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Some cruise fares have dropped as low as $26 a day as lines struggle to fill ships for fall

Oct. 04, 2022
7 min read
Cruise ship Carnival Magic at sea
Some cruise fares have dropped as low as $26 a day as lines struggle to fill ships for fall
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Looking for a last-minute fall vacation that won't break the bank? Consider a cruise.

With bookings for fall sailings weaker than expected, some cruise lines are offering wildly low rates to fill ships in the coming months. At one major cruise brand, Carnival Cruise Line, base fares for some four-night fall sailings have dropped as low as $26 per day.

One three-night sailing at Carnival is selling for just $99 — not per day but for the entire voyage.

"If you’re looking to book a fall vacation, you’re unlikely to find a better value than at sea," longtime industry watcher Chris Gray Faust, managing editor of online cruise site Cruise Critic, told TPG on Monday. "We’re seeing some truly incredible deals right now from the Pacific to Atlantic."

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As Gray Faust noted, there are a wide range of fall cruises to the Caribbean, Mexican Riviera and Pacific Coast currently available for under $50 a night, a low rate for a cruise. It's something that is all the more remarkable considering such fares include not just accommodations on a ship but meals and onboard entertainment, too, she said.

The lowest base rates for some fall sailings are so low that cruisers will pay more in taxes and fees to various government entities when booking one of the trips than they do in base fare to their cruise line — an upsidedown situation that is relatively rare in cruising.

The $99 fare for the Carnival cruise mentioned above, a three-night sailing from Port Canaveral to the Bahamas scheduled for Oct. 17, for instance, is well below the $131.27 in taxes and fees that each passenger must pay to book the sailing.

Related: The ultimate guide to picking a cruise line

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Many of the lowest fares available for the fall are on ships operated by Carnival and Holland America, two lines that are being particularly aggressive in discounting to fill ships. MSC Cruises also is offering low fares on a number of fall sailings.

Some cruise brands, such as Norwegian Cruise Line, are keeping base fares higher but throwing in lots of freebies such as free unlimited drinks, specialty dining, excursions and Wi-Fi.

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Norwegian Cruise Line has tried to hold the line on pricing. NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE

Norwegian on Monday was selling three-night sailings to the Bahamas in November and December that included all of the above freebies starting at $279 per person — about $93 per day.

Cruise deals from $26 per day

Among particularly low fares for fall sailings that cruise lines were touting on their websites as of late Monday:

  • A four-night Carnival voyage out of Miami on Nov. 28 starting at $104 per person — about $26 per day. The Bahamas trip will take place on the 2,980-passenger Carnival Conquest.
  • A four-night Carnival voyage out of Port Canaveral, Florida, on Nov. 28 starting at $104 per person — about $26 per day. The Bahamas trip will take place on the 2,974-passenger Carnival Liberty.
  • A five-night Holland America voyage out of Vancouver, British Columbia, on Oct. 24 starting at $179 per person — about $36 per day. The Pacific Coast trip will take place on the 2,650-passenger Koningsdam.
  • A six-night MSC Cruises voyage out of Barcelona on Nov. 6 starting at $299 per person — about $50 per day. The Mediterranean trip will take place on the 4,500-passenger MSC Bellissima.
  • A seven-night Holland America voyage out of Florida's Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale on Nov. 27 starting at $299 per person — about $43 per day. The Caribbean sailing will take place on the 2,106-passenger Nieuw Amsterdam.

As is typical for cruise fares advertised online, the rates don't include government taxes and fees, which often run around $100 to $200 per person, per cruise. They also don't include the cost of flights to reach the ships, which can be high. That said, there are plenty of low-cost sailings available this fall out of "drive-in ports" near major U.S. population centers that many passengers can reach without a flight.

Passengers who book many of the lowest fares available also will pay extra for things like alcoholic drinks, Wi-Fi and service charges while on the cruises.

Related: 11 extra charges on cruise ships that will drive you nuts — and what to do about them

The current state of cruise pricing

Still, even with such extra charges, the cost of such cruises is notably low when compared to the rapidly rising cost of staying in a resort or hotel on land. Cruise pricing this year has fallen far behind pricing for lodging on land, with some Wall Street analysts who cover the travel industry saying the differential is now in the 30% to 50% range.

Cruise pricing for some itineraries, notably, has not kept up with the inflation rate since 2019, the last normal year for the industry, whereas hotel pricing is well above where it was a few years ago. The cumulative inflation rate in the United States since 2019 is nearly 16%, as measured by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers.

The low rates for fall cruises come as cruise companies struggle more than land resorts to return to normal occupancy levels in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The parent company of Carnival Cruise Line, Carnival Corporation, on Friday announced that occupancy levels at its nine brands averaged just 84% during the peak summer travel months of June, July and August — below the 87% that Wall Street analysts had been expecting and well below normal levels.

Carnival Corporation, which also owns Princess Cruises, Holland America and Costa Cruises, usually reports ship occupancies during the summer months over 100% — something possible when more than two people stay in a cabin.

Passenger ticket revenue for the summer months at Carnival Corporation also came in well below Wall Street expectations.

The company on Friday also said its cumulative advanced book position for the fourth quarter was "below the historical range" — a change from earlier in the year when the company was saying bookings for the fourth quarter were within historical ranges.

Carnival Corporation stock plunged more than 23% on Friday to its lowest level in nearly 30 years.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured image by DANNY LEHMAN/CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
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  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
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Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

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Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees