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Understanding how NCL fares are set, and why they go up and down

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I saw a thread today where a poster claimed that NCL lowered their fares when a promotion was over, while others chimed in and claimed that their cruise's fares either had not gone down or in fact had gone up.

 

I have also had debates here with people regarding the best time to book.

 

So when is the best time to book, and why do the fares jump up and down?

 

The short answer: It depends.

 

 

Computer Predictive Modeling

 

It is important to understand that there is not a human being watching the sales of your cruise and manually changing the prices. It is mostly done by computer, with the human element simply setting guidelines or coming up with promotions.

 

Initially each stateroom is assigned a "brochure price", or basically the highest rate that anyone will likely pay. It is very rare for the brochure price to be exceeded, and this only happens during super-high-demand cruises.

 

From there, the computer has a model of how the ship and itinerary have sold historically, and if not, it usually has something comparable. It also takes into account how cruises in general have been selling recently for other itineraries. These factors are then used to price each room.

 

The computer uses both historical averages and data fed by humans regarding what it expects to sell by certain dates. So if it's expected that 30% of inside cabins should have sold by 270 days out (a hypothetical I'm making up), then it will set prices according to what prices accomplished this last year, and perhaps adjust it up or down in accordance with current market conditions.

 

If the ship sells unexpectedly well, and is ahead of last year's sales, the price will automatically go up. If the sales fall behind prior years, the price will be lowered until it either catches up or it hits a pre-final-payment baseline. More on that shortly.

 

 

 

The Suite Exception

 

The above is done for the common room types -- balconies, oceanviews, and insides. Mini-suites are less plentiful, and thus their pricing is held more steady. This is why sometimes there is a huge price gap between balconies and mini suites, despite their relative similarity. Balconies will fall far below brochure price on many cruises, while mini suites will often see a much lesser reduction.

 

Full suites typically sell well, and there are not many of them. It is assumed that suites will sell out at a fairly constant price, so the sales-goal predictive pricing model is not exercised on them. Furthermore, the suites are considered luxury products, and the cruise line does not want to degrade their perceived value by highly discounting them at any point.

 

What if there are still unpurchased suites as it gets closer to sail time? Will they sail empty? No.

 

That's where the "upgrade fairy" comes in. Sales reps are assigned the task to move existing passengers into unsold suites, for an upgrade fee. If it is getting too close to cruise time, and suites remain unsold, cruisers currently in mini suites (or ones who paid a high price for their balcony room) will be called and asked if they wish to upgrade to a full suite, for what appears to be a reasonable cost. They will also attempt to upgrade lower-tier suite passengers to unsold higher-tier suites in the same fashion, knowing that it's easier to move the lower tier suites either through direct booking or upgrades.

 

This model allows the suites to always sail full, while keeping the price fairly constant.

 

In fact, if you plan to sail in a suite, booking early is the right way to go. You get your room locked in, and you are protected against possible price increases. And of course, if the price drops, you can adjust it provided that it's within the cancellation period.

 

However, if you are not in a suite, and if your itinerary is not either rare or popular, booking early is often a mistake.

 

 

 

The Pre-Final-Payment Baseline

 

For insides, oceanviews, and balconies, the computer keeps dropping the price until the proper number of cabins are sold in relation to the amount of time left before sailing.

 

So if the early bookings are slow, does that mean you will find an extreme bargain?

 

No. The reason you won't is because of the pre-final-payment baseline.

 

You are allowed to cancel for a full refund prior to final payment date (75 days out). People who notice price reductions can easily call up, cancel, and rebook at the new price. Knowing that this can and will occur, NCL will usually just adjust your price down to current levels if you notice a drop prior to the final payment date.

 

Given the customer's ability to re-rate the stateroom he purchased earlier, NCL is careful NOT to over-discount these rooms prior to final payment date. This would result in a large number of people re-pricing their rooms to super-discount fares, and it would cost NCL a fortune.

 

Instead, NCL sets a pre-final-payment baseline rate for each category. If it's before final payment date, the rate will never drop below this baseline, no matter how poorly the cruise sells.

 

This is why you will never find spectacular bargains prior to final payment date. The only way you will get a "bargain" early is if you book, the ship sells unexpectedly well, and the price shoots up. But that's different matter entirely, and fairly uncommon for most mainstream US-departing itineraries.

 

The massive price drops occur AFTER final payment date -- when customers' hands are tied, and they can no longer re-rate their cruise fares.

 

Does this mean that you will find major bargains at the 74 day mark? No. Read on.

 

 

 

Drivin' (A Hard Bargain) at 55

 

NCL allows you to cancel your cruise from 56-75 days out and receive a full refund minus your deposit. As the deposits are typically not very large, this penalty is not very high, and therefore NCL does NOT dump rooms for very cheap during this period. Otherwise, it would be worth it for most cruisers to cancel and rebook at the bargain rates, and again this would cost NCL a fortune.

 

Instead, even on poorly-selling cruises, NCL will wait until at least 55 days prior to sailing to start deeply discounting rooms. Why 55 days? At that point, the cancellation penalty is 50%, which makes it prohibitively expensive for customers to cancel and rebook at a cheaper rate.

 

The reductions do not always happen at the 55 day mark. That's just the first time you will possibly see a significant reduction in price. Depending upon how your cruise is selling, you may not see the massive reduction until as late as 14 days before sailing, but it's wise to start looking at the 55 day mark.

 

As a reference point, I just took an 1-way Vacouver-Anchorage cruise this summer. They dumped rooms at bargain rates 48 days before sail date. I grabbed a bargain room, and then the price slowly creeped back up after enough bargain rooms were grabbed. I got mine at the exact low point. It doesn't always work out this well (sometimes they fall even lower), but you need to use your best judgment if you're seeing the bottom price.

 

Will this dumping always occur? No. If the cruise is selling well, they have no need to dump rooms, and therefore you will never see super-bargain fares. However, as I said, most sailings DO have insides/oceanviews/balconies dumped at some point between the 14-55 day mark.

 

 

 

Determining When It Has Bottomed Out

 

It is important to check the NCL website for prices starting from the 55th day prior to sailing. However, if you do see a sharp reduction, how do you know it won't drop even more?

 

You rarely know for sure, but you can take a few steps to help determine this.

 

First off, you're looking for a HUGE sudden reduction in price. If it drops $50, don't get excited. We are talking about hundreds of dollars per person here. If you don't see that, keep waiting.

 

Sometimes the price drop will be huge but not sudden. For example, if you see four successive drops of $50 each, totaling $200, there's a good chance that you have found a great deal.

 

Second, you need to figure out the NCF (non-commissioned fare) part of each price. You can do this by simply calling NCL, asking for the current fare for the room you're interested in, and then asking, "And what portion of that is the non-comissioned fare?" They will tell you, and that amount is constant for ALL stateroom types, regardless of price. The NCF will also not change once it's established for a particular sailing, so you can ask this early on if you want.

 

So let's say they tell you that the NCF is $199 for this itinerary.

 

The price will absolutely, positively, NEVER fall below the NCF. So if you see a price for $249 for an inside stateroom, you should grab it, because it's just $50 over NCF.

 

Keep in mind that it is VERY RARE that they will sell a room for NCF only. Even the greatest bargain inside cabins tend to be at least $50 over NCF. I paid $104 over NCF for my second cabin. I did see some going for $54 over NCF, but I chose to pay an extra $50 to get a location close to my first stateroom.

 

So if you're going for an inside, you want to look for something no more than $150 over NCF, and preferably $50-$100 over NCF.

 

What about oceanviews and balconies? That's a bit harder, as they will never approach NCF. That one you'll have to just eyeball and go with your gut. If you see abrupt reductions of $250 or more on those rooms, you're pretty safe booking and knowing you got the best (or near the best) price possible.

 

Often it's best to strike while the iron is hot when you see massive, abrupt reductions. This is because the public will jump on these bargain rooms, and once those are sold, the computer will no longer be in panic mode, and the prices will creep back up.

 

What about super-super-last-minute rooms?

 

Yes, you can occasionally get bargains there, but it's not necessary to do this, and often waiting too long can backfire.

 

The NCL computer attempts to sell out almost the entire ship by 14 days prior to sail date. It keeps adjusting the prices around prior to that in order to assure this happens. Sometimes some cabins still won't sell, at which point you will still find amazing bargains. It is considered a disaster if a room sails empty, so the computer tries very hard to fill all rooms. However, the price will NEVER drop below NCF (and never below pre-assigned minimums for oceanviews and balconies), so sometimes a few rooms do sail empty.

 

However, given the focus upon filling the ship before 14 days prior to sailing, usually the best deals are already gone before then. It is best to deal shop starting at 55 days prior to sailing, and if you haven't seen a reduction by the 14 day mark, it is unlikely you will see one for that sailing.

 

 

 

The Book Extra People And Cancel Trick

 

One little-known pricing feature on NCL allows you to cancel extra people out of your stateroom for a full refund if you're 14 or more days away from sailing.

 

So if you have a family of 4, don't settle for one room and pay the expensive third and fourth person surcharge.

 

Even if you don't want to play the 14-55 day game of chicken described above, you can still book all 4 people in one room (whenever you feel comfortable doing so), and then keep price-watching starting from day 55 for a possible second room.

 

When you see inside cabins being dumped for near NCF, call NCL, cancel the extra two people out of your room, and book them their own inside cabin!

 

There will be no penalty for this (if it's 14 days or more away), and you will often get a second room for CHEAPER than adding third and fourth people to your existing room. Sailing with 2 kids under 18? No problem. Just assign one adult to each room. NCL does not care where you actually choose to sleep once onboard (this has been verified countless times here).

 

 

 

What About My Flight?

 

Many people feel uncomfortable waiting until 14-55 days out (especially if it's less than 30) to buy their airline tickets. After all, it is well known that airlines raise their prices as it gets close to the travel date.

 

As insides/oceanviews/balconies rarely sell out until VERY close to cruise time, you are really not risking anything. Go ahead and book your flights as if you're sure you're taking the cruise, even if you have not booked the cruise yet. You WILL get a room onboard of the type you desire (provided it's a balcony/oceanview/inside), it's just a matter of how much you pay.

 

The only itineraries I wouldn't try this would be the Christmas and New Year's ones, as those are popular and will sometimes sell out early.

 

 

 

What About Promotions?

 

Contrary to popular belief, promotions are somwhat independent of fares. It is not correct to say that they always raise prices before a promotion, and lower them afterwards.

 

However, promotions DO affect fares in two ways. First, price drops will often be delayed if a promotion is forthcoming. So if the computer would normally drop the price today but a good promotion is coming three days from now, the price drop will be delayed with the assumption that the promotion will bring in new orders and the percentage of staterooms sold will "catch up" to historical averages.

 

So then why do you sometimes see price drops right after promotions end? If the promotion fails to drum up enough interest to reach the expected percentage sold, the price will be lowered right when the promotion is over.

 

Second, if the cruise is selling ahead of historical averages, and if a promotion is coming up, the price might be raised because it is determined that this sailing doesn't "need" the promotion to reach the sales goals.

 

These two factors can give the illusions that promotions are just a shell game where you are actually paying for the extra perks you get, but in reality it sometimes just works out that way for the reasons stated above. There is not a set rule in the system to jack up prices just for promotions.

 

On a side note, you should always seek out the best promotion possible if booking prior to final payment date, and rebook if you see a better one (provided the fare hasn't risen). If you are booking in the 14-55 day range, you shouldn't worry too much about promotions, as the money you save on fare will typically dwarf any promotion they're running, aside from Kids Sail Free. Of course, Kids Sail Free requires that you stuff extra people in one stateroom, which in my opinion is quite unpleasant for a balcony room or smaller.

 

 

 

What's The Conclusion?

 

If you want a SUITE, book as early as possible, and then watch for price reductions online. (You likely won't see much of one, though.)

 

If you want a mini suite, book as early as possible, and then watch for price reductions online. However, if you are willing to gamble regarding the mini suites selling out (and just take a balcony if they do), I would suggest still waiting until the 55 day mark, because you will often save some money over booking early (though usually not anything dramatic).

 

If you want a baclony, oceanview, or inside, do NOT book early, unless the itinerary is rare (such as one that only sails 1-3 times per year) or during the Christmas/New Year's holidays. Instead, wait for the 55 day mark and do what I described above to get the best price.

 

 

 

Where did I get the above information? Some of it was from my own observations and studies, while some of it came from speaking to a source within NCL with whom I've recently become acquainted.

 

Feel free to ask me any questions.

Edited by pokerpro5

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Wow, that was a lot to take in. Thanks so much for taking the time to post this.

 

I am a first-time NCL customer and currently booked on a Mediterranean Cruise for next June. I booked an inside cabin 15 Months in advance and was able to get the AARP discounted fare. Since I have booked, the fare has gone up 9 times and is currently 40% higher than our cabin's rate at the time of our booking. I cannot imagine they could possibly lower the existing fare enough to ever get back to our original price especially since the AARP rate break is no longer valid based on the time before sailing.

 

I would hate to find myself waiting to book this until under 55 days until sailing and still try to finagle airfare between here and Europe.

 

Anyway, I enjoyed your post and appreciate the time taken to create it.

 

Brian

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I enjoyed reading your post, as I agree it is set by a computer based on the factors you mentioned. I tend to look for certain weeks based on prior years that had decent last minute reductions. Because of my job I can't go the first and last weeks of any month and not in the first quarter.

 

I exclude the summer months when most families are able to take vacations as rates are sure to be higher then. I skip November because its a shorter work month due to thanksgiving.

 

So I generally pick mid-September, mid-October, mid- December.

So at most I am only considering and targeting 5 or 6 specific weeks of the year.

I did the Epic Studio 3 years ago and booked in advance for $749- because demand was high (Dec-2011) many of my studio mates were paying $1,100.

 

As soon as the Breakaway was announced I took a Studio for $999 (21 months in advance) prices eventually rose then declined but not much below what I paid. I then took advantage of an upgrade for $100 the week before.

 

Past Feburary, I found a studio for $545. I tracked balcony prices and through the summer they remained well over $1,150.

Starting 28 days out I noticed declines occuring of roughly $50-$100 every week.

For a while it was about $300 for me to upgrade.

Finally, last Thursday which was 10 days out- The BA category fell all the way to $786 while a BD Gurantee was $774 and BX $749- I paid the $37 more to take the BA which I could choose.

I didn't have time over the weekend to look and didn't want to risk losing out due to other people upgrading and booking.

In fact the BB gurantee rose in price due to less availability.

Studios were as much as minisuites as there were only 4 left and the computer of course doesn't take into consideration how many are left of a different category.

Come tuesday, the BA fell to $579 but for me it was worth it being done 4 days earlier and not watching anymore.

 

However, the current week which is Columbus day had never any reductions for single supplements or significant drops due to being a holiday.

At this point I could even pay $13 to upgrade to a mini suite or spa balcony but am fine where I am.

 

In general, I think there are certain specific weeks were you can get a last minute discount, but have found other peak weeks in summer where rates rise at the end and it almost becomes an auction so to speak.

 

What was interesting as you said about the mini-suites is I found at one point they actually increased in price before taking a sharp drop. However, in general they were GTY's and could have even been a "downgrade" from certain balconies. Although I lucked out with a GTY last year- not playing that lottery again.

 

I am going to follow your tip next year for calling about the NCF.

 

Also, I am finding from 10/5 and 10/19 that in these 2 instances the bottoming out price occured around day minus 7. I was pleased with a BA solo for $786, but thought it might a) either come down more or b) sell quicker. At that point, the $240 becomes piece of mind.

 

As you said, I was also expecting a big jump in that category- but suprisingly when I called I was told there were 30 left; I figure that would buy me more time so I did wait 2 nights and saved another $70.

 

Do you have any strategies that you employ? Now granted, since I don't need airfare I can wait a little longer in these instances.

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Wow, that was a lot to take in. Thanks so much for taking the time to post this.

 

I am a first-time NCL customer and currently booked on a Mediterranean Cruise for next June. I booked an inside cabin 15 Months in advance and was able to get the AARP discounted fare. Since I have booked, the fare has gone up 9 times and is currently 40% higher than our cabin's rate at the time of our booking. I cannot imagine they could possibly lower the existing fare enough to ever get back to our original price especially since the AARP rate break is no longer valid based on the time before sailing.

 

I would hate to find myself waiting to book this until under 55 days until sailing and still try to finagle airfare between here and Europe.

 

Anyway, I enjoyed your post and appreciate the time taken to create it.

 

Brian

 

The European cruises seem to have a lot of this going on. I think it's because they aren't as plentiful as the US-based ones, so the overall demand-per-cruise is higher.

 

You are correct that you are unlikely to do better than you already have, and the gamble of canceling around final payment time and rebooking later probably isn't worth it (especially with the AARP factor).

 

Your cruise must be selling surprisingly well, so that explains the fare increase. There's no way they would have sold it so much cheaper so early if they knew demand would be high enough to justify a 40% increase.

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I enjoyed reading your post, as I agree it is set by a computer based on the factors you mentioned. I tend to look for certain weeks based on prior years that had decent last minute reductions. Because of my job I can't go the first and last weeks of any month and not in the first quarter.

 

I exclude the summer months when most families are able to take vacations as rates are sure to be higher then. I skip November because its a shorter work month due to thanksgiving.

 

So I generally pick mid-September, mid-October, mid- December.

So at most I am only considering and targeting 5 or 6 specific weeks of the year.

I did the Epic Studio 3 years ago and booked in advance for $749- because demand was high (Dec-2011) many of my studio mates were paying $1,100.

 

As soon as the Breakaway was announced I took a Studio for $999 (21 months in advance) prices eventually rose then declined but not much below what I paid. I then took advantage of an upgrade for $100 the week before.

 

Past Feburary, I found a studio for $545. I tracked balcony prices and through the summer they remained well over $1,150.

Starting 28 days out I noticed declines occuring of roughly $50-$100 every week.

For a while it was about $300 for me to upgrade.

Finally, last Thursday which was 10 days out- The BA category fell all the way to $786 while a BD Gurantee was $774 and BX $749- I paid the $37 more to take the BA which I could choose.

I didn't have time over the weekend to look and didn't want to risk losing out due to other people upgrading and booking.

In fact the BB gurantee rose in price due to less availability.

Studios were as much as minisuites as there were only 4 left and the computer of course doesn't take into consideration how many are left of a different category.

Come tuesday, the BA fell to $579 but for me it was worth it being done 4 days earlier and not watching anymore.

 

However, the current week which is Columbus day had never any reductions for single supplements or significant drops due to being a holiday.

At this point I could even pay $13 to upgrade to a mini suite or spa balcony but am fine where I am.

 

In general, I think there are certain specific weeks were you can get a last minute discount, but have found other peak weeks in summer where rates rise at the end and it almost becomes an auction so to speak.

 

What was interesting as you said about the mini-suites is I found at one point they actually increased in price before taking a sharp drop. However, in general they were GTY's and could have even been a "downgrade" from certain balconies. Although I lucked out with a GTY last year- not playing that lottery again.

 

I am going to follow your tip next year for calling about the NCF.

 

Also, I am finding from 10/5 and 10/19 that in these 2 instances the bottoming out price occured around day minus 7. I was pleased with a BA solo for $786, but thought it might a) either come down more or b) sell quicker. At that point, the $240 becomes piece of mind.

 

As you said, I was also expecting a big jump in that category- but suprisingly when I called I was told there were 30 left; I figure that would buy me more time so I did wait 2 nights and saved another $70.

 

Do you have any strategies that you employ? Now granted, since I don't need airfare I can wait a little longer in these instances.

 

There is a mistaken belief that summer months are "busy" for cruises because families can travel then. That has already been taken into account regarding how many ships are sailing and where they go, so barring a surprise influx of people beyond what they expect, the summer months are still ripe for bargains.

 

Thanksgiving week does have some higher volume, but nothing like Christmas/New Year's, as families often like to be home during Thanksgiving Thursday.

 

You will have people harping on needing to cruise Alaska in May or late September to find deals, but that's simply not true. Every Alaska itinerary this year had dumped rooms.

 

GTY rooms can be a good deal, as it's hard to get a "bad" balcony or mini suite. Just don't do them for oceanview or inside, or you will might up on floor 4.

 

As I said, it is generally a mistake to shoot for last minute discounts, unless you mean "last minute" by 14 days or more.

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WOW.... Thank you for this!

 

With all this info, where does the KSF play with all your observations since they normally only do it once or twice a year? Should you book early and wait for this deal or do the deals pan out better still waiting until 55 days out?

 

I normally book early in a great room and wait for KSF and get the promo and stay in the same category I started with. Currently, in a Balcony B2 on the Epic for December at $1870.00 for 4 of us.

 

Very curious for next cruise! Thanks again for the great info!

Edited by darkprayer

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I saw a thread today where a poster claimed that NCL lowered their fares when a promotion was over, while others chimed in and claimed that their cruise's fares either had not gone down or in fact had gone up.

 

I have also had debates here with people regarding the best time to book.

 

So when is the best time to book, and why do the fares jump up and down?

 

The short answer: It depends.

 

 

Computer Predictive Modeling

 

It is important to understand that there is not a human being watching the sales of your cruise and manually changing the prices. It is mostly done by computer, with the human element simply setting guidelines or coming up with promotions.

 

Initially each stateroom is assigned a "brochure price", or basically the highest rate that anyone will likely pay. It is very rare for the brochure price to be exceeded, and this only happens during super-high-demand cruises.

 

From there, the computer has a model of how the ship and itinerary have sold historically, and if not, it usually has something comparable. It also takes into account how cruises in general have been selling recently for other itineraries. These factors are then used to price each room.

 

The computer uses both historical averages and data fed by humans regarding what it expects to sell by certain dates. So if it's expected that 30% of inside cabins should have sold by 270 days out (a hypothetical I'm making up), then it will set prices according to what prices accomplished this last year, and perhaps adjust it up or down in accordance with current market conditions.

 

If the ship sells unexpectedly well, and is ahead of last year's sales, the price will automatically go up. If the sales fall behind prior years, the price will be lowered until it either catches up or it hits a pre-final-payment baseline. More on that shortly.

 

 

 

The Suite Exception

 

The above is done for the common room types -- balconies, oceanviews, and insides. Mini-suites are less plentiful, and thus their pricing is held more steady. This is why sometimes there is a huge price gap between balconies and mini suites, despite their relative similarity. Balconies will fall far below brochure price on many cruises, while mini suites will often see a much lesser reduction.

 

Full suites typically sell well, and there are not many of them. It is assumed that suites will sell out at a fairly constant price, so the sales-goal predictive pricing model is not exercised on them. Furthermore, the suites are considered luxury products, and the cruise line does not want to degrade their perceived value by highly discounting them at any point.

 

What if there are still unpurchased suites as it gets closer to sail time? Will they sail empty? No.

 

That's where the "upgrade fairy" comes in. Sales reps are assigned the task to move existing passengers into unsold suites, for an upgrade fee. If it is getting too close to cruise time, and suites remain unsold, cruisers currently in mini suites (or ones who paid a high price for their balcony room) will be called and asked if they wish to upgrade to a full suite, for what appears to be a reasonable cost. They will also attempt to upgrade lower-tier suite passengers to unsold higher-tier suites in the same fashion, knowing that it's easier to move the lower tier suites either through direct booking or upgrades.

 

This model allows the suites to always sail full, while keeping the price fairly constant.

 

In fact, if you plan to sail in a suite, booking early is the right way to go. You get your room locked in, and you are protected against possible price increases. And of course, if the price drops, you can adjust it provided that it's within the cancellation period.

 

However, if you are not in a suite, and if your itinerary is not either rare or popular, booking early is often a mistake.

 

 

 

The Pre-Final-Payment Baseline

 

For insides, oceanviews, and balconies, the computer keeps dropping the price until the proper number of cabins are sold in relation to the amount of time left before sailing.

 

So if the early bookings are slow, does that mean you will find an extreme bargain?

 

No. The reason you won't is because of the pre-final-payment baseline.

 

You are allowed to cancel for a full refund prior to final payment date (75 days out). People who notice price reductions can easily call up, cancel, and rebook at the new price. Knowing that this can and will occur, NCL will usually just adjust your price down to current levels if you notice a drop prior to the final payment date.

 

Given the customer's ability to re-rate the stateroom he purchased earlier, NCL is careful NOT to over-discount these rooms prior to final payment date. This would result in a large number of people re-pricing their rooms to super-discount fares, and it would cost NCL a fortune.

 

Instead, NCL sets a pre-final-payment baseline rate for each category. If it's before final payment date, the rate will never drop below this baseline, no matter how poorly the cruise sells.

 

This is why you will never find spectacular bargains prior to final payment date. The only way you will get a "bargain" early is if you book, the ship sells unexpectedly well, and the price shoots up. But that's different matter entirely, and fairly uncommon for most mainstream US-departing itineraries.

 

The massive price drops occur AFTER final payment date -- when customers' hands are tied, and they can no longer re-rate their cruise fares.

 

Does this mean that you will find major bargains at the 74 day mark? No. Read on.

 

 

 

Drivin' (A Hard Bargain) at 55

 

NCL allows you to cancel your cruise from 56-75 days out and receive a full refund minus your deposit. As the deposits are typically not very large, this penalty is not very high, and therefore NCL does NOT dump rooms for very cheap during this period. Otherwise, it would be worth it for most cruisers to cancel and rebook at the bargain rates, and again this would cost NCL a fortune.

 

Instead, even on poorly-selling cruises, NCL will wait until at least 55 days prior to sailing to start deeply discounting rooms. Why 55 days? At that point, the cancellation penalty is 50%, which makes it prohibitively expensive for customers to cancel and rebook at a cheaper rate.

 

The reductions do not always happen at the 55 day mark. That's just the first time you will possibly see a significant reduction in price. Depending upon how your cruise is selling, you may not see the massive reduction until as late as 14 days before sailing, but it's wise to start looking at the 55 day mark.

 

As a reference point, I just took an 1-way Vacouver-Anchorage cruise this summer. They dumped rooms at bargain rates 48 days before sail date. I grabbed a bargain room, and then the price slowly creeped back up after enough bargain rooms were grabbed. I got mine at the exact low point. It doesn't always work out this well (sometimes they fall even lower), but you need to use your best judgment if you're seeing the bottom price.

 

Will this dumping always occur? No. If the cruise is selling well, they have no need to dump rooms, and therefore you will never see super-bargain fares. However, as I said, most sailings DO have insides/oceanviews/balconies dumped at some point between the 14-55 day mark.

 

 

 

Determining When It Has Bottomed Out

 

It is important to check the NCL website for prices starting from the 55th day prior to sailing. However, if you do see a sharp reduction, how do you know it won't drop even more?

 

You rarely know for sure, but you can take a few steps to help determine this.

 

First off, you're looking for a HUGE sudden reduction in price. If it drops $50, don't get excited. We are talking about hundreds of dollars per person here. If you don't see that, keep waiting.

 

Sometimes the price drop will be huge but not sudden. For example, if you see four successive drops of $50 each, totaling $200, there's a good chance that you have found a great deal.

 

Second, you need to figure out the NCF (non-commissioned fare) part of each price. You can do this by simply calling NCL, asking for the current fare for the room you're interested in, and then asking, "And what portion of that is the non-comissioned fare?" They will tell you, and that amount is constant for ALL stateroom types, regardless of price. The NCF will also not change once it's established for a particular sailing, so you can ask this early on if you want.

 

So let's say they tell you that the NCF is $199 for this itinerary.

 

The price will absolutely, positively, NEVER fall below the NCF. So if you see a price for $249 for an inside stateroom, you should grab it, because it's just $50 over NCF.

 

Keep in mind that it is VERY RARE that they will sell a room for NCF only. Even the greatest bargain inside cabins tend to be at least $50 over NCF. I paid $104 over NCF for my second cabin. I did see some going for $54 over NCF, but I chose to pay an extra $50 to get a location close to my first stateroom.

 

So if you're going for an inside, you want to look for something no more than $150 over NCF, and preferably $50-$100 over NCF.

 

What about oceanviews and balconies? That's a bit harder, as they will never approach NCF. That one you'll have to just eyeball and go with your gut. If you see abrupt reductions of $250 or more on those rooms, you're pretty safe booking and knowing you got the best (or near the best) price possible.

 

Often it's best to strike while the iron is hot when you see massive, abrupt reductions. This is because the public will jump on these bargain rooms, and once those are sold, the computer will no longer be in panic mode, and the prices will creep back up.

 

What about super-super-last-minute rooms?

 

Yes, you can occasionally get bargains there, but it's not necessary to do this, and often waiting too long can backfire.

 

The NCL computer attempts to sell out almost the entire ship by 14 days prior to sail date. It keeps adjusting the prices around prior to that in order to assure this happens. Sometimes some cabins still won't sell, at which point you will still find amazing bargains. It is considered a disaster if a room sails empty, so the computer tries very hard to fill all rooms. However, the price will NEVER drop below NCF (and never below pre-assigned minimums for oceanviews and balconies), so sometimes a few rooms do sail empty.

 

However, given the focus upon filling the ship before 14 days prior to sailing, usually the best deals are already gone before then. It is best to deal shop starting at 55 days prior to sailing, and if you haven't seen a reduction by the 14 day mark, it is unlikely you will see one for that sailing.

 

 

 

The Book Extra People And Cancel Trick

 

One little-known pricing feature on NCL allows you to cancel extra people out of your stateroom for a full refund if you're 14 or more days away from sailing.

 

So if you have a family of 4, don't settle for one room and pay the expensive third and fourth person surcharge.

 

Even if you don't want to play the 14-55 day game of chicken described above, you can still book all 4 people in one room (whenever you feel comfortable doing so), and then keep price-watching starting from day 55 for a possible second room.

 

When you see inside cabins being dumped for near NCF, call NCL, cancel the extra two people out of your room, and book them their own inside cabin!

 

There will be no penalty for this (if it's 14 days or more away), and you will often get a second room for CHEAPER than adding third and fourth people to your existing room. Sailing with 2 kids under 18? No problem. Just assign one adult to each room. NCL does not care where you actually choose to sleep once onboard (this has been verified countless times here).

 

 

 

What About My Flight?

 

Many people feel uncomfortable waiting until 14-55 days out (especially if it's less than 30) to buy their airline tickets. After all, it is well known that airlines raise their prices as it gets close to the travel date.

 

As insides/oceanviews/balconies rarely sell out until VERY close to cruise time, you are really not risking anything. Go ahead and book your flights as if you're sure you're taking the cruise, even if you have not booked the cruise yet. You WILL get a room onboard of the type you desire (provided it's a balcony/oceanview/inside), it's just a matter of how much you pay.

 

The only itineraries I wouldn't try this would be the Christmas and New Year's ones, as those are popular and will sometimes sell out early.

 

 

 

What About Promotions?

 

Contrary to popular belief, promotions are somwhat independent of fares. It is not correct to say that they always raise prices before a promotion, and lower them afterwards.

 

However, promotions DO affect fares in two ways. First, price drops will often be delayed if a promotion is forthcoming. So if the computer would normally drop the price today but a good promotion is coming three days from now, the price drop will be delayed with the assumption that the promotion will bring in new orders and the percentage of staterooms sold will "catch up" to historical averages.

 

So then why do you sometimes see price drops right after promotions end? If the promotion fails to drum up enough interest to reach the expected percentage sold, the price will be lowered right when the promotion is over.

 

Second, if the cruise is selling ahead of historical averages, and if a promotion is coming up, the price might be raised because it is determined that this sailing doesn't "need" the promotion to reach the sales goals.

 

These two factors can give the illusions that promotions are just a shell game where you are actually paying for the extra perks you get, but in reality it sometimes just works out that way for the reasons stated above. There is not a set rule in the system to jack up prices just for promotions.

 

On a side note, you should always seek out the best promotion possible if booking prior to final payment date, and rebook if you see a better one (provided the fare hasn't risen). If you are booking in the 14-55 day range, you shouldn't worry too much about promotions, as the money you save on fare will typically dwarf any promotion they're running, aside from Kids Sail Free. Of course, Kids Sail Free requires that you stuff extra people in one stateroom, which in my opinion is quite unpleasant for a balcony room or smaller.

 

 

 

What's The Conclusion?

 

If you want a SUITE, book as early as possible, and then watch for price reductions online. (You likely won't see much of one, though.)

 

If you want a mini suite, book as early as possible, and then watch for price reductions online. However, if you are willing to gamble regarding the mini suites selling out (and just take a balcony if they do), I would suggest still waiting until the 55 day mark, because you will often save some money over booking early (though usually not anything dramatic).

 

If you want a baclony, oceanview, or inside, do NOT book early, unless the itinerary is rare (such as one that only sails 1-3 times per year) or during the Christmas/New Year's holidays. Instead, wait for the 55 day mark and do what I described above to get the best price.

 

 

 

Where did I get the above information? Some of it was from my own observations and studies, while some of it came from speaking to a source within NCL with whom I've recently become acquainted.

 

Feel free to ask me any questions.

 

I Concur! But I wish you hadn't shared the information. You let the genie out of the bottle!

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One other piece of info.

 

The European cruises will sometimes rise in price and never retreat back to bargain fares. Other popular itineraries (such as New Year's or Christmas) also behave this way.

 

You can do something to counter this.

 

1) Book early.

 

2) Observe prices at final payment date.

 

3a) If they have gone UP significantly prior to final payment date, you likely have the best deal you will get. Pay and be done with it.

 

3b) If they have gone DOWN or stayed near even by final payment date, CANCEL and wait until 14-55 days as previously instructed.

 

This will usually work to get you the best deal, because prices at final payment time are often indicative of what will happen after that. If they're higher than what you paid, the chance of a bargain coming up later is small. If they are lower or the same, the chance of a bargain being offered between 14-55 days is high.

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WOW.... Thank you for this!

 

With all this info, where does the KSF play with all your observations since they normally only do it once or twice a year? Should you book early and wait for this deal or do the deals pan out better still waiting until 55 days out?

 

I normally book early in a great room and wait for KSF and get the promo and stay in the same category I started with. Currently, in a Balcony B2 on the Epic for December at $1870.00 for 4 of us.

 

Very curious for next cruise! Thanks again for the great info!

 

Serious question: Are you honestly happy with 4 people in the balcony room? Would a second room (an inside in addition to your balcony) provide a more pleasant cruising experience?

 

I ask this because I would HATE having 4 people in a balcony room. I would honestly rather stay home. I always get two rooms if I have 3-4 total people in my party.

 

If 4 in the balcony isn't a big deal to you (i.e. it won't increase your enjoyment much to have a second room), then just go for the KSF, as you are likely to do best with that.

 

However, if you would enjoy a second room, I would suggest the following:

 

1) Book the room early with the KSF promotion

 

2) Watch prices on final payment date.

 

2a) If the price of a balcony room has gone down or stayed the same on final payment date, CANCEL the room. Then use my 14-55 day trick to buy both a balcony room and an inside when they fall in price.

 

2b) If the price of a balcony room has gone up significantly over what you originally booked, keep the original KSF booking, as a bargain is less likely to appear.

 

Alternately, you can keep the KSF booking after final payment date, and then if you see a "dumped" inside room come up, cancel 2 of the people out of your room (one adult, one child), and book a new inside at the bargain rate. Then call back and ask them to upgrade you based upon the fare you paid. For example, if you paid $920 each for the room for the KSF promotion, and if a mini-suite is now going for $1050, you can probably upgrade to that mini suite for $130 per person. You can do this because you are no longer utilizing the KSF promotion on that room.

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pokerpro5 - loved meeting you on that Christmas cruise!

 

Enjoyed meeting you, too.

 

I actually coughed up a good deal of money for that cruise (as I imagine you did), because there was no bargain to be had during Christmas!

 

However, that was when the kids were off, so our hands were tied. I am much more proud of my Alaskan cruise where I really worked the system (legally) to get a bargain.

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Serious question: Are you honestly happy with 4 people in the balcony room? Would a second room (an inside in addition to your balcony) provide a more pleasant cruising experience?

 

I ask this because I would HATE having 4 people in a balcony room. I would honestly rather stay home. I always get two rooms if I have 3-4 total people in my party.

 

If 4 in the balcony isn't a big deal to you (i.e. it won't increase your enjoyment much to have a second room), then just go for the KSF, as you are likely to do best with that.

 

However, if you would enjoy a second room, I would suggest the following:

 

1) Book the room early with the KSF promotion

 

2) Watch prices on final payment date.

 

2a) If the price of a balcony room has gone down or stayed the same on final payment date, CANCEL the room. Then use my 14-55 day trick to buy both a balcony room and an inside when they fall in price.

 

2b) If the price of a balcony room has gone up significantly over what you originally booked, keep the original KSF booking, as a bargain is less likely to appear.

 

Alternately, you can keep the KSF booking after final payment date, and then if you see a "dumped" inside room come up, cancel 2 of the people out of your room (one adult, one child), and book a new inside at the bargain rate. Then call back and ask them to upgrade you based upon the fare you paid. For example, if you paid $920 each for the room for the KSF promotion, and if a mini-suite is now going for $1050, you can probably upgrade to that mini suite for $130 per person. You can do this because you are no longer utilizing the KSF promotion on that room.

 

 

We've done inside rooms with 4. Our kids are young and sure, once they get teenagers I'm sure I'd look at another room. Right now with there age. I do not feel comfortable with them in another room even across the hall.

 

Currently, the same cat balcony on our sailing is $1473.00 for 2 peeps and inside is same area is $1213. We are 58 days out from sailing.

 

I see the KSF as a good deal but it can also be a pain in the butt cause we never seem to get OBC bonus or dinner deals ect with the KSF. Just wondering if I'm looking at KSF the wrong way and if I was hurting myself by using it instead of different deals or waiting. Thanks for replying to me!

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We've done inside rooms with 4. Our kids are young and sure, once they get teenagers I'm sure I'd look at another room. Right now with there age. I do not feel comfortable with them in another room even across the hall.

 

Currently, the same cat balcony on our sailing is $1473.00 for 2 peeps and inside is same area is $1213. We are 58 days out from sailing.

 

I see the KSF as a good deal but it can also be a pain in the butt cause we never seem to get OBC bonus or dinner deals ect with the KSF. Just wondering if I'm looking at KSF the wrong way and if I was hurting myself by using it instead of different deals or waiting. Thanks for replying to me!

 

I don't think you get very much as far as promotional perks with balcony rooms.

 

Usually it's something like a $40 OBC or something equivalent. And usually the "free upgrades" to mini suites don't work unless you have the top category balcony.

 

So you're really not losing much by utilizing KSF, and you're gaining a lot.

 

Even if you don't want to have the kids sleep by themselves, the second room is useful as a second bathroom, storage, and napping during sea days.

 

I would never cruise without a second room (unless there were just 2 of us), but to each his own.

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Great research and all but I have to add my 2 cents. Booking early gives you a selection of cabins and if 9 months in advance double cruise credits as well. If you're picky about location then booking early and watching for a fare reduction (which I regularly do) works better. I could never wait until 14 or even 30 days out and be comfortable especially if air is involved. Peace of mind plays a roll in all of this for me.

Again , great research, thanks for sharing.

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You are allowed to cancel for a full refund prior to final payment date (75 days out). People who notice price reductions can easily call up, cancel, and rebook at the new price.

 

Remember that this is not always the case, dependant on which branch of NCL you booked through. It does NOT apply to bookings made through NCL (UK). If you cancel, your deposit is lost.

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Thanks for the details! I always thought it was something like that and knew it was mostly computer generated and promotion guided!;):eek::p:rolleyes:

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not sure if it supply and demand, but i am wondering who is willing to book an inside cabin for $1200 per person for a 6 day cruise..Seems a tad bit high to me :confused:

Edited by shof515

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If you have already booked and paid in full, you can also call before you cruise - we got a free upgrade. We did notice that the prices had dropped considerably.

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If you have already booked and paid in full, you can also call before you cruise - we got a free upgrade. We did notice that the prices had dropped considerably.

 

 

We also received a free upgrade, from balcony to mini-suite in our case, on our upcoming Breakaway sailing. We still didn't make out as well as we would have had we booked late, but the larger and nicer bathroom will be appreciated nevertheless.

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Cruise Critic Forums mobile app

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One of the reasons we try and book early......

 

Our mini suite on the Sun for our cruise in February is currently TWICE the price $4446.00.:eek:

 

We booked in May for $2190

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Very interesting read. Thanks. I very seldom book my cruise 55 days out to catch hot cruise deals and so far, this strategy has saved me a bundle. There are always a few cruises I am interested to go every year so if one doesn't work out, no biggie. I will just move on to the next cruise on my target list.

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Thanks for the great info!

 

I'm still confused about the KSF issue though. I just got off the phone with an NCL supervisor because I was trying to upgrade to a minisuite since prices on my 3 weeks out sailing have dropped. They will not honor my KSF if I upgrade, even though I have done it before. They say it depends on which sailing and inventory. What would have to change about the inventory and these computer generated prices for me to be able to use my KSF still? Any ideas? She told me to call back again and it might change. :confused:

 

I do like your idea of booking an inside room for the kids later when prices drop. However, right now this would still cost me the same as if I didn't book under KSF (about $900).

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