Keeping Up With Onboard Future Bookings
All of the major cruise lines offer some kind of incentive to create future bookings while onboard their current cruise. It’s an effective marketing tool. While every cruise line conducts their onboard booking process in their own way, the basic premise is to target clients who are currently enjoying their cruise experience, and to get them to commit to a future cruise. Of course, that commitment requires handing over their credit card to secure the future booking with a deposit.
To entice them to do so, the cruse lines offer some type of incentive that cannot be obtained through normal shoreside booking avenues (whether direct or through a travel agent). Royal Caribbean recently announced that their NextCruise program underwent some changes which are currently being rolled out to all ships in the fleet.
Goodbye Instant Onboard Credit
One of the biggest changes being implemented is that they are discontinuing the Instant Onboard Credit option. Up until now cruisers had two options when booking a future cruise while onboard a ship: they could take the onboard credit incentive on the future cruise being booked, or they could take it instantly on their current cruise. According to Royal Caribbean, the Instant Onboard Credit option is being discontinued due to it’s “lack of popularity” with clients. So going forward the only option is for the onboard credit to be offered on the future cruise being booked.
Goodbye Reduced Deposits
Probably the most controversial change being implemented by Royal Caribbean is their move to discontinue reduced deposits for onboard future cruise bookings. Probably the most attractive incentive for cruisers was that when they booked onboard, they only paid a $100 per person deposit on those bookings. Going forward that option is gone. The onboard future bookings will incur the same deposits as shoreside bookings, ranging from $100 to $450 per person (based on the length of cruise being booked).
Clients familiar with the past NextCruise program are currently up in arms about this change, posting their displeasure on many online cruise forums. For many, this was the biggest incentive to book while onboard. One cruiser posted “I usually always book at least 10 cruises onboard, but who can afford all that money upfront.” What she does not say is whether or not she actually sails on all of those cruises she books onboard. And that is likely the reason for the change. When it’s not expensive, why not book a bunch of cruises, tying up inventory in the process, and then when you decide later which cruise you’re really doing to take, cancel the rest and get your (reduced) deposits refunded back to you. No harm, no foul for the clients. But for the cruise line, it does tie up inventory. It also messes with their inventory management when a ton of cruises are cancelled just shortly before final payment, dumping those cabins back into inventory at the last minute.
If travel agents want cruise lines to adhere to “price integrity,” then they also need to support the measures they take to enforce price integrity. When a large number of staterooms drop back into inventory before final payment, Inventory Management needs to scramble to sell those staterooms. They sometimes resort to last minute discounts or sales. This annoys clients that booked in advance if they see a last minute sale that has better pricing than what they booked. We then get upset when our clients complain to us. So, one step Royal Caribbean is taking in hopes of reducing some last minute cancellations, is to require full deposits for onboard future bookings. Hopefully clients will only book the cruises that they seriously plan on taking, and not booking 10 cruises at once with the plan of cancelling most of them when they decide which cruise they really want to take.
Introducing Non-Refundable Deposits
Royal Caribbean recently rolled out new cruise fares that include non-refundable deposits. Those will be offered Onboard, along with the traditional refundable deposits fares. This will probably cause some confusion.
Traditional fares with refundable deposits will be eligible for future onboard credit ranging from $15 (per room, not per person) on a 4 to 5 night cruise in an interior room, to $150 per room for a 10 night or longer cruise in a balcony. No suites are available for the refundable deposit cruise fare.
For the new non-refundable deposit cruise fare, clients will receive future onboard credits ranging from $25 per room (interior room, 4-5 night cruise) to $500 (suite on a 10 night or longer cruise). They can also get an additional $100 onboard credit if they are booking 6 months out or longer. In addition to that, clients can choose to get the future onboard credit OR apply it as dollars off their future cruise. This is not an option for the refundable deposit fare (they can get onboard credit only).
Additionally, when picking the non-refundable deposit fare, clients will be given a 30 day penalty free grace period. When booking shoreside, “the non-refundable deposit fare program includes a $100 per person change fee each time your client changes their original ship and sail date.” With the future onboard bookings, clients will have 30 days from creation date to make unlimited changes without incurring penalty. However, the deposit remains non-refundable. Per Royal Caribbean, “this flexibility enables your clients to return home, communicate with family and friends and firm up their plans for next year.”
So what is left to incentivize clients to book their future cruises while they’re still onboard? According to Royal Caribbean’s FAQs “clients will be eligible to enjoy a discount of up to 10% off their future shore excursions when they pre-plan them onboard for their next cruise.” That definitely is not travel partner friendly, as they are trying to lock up shore excursion revenue and prevent us from selling third party excursions to our clients.
Clients are still able to make up to 3 bookings per person for friends or family not currently sailing with them. Also NextCruise still remains combinable with Crown and Anchor savings and other shoreside offers. With the exception of the shore excursion discounts for future cruises, most of this is travel partner friendly. We have fewer cancellations to deal with (when a client books 10 cruises onboard when only planning on taking one of them), and helps to lock in clients who are serious about taking a future cruise.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations, she focuses on travel for 18 to 23-year-olds. Susan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 221-1209.