Michelle Baran
Michelle Baran

It was hard to miss the jaw-dropping transatlantic flight deals Norwegian Airlines released last week, with introductory fares as low as $65 to hop the pond (with tons of potential add-ons, of course).

According to river cruise lines, there are plenty of airfare deals to Europe right now - Viking River Cruises is offering international flights as low as $295 per person, and Avalon Waterways' contract fares are as low as $799 round trip - that combined with their own promotions and marketing efforts, are contributing to what some river lines report is turning into a record year for bookings.

That is quite the change in tune from last year’s post-Paris attacks doldrums.

“Our lower air prices, combined with other booking discounts, has certainly helped with demand for January and February for both our river and ocean cruise sailings,” said Richard Marnell, Viking’s SVP of marketing. “Bookings have been very strong so far this year – there is now limited availability for the rest of 2017, and we are already selling 2018 departures.”

Marnell noted that because of the high volume of air that Viking purchases, “we have the ability to pass substantial savings onto our guests with better than market airfare.” He said that translates into international air for as low as $295 per person for popular river cruise itineraries on the Rhine and Danube, and in some cases, as with some of the company’s 15-day Grand European Tour departures, Viking offers free international air.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection said that the last quarter was one its “strongest booking periods, reaching record levels,” according to Uniworld CEO Ellen Bettridge. On Wednesday, Uniworld launched a new promotion offering accommodation upgrades and an air travel incentive on more than 20 itineraries — guests who book select 2017 voyages by April 30 will receive a complimentary stateroom upgrade, and those who purchase business class flights through Uniworld for their trip will also receive a $1,000 credit per person on the cruise fare on select itineraries, including on Italy’s Po River and on the Rhine.

Bettridge noted that “attractive airfare options are encouraging and allowing more individuals” to travel internationally.

Avalon Waterways said it too is experiencing “a surge” in first quarter bookings, with an average weekly gain for the period of 34% over the first quarter of 2016. The river cruise line attributes the bump to a renewed TV ad campaign, good promotional offers and low airfares, that can be lowered further with a $300 per couple air credit Avalon is currently offering.

“Couple these factors with high consumer confidence and a strong market, and Europe 2017 is looking good,” Avalon said in a statement. “With all this, it’s looking to be a record year for Avalon.”

Kristin Karst, executive vice president and co-owner of AmaWaterways said the river cruise line is seeing some of the best airfares to France and the Netherlands than it has seen in years - not only for the shoulder period of early spring but also during the peak travel months of July and August.

"This is stimulating more last-minute bookings particularly on our river cruises on the Rhine, Rhone and Seine where multi-generational families will find travel more affordable this summer than ever before," said Karst.

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI