Deal watch: Another major cruise line cuts fares for fall sailings below $30 a day

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The last-minute deals for fall and early winter cruises just keep coming, as more cruise lines drop rates on short notice to fill unsold cabins.

The latest major cruise brand to post knock-your-socks-off offers on its website for soon-to-depart voyages is MSC Cruises, which as of Friday was offering entry-level fares on at least one of its ships for under $24 per day.

Specifically, the world’s third-largest cruise brand on Friday was touting a five-night Mediterranean voyage out of Marseille, France, in December starting at just $119 — or $23.80 per day. The sailing is scheduled to begin Dec. 22, meaning it’s a Christmas cruise. These tend to be the most expensive, not the cheapest, cruises of the year.

The $23.80-per-day fare is lower than what TPG was seeing at any major brand as recently as last week, when we highlighted a wide number of Carnival Cruise Line trips on sale for as little as $26 per day. Carnival has been offering unusually low fares for soon-to-depart fall voyages in recent weeks, as has rival Royal Caribbean. The latter line this week was selling some fall cruises for under $100.

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Carnival, Royal Caribbean and MSC Cruises are the world’s three largest cruise lines, accounting for around half of all cruises taken worldwide.

The low rates available from MSC Cruises as of Friday were widespread. In addition to the $23.80-a-day offer above, MSC Cruises also was selling five four-night Bahamas sailings in October and November on its website starting at $119 — or $29.75 per day.

Several more four-night Caribbean and Bahamas sailings on MSC Cruises ships were available starting at $129 — or $32.25 per day.

The deeply discounted cruises include:

  • A three-night MSC Preziosa sailing from Le Havre, France, to Hamburg, Germany, starting at $109 — about $36 a day. The departure date is Nov. 4.
  • Four-night MSC Meraviglia sailings to the Bahamas out of Port Canaveral, Florida, starting at $119 — about $30 a day. Departures available at that starting price include Oct. 30, Nov. 13, Nov. 27 and Dec. 11.
  • A four-night MSC Divina sailing to the Bahamas out of Miami starting at $119 — about $30 a day. The departure date is Nov. 28.
  • A five-night MSC Magnifica sailing to the Mediterranean out of Marseille starting at $119 — about $24 a day. The departure date is Dec. 22.

All the super-low fares above only are available for the lowest-category cabins on each of the ships, which all are “interior” cabins that don’t have a window. But MSC Cruises also is offering notably low rates on ocean-view and balcony cabins on the ships, too.

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

Ocean-view cabins (that is, cabins with a window) on the four-night Nov. 28 departure of MSC Divina were listed on MSC Cruises’ website Friday for $179 — just $60 more than a windowless cabin. Balcony cabins on the sailing were listed for $239. That works out to just $59.75 a day for a balcony cabin.

All the fares are per-person base rates that include accommodations, meals and entertainment but not port taxes and fees, which range from $75 to $125. Cruise lines typically advertise their fares without port taxes and fees included but add these costs to final bills at the time of checkout.

Related: 6 ways to get a deal on a cruise 

As is typical with cruise ship pricing, the per-person fares are “based on double occupancy,” which means they are available only to passengers when booking at least two people in a cabin. Customers who want to have a cabin to themselves will pay more.

Passengers who book many of the lowest fares available also will pay extra for things like Wi-Fi, alcoholic drinks and gratuity charges while on the cruises. A more expensive fare category at MSC Cruises includes some of those extras. In addition, flights to the cruise, if needed, aren’t included in the fares. That can be a deal-killer for Americans eyeing some of the low-priced Europe offers, in particular.

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

Still, even with many of the above extra charges factored in, the cost of cruises for fall is notably low when compared to the rapidly rising cost of staying in a hotel or resort 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.

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

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