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Standby Cruising: A New Option for Bargain Seekers

Standby Cruising: A New Option for Bargain Seekers

In February, Barb McGowan took a seven-day cruise on Holland America Line, visiting the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, and the Dominican Republic for just $343, or $49 a day, excluding taxes, port fees and extras. By comparison, Holland America currently lists a seven-day Caribbean itinerary in October from about $700.

The catch: She had just 48 hours’ notice.

Ms. McGown, a 64-year-old from Naples, Fla., who runs a restaurant franchise, took one of the line’s new standby cruises, which are aimed at travelers who live near departure ports and intended to fill ship vacancies.

“I look for deals, and this was an especially good experience,” Ms. McGowan said, praising the food and entertainment. “I was impressed enough to put down a deposit on a future cruise.”

Holland America introduced its standby program last August to maximize ship occupancy, knowing that cancellations are inevitable. So far, the rest of the cruise industry has not followed its lead.

“If cancellations are within a week or two of sailing, it’s difficult to resell that space in the open market,” said Dan Rough, the vice president of revenue management at Holland America.

In the same way that airlines oversell seats, cruise lines may compensate for cancellations by overselling staterooms. Filling in with standbys, however, reduces Holland America’s reliance on overselling, which runs the risk of bumping passengers to distant departures or potentially offering generous cash incentives to coax volunteers to cancel.

Though the company does not heavily promote the new practice, it has attracted a following among the thrifty by dangling a bargain rate — $49 a person, whether sharing a cabin or traveling solo, before taxes and fees — on a web page that lists available departure dates to attract flexible travelers. Standbys should expect an inside cabin, according to the company, though ocean-view and veranda cabins have been assigned. (The company declined to say how many standby cabins it has offered.)

“Forty-nine dollars per person, per day is pretty exceptional,” said Colleen McDaniel, the editor of, a website that reviews cruises, noting that the price covers all meals and entertainment. “You can’t find a cheaper rate at a land resort for what’s included.” (In 2023, the average nightly rate for a hotel room in the United States was nearly $156, according to STR, a data analytics firm that monitors the hospitality industry.)


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