hotel and air
side for quite some time."
Gannon said that the overall reaction of Ensemble group
agents was that it is a good development.
"Our members feel that consumers don't have an
unpleasant reaction to it, because it is somewhat common, and they understand
that it exists, and they somewhat expect it," she said. "There's not
a huge worry on that side."
Gannon said it will help get clients to commit to a booking
"For the people who are ready to commit, you get better
retention," she said. "It will help to alleviate some of the
canceling and rebooking that goes on."
As for suite deposits being nonrefundable, Gannon said there
was some feeling that it was unfriendly to Royal Caribbean's best customers,
but he also expressed the hope that it might free up suites for more sales.
"We always hear that the suites are never available
when people want to be booking suites, and a lot of times it's because they're
being held," Gannon said. "And those suites may come back into
inventory well past the time that suite purchaser was looking to buy. You can
see the benefit there, just to have the better inventory available for those
buyers ready to commit."