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It’s a bone of contention among Australian cruise passengers although it’s a problem that is unlikely to be solved any time soon. Words: Alarna Haigh.

“I buy over the net which can be a saving of one third of the price and get frustrated that I have to do that and not support Aussie agents but they can’t match the price,” one of our readers told Cruise Passenger this week.

It’s an ongoing issue in the Australian cruise market that frustrates Aussie passengers who often find cruises in the US selling for half the price of what the same cruise is selling in Australia.

So why do the cruise lines do it, how can Australians get the best deal, and can you get booted off a cruise for booking in another country? Here, Cruise Passenger throws some light on the great pricing debate.

Despite the local cruise industry growing 56% since 2007, according to the International Cruise Council Australasia, Australian cruise passengers are struggling to find similar fare rates Down Under compared with the US. This, in turn, is leading many cruise passengers to book online through US agents but, increasingly, passengers are being turned away due to changes in cruise line policies.

SUPPLY AND DEMAND

According to the major cruise lines, and note: it’s extremely hard to find first hand information on this, the reason is that the cruise lines treat their ships’ cabins like commodities – where there is more choice in the market, there will be lower fares, whereas higher demand is going to push fares up if there is less supply.

So in America, the largest cruise market in the world, where there is an abundance of cruise ships and cabins to fill year-round, you can imagine that it makes sense for the cruise lines to lower prices to fill the ship. Meanwhile in Australia there are far less cabins to fill and more and more people wanting to cruise each year… Go figure.

CAN YOU BOOK CHEAPER INTERNATIONAL FARES ONLINE?

For many savvy Australians looking for a bargain, the internet has been the great leveller that you can use to compare prices internationally and book through a US agent if the prices are more favourable there.

However, many major cruise lines are taking a hard line against this practice by banning US travel agents from selling cruises to passengers outside of the US.

According to Vacations To Go, an online US travel company that sells to Australian cruise passengers, Celebrity Cruises, Costa Cruises, Holland America Line, Oceania Cruises, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and Star Clippers will not let any US travel agents sell to passengers outside the US (with exception to Canadians and, for Princess, Mexicans).

“We are able to offer the deeply discounted U.S. rates of most of the cruise lines we represent to citizens of other countries. However, the following cruise lines now prohibit all U.S. travel agencies (including Vacations To Go) from selling cruises to citizens of countries other than the U.S. and Canada, unless they have a residence in the U.S. or Canada. This is not a Vacations To Go policy or a U.S. government policy, it is a corporate policy instituted by each of these cruise lines,” Vacations To Go says.

A way around it, the website says, is to have a residence in the US or Canada and some of our Facebook fans agree. In a long discussion on our Discussions Board, Roslyn says, “Our last 4 cruises have been booked with a US travel agent, minimum of fuss, no probs with paying on credit card and the gifts that we get on board are unbelievable (never got anything from our agent in Syd) PLUS we have saved thousands of dollars in fares.”

The website also gives guidelines on how to book US fares online for other cruise lines.

HOW CAN YOU FIND GOOD DEALS WHILE STILL SUPPORTING LOCAL AGENTS?

But you needn’t look to far to be able to pick up a good cruise deal. If you don’t have a US residence it pays to shop around as another of our Facebook fans discovered.

David, who hails from Queensland, says he found a massive difference in prices from his local travel agents when he was booking a seven-night cruise onboard Oasis of the Seas – a difference of $1000 to be exact!

If you follow the deals there is often huge earlybird discounts when you buy direct from cruise lines, plus add-ons like airfares and onboard credit. Plus, as the US market becomes stronger after the GFC and deals dry up, we may find a smaller difference in fares.

Let’s hope with the arrival of Radiance of the Seas, Celebrity Century and Carnival Spirit, the other lines will follow and, hey presto, some cheaper fares.

We’d like to hear how you find the best cruise deals? What do you think of the differences in fares between Australia and the US? All thoughts are welcomed!