Many would-be cruisers (and other travelers) have had their plans dashed in 2020. Looking to make up for lost vacation time, some have hopes of rescheduling when planes are in the air, cruise ships are in the sea, and when vaccines are in the arms. New cancellation policies and an increasingly clear timeline though, mean that it may be smart to plan now so you don't pay more later than you can pay now.
Supply & Demand
While 2020 has been a year of surprises, the simple law of supply and demand remains as constant as gravity. [Jumps up and down to ensure we still have gravity in 2020.] When the number of available staterooms on a ship goes down well ahead of the sailing date, prices go up. This is why we usually see higher prices for Caribbean cruises during the summer; folks want to take summer vacations to the islands, and cruise lines move ships from the Caribbean to Alaska and Europe during this time, since they can't sail those destinations other times. In 2021 we're likely to see fewer ships deployed overall - reducing supply, making those staterooms more scarce than in the past.
If you're thinking, "but what about these great last minute cruise deals I hear about?", the answer is simply that those are the exception and not the rule. In fact, we've got an entire article explaining The Truth Behind Last Minute Cruise Deals. The short version though, is that while cruises not selling as quickly as lines hope might sometimes mean you can find some good deals as the sail date approaches; however, cruise lines today do a really good job of making that a rare circumstance.
When People Book Cruises
So how does this relate to scheduling your upcoming travel? In 2018, data from the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) showed that 75% of cruisers booked their trips 4-18 months out. In fact, 41% of cruisers booked one to two years out! That means that many staterooms on ships sailing in 2021 were likely booked before the pandemic. If you wait to plan your 2021 cruise until the first Instagram posts are circulating of people sipping drinks on the deck of a cruise ship, you might just be too late for the sailing and price point you were hoping for.
Consumer Confidence is High
Pent-up demand will be a factor as we all emerge from our cruise-less existences, and it seems there are plenty ready to go back to sea as soon as it's deemed safer. On November 11th of 2020 Oceania Cruises launched their 2022 Europe & North America Collection, which resulted in a 20% increase in bookings over their 2019 launch. Think those were just guests using Future Cruise Credits issues for canceled cruises? Nope, over 90% of those bookings were cash, and one-third of them were brand new customers who have never sailed with the line. That's not a fluke either, because sister-company Regent Seven Seas Cruises also set a sales record on October 28, 2020.
Bookings made using Future Cruise Credits add up as well though. Check in on any message board or Facebook group and you're sure to find huge numbers of eager travelers who have rebooked their cruise vacations multiple times to ensure they'll be back at sea as soon as possible. We know: we're one of those people.
Cruise Lines Know People Will Be Cautious - And They'll Be Cautious Too
You might be reading all of this and wondering about how safe cruising will be when things return, or maybe you're thinking "this all makes sense invisible internet person, but we don't want to risk booking and then not being comfortable with traveling when the time comes." First, I have a name, it's Billy. More importantly though, cruise lines are working hard with the CDC to plan for a safe return to the seas. You can read about some of the new rules that the industry will be working with to ensure guest safety, and the great news is that even as some restrictions are removed months from now (we hope), the result will be an industry with new safeguards in place that will make things safer than ever. Keep in mind though, that even if you decide to wait to the last part of 2021 to cruise, when vaccines have been well-distributed, those cruises will have already had a lot of their rooms booked by the time you're ready to put down a deposit.
Accounting for the Unknown with New Cancellation Policies
None of us can predict the future, so it's not unreasonable to still be concerned that the cruise you'd like to take in March or even October of 2021 might have restrictions or other concerns you're not comfortable with - which is why cruise lines are making it easy for you to change your mind. Until last year, those in North America usually had to be pretty sure of their plans by 60-120 days out from their cruise, because once you're a few months out you might lose your cruise fare if you cancel. Now however, most lines have restructured their cancellation policies to make them more forgiving. For example, Celebrity Cruises' Cruise With Confidence policy lets you cancel up to 48 hours before your cruise and get a Future Cruise Credit (FCC) that you can use to book another cruise in the future.
Wrapping it Up
This year hasn't been a fun one, and we all need a break. If you think there is any chance you'd like to take a cruise in 2021, then book it today. A good travel agent is worth their weight in gold and can help you navigate the updated itineraries, new cancellation policies, use of any Future Cruise Credits you might have, and more - but you need to act quickly. We've got a number of sailings already booked for next year, and while we found some good deals, prices are already starting to creep up. You're not the only one who needs a cruise vacation, and you certainly don't want to be among the last to book one.