Virgin Voyages’ Prices Have Gone Sky High & We Think We Know Why

by SharonKurheg

I make it no secret that I’m a fan of Virgin Voyages cruise line (here are some of the reasons why, although for me, this one really made them stand out). I’ve been on 2 of their cruises so far (July and November 2022), and we have 2 more planned in 2024; one early in the year, one later.

As much as we enjoy the cruise line, we’ve noticed quite an increase in pricing (or a decrease in discounts, which is essentially the same thing), particularly in the last couple of months. Case in point…my friend and I went on their Fire and Sunset Soirées cruise in November, 2022. The 4-night cruise started in Miami, spent a day in Key West, then had a day at sea, which was followed by a day in Bimini, and then back to Miami.

a map of the worldThe price we paid, before applicable discounts, was roughly $2600 for an XL Sea Terrace. That’s an average of $650/night.

Trying to compare apples to apples (time of the year, class of cabin, number of days being sailed, itinerary, etc.) year over year is pretty darn hard (and trust me, I TRIED!). But just to give a vague idea, one of Virgin Voyages’ newest itineraries, a 10-night cruise from England to Norway and Iceland, for a Sea Terrace cabin, scheduled for July of 2025, is $11,106.50 (before any discounts), for a party of 2. That winds up being an average of $1,110.65/night.

a screenshot of a screenshot of a website

PC: Kent M. / Facebook

Again, it’s not comparing oranges and oranges and I apologize about that. But just looking at how much you’d be paying per day/night ($650 vs $1,100+), and yeah, that’s QUITE a hike.

Anecdotally, I did see someone on a Virgin Voyages message group say they were looking at a 5-night Virgin Voyages cruise over the summer and it was $2900. They decided to wait until their Black Friday sale, and then the cost for the same cruise was $3900. And, as of about 2 weeks ago, it was $4500. Hmmm…

But that’s not the only change in pricing and policies Virgin Voyages has pulled out of its sleeve in recent months. They’ve cut many of the discounts they used to offer.

Deep Blue Extras discount? Gone

Virgin Voyages’ loyalty program is called Deep Blue Extras. Members with Deep Blue Extras currently get expedited boarding, a $100 bar tab credit, unlimited premium Wi-Fi, dedicated Sailor Services Support while onboard, an exclusive cocktail event, laundry service, and a $10 daily specialty coffee credit per cabin.

Sailors (VVspeak for guests/customers sailing with them) who have DBE status previously enjoyed a 10% discount on their cruises. That got axed on October 31, 2023.

Club 485c discount? Gone

Club 485c is a small, exclusive, by-invitation-only membership club for VIP sailors who joined Virgin Voyages in their first official year of operations, and who have sailed more than anyone else. From what I can gather through internet searches, members are generally treated to upgrades, special events, drinks, tours, etc.

For a time, Club 485c members apparently got an extra 10% off their sailings. Not anymore; that discount is currently scrapped.

Book Early and Pay In Full program? Gone

Until recently, if you had paid in full more than 180 days before your cruise, you got a discount.

As of December 14, 2023, that’s not an option anymore. You get no discount for paying in full before a certain number of days before your cruise.

Florida resident discount? Obliterated

Until they began sailings out of Europe and now Australia, Virgin Voyages “got its feet wet,” if you will, out of the Port of Miami. With that, they gave Florida residents a discount of 15% off their Caribbean sailings out of Miami, regardless of how far in advance they booked.

Effective December 14, 2023, that discount has now been decreased to 5%, and its use has been limited to bookings made no more than 45 days in advance (although they’re apparently using a 15% Florida resident discount as a limited-time perk for specific sailings).

a advertisement for a beach with a lifeguard towerThe Bar Tab hustles

Virgin Voyages doesn’t offer drink packages like most cruise lines. Instead, they offer something they call a Bar Tab. That’s a set amount of money, either supplied by them (or your travel agent) as a perk for making certain cruise reservations, or that you can pay (in which case they’ll throw in a little extra that way. i.e., if you buy a $100 Bar Tab, they’ll throw in an extra $10. $200 gets you an extra $20, $300 gets you $50).

Bar tab can be used on any alcoholic or non-alcoholic specialty beverage, as well as specialty coffee drinks and freshly squeezed juices.

Hustle 1: Bar tabs perks are shrinking

As part of some bookings, you used to get a perk of a $600 bar tab for sailings 7 nights and longer or a $300 bar tab for sailings 6 nights and less.

That’s now shrunk to $600 bar tab for sailings of at least seven nights, $300 for sailings of four to six nights, and $125 for sailings up to three nights (and the current “end of the year special” they have is even worse: $600 bar tab on sailings over 14 nights, $300 on sailings over 7 nights, $200 on sailings up to 6 nights and a whopping $100 for sailings up to 4 nights).

a white and black advertisementHustle 2: You can’t take it with you

Whether it’s a perk for making a reservation or something you buy yourself, the bar tab has always been a “use it or lose it” thing. However much bar tab is in your account, if you have any left by the time it’s time to disembark from the ship, you forfeit that virtual money.

Some sailors simply don’t drink enough to use up all the money in their bar tab. So they would buy full bottles of alcohol at the bar, keep them unopened, and take them off the ship when they disembarked.

A few months ago, more than one sailor reported that when they bought a full bottle of alcohol at one of the ship’s bars, they were told it had to be opened right there and then. That effectively stops you from being able to take an unopened bottle off the ship, which means you may be stuck with a bar tab in your account before you leave the ship.

And that’s not all!

Rumors…we hear rumors

Besides the above, we’re hearing grumblings that another decrease in benefits might be coming down the pike.

Virgin Voyages offers something called My Next Virgin Voyage. It’s a way for VV to “lock you in” to making another reservation (or two. or three or more) by selling you one or more “place markers” for a future cruise(s) while you’re currently on a cruise.

With MNVV, if you give Virgin Voyages $300, you currently have up to 2 years to make another reservation to get a Sea Terrace or higher level cabin, and automatically get $600 onboard credit and $300 off your next voyage.

a close up of a websiteAlthough the MNVV offer hasn’t changed as of this writing, rumors strongly point to one of these situations:

  • having the onboard credit and discount vary depending upon how many nights your cruise is
  • lowering of onboard credit and/or how much you may automatically get off your next voyage

The first scenario would be 100% in step with the changes VV has made in recent months. However the second one would be exactly how they decreased the Florida Resident discount. But again, as of this writing, the MNVV plan hasn’t changed.

Why all the changes?

We get it. Prices eventually go up. I mean, Virgin Voyages’ price for a bottle of their Moët & Chandon Impérial Brut has been $21 per glass/$95 per bottle since the cruise line’s first ship’s maiden voyage in 2021. In the past month or so, the price increased to $24/$105. Considering it had been the same price for well over 2 years, so I personally think that’s reasonable.

Here are “before and after” photos (screen captures from March, 2023 and early December 2023, respectively) from one of ship’s bars, “Sip”:

a screenshot of a menu

Alternatively, sometimes, in lieu of prices going up, your “bang for your buck” goes down (like how a pint of ice cream is suddenly 14.5 ounces but the price remains the same…well, until they raise it LOL).

But to have SO MANY decreases in potential discounts in such a short period of time? On top of what appears to be a clear increase in the prices of their cruises in general? What’s up with that?

Here’s what we think:

They were a new upstart

Richard Branson’s Virgin Group has been around for over five decades, as a hotel chain, record store, space program, train company, vacation operator, phone company, several airlines, and literally hundreds more (over 400 companies in all, in various fields. The company currently has an interest in more than 60 businesses).

However, Virgin wasn’t established as a cruise company and many people in the U.S., where the cruise line was getting its start, had never flown on Virgin Atlantic (or Virgin America. Oh, I miss them so!), stayed at a Virgin Hotel, etc., to really know the quality of the brand (as opposed to, say, Disney Cruise Line, which, when it launched in 1998, had an automatic built-in following because of the popularity of the theme parks, Disney Channel, The Disney Store). So they had to start slow and affordable, with the hopes that people might be willing to give them a try. That worked well, and many of their sailings nowadays are either complete or near sellouts (each ship can accommodate over 2,770 sailors and 1,160 crew). That gives them the clout to raise their prices.

The accolades they’ve won

Virgin Voyages is apparently very proud of all the awards they’ve won; they use it in a lot of their advertising. Like this:

a large cruise ship in the waterAnd this:

a brown rectangle with white texta screenshot of a cruise ship

Again, when you’ve won all these fabulous awards (they don’t mention the crappy report card they got from ocean environmentalists), you can charge more, I guess because you’ve “made it.”

They were never meant to be a cheap cruise line

Although their prices started off “low and slow,” Virgin Voyages was never planned to be a low-priced cruise line. Their intent wasn’t to compete with the likes of Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, etc., but higher end cruises such as Celebrity and Disney. Their prices are now reflecting this.

Because they can

Of course, we have no idea of Virgin Voyages’ financials, since it’s a privately owned company. It’s possible that they need to raise prices and decrease benefits to help ensure they turn a profit. OR the price/benefit changes could be the same reason hotels charge resort fees and parking, and airlines can charge for seat assignments and checked bags; they can get away with it.

Our take on it

Considering that I was someone who had previously been on a handful of cruise lines (Disney, Holland America, Royal Caribbean) to ports throughout the Caribbean and Alaska, and had decided I really didn’t like cruising, I really like Virgin Voyages. That being said, I’m discovering that although I enjoy cruising on Virgin Voyages, I don’t necessarily enjoy stopping at ports (our cruise later in 2024 is in Europe, which will be new and different for us; I may change my mind after that).

That being said, since all 4 of Virgin Voyages’ ships are virtually identical, and the ports do little for me, I’m not sure how long I’ll keep wanting to cruise on “the same ship” (even if it’s a different ship), just for the sake of cruising. That’s even more especially true if the prices are going to be sky high, with few ways to get decent discounts. Instead of sailing with them a couple of times a year, we might decrease that to once every few years, more likely on one of their less expensive cruises.

Based on comments I’ve read on Virgin Voyages message groups, I suspect I’m not the only one with the “they’ve outpriced themselves” mindset. So then what will happen? Will they no longer cruise at capacity and be forced to lower their prices/increase their benefits again? Or will there still be plenty of people willing to pay, a’la Disney Cruise Line? Time will tell.

*** Many thanks to Gigi H., Bambi D., Lisa J., and especially Kent M. for their assistance

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Sean January 3, 2024 - 7:48 pm

Quite literally supply and demand. They’re popular now due to all the accolades and fantastic product they provide. Ships are full now unlike when they started / during Covid recovery.

Adam L January 3, 2024 - 8:59 pm

Wish Virgin Red had more consistent points redemptions for Virgin Voyages. It’s a great use of points but that’s probably why they won’t…

DaninMCI January 4, 2024 - 6:51 am

Oh, but we do know what some of their financial situation is. Their peak revenue was in 2022 (we don’t have 2023 numbers yet) when they generated $39m in revenue. The most interesting part of their financials is that they received $550m in funding from Blackrock and Bain Capital in 2022, and they closed on another $550m in funding in late 2023 when they removed their CEO. Speculation has it that the Blackrock investment might have been part of DEI investment because of Virgin’s stance on transgender rights, abortion, gay pride recognition, and other virtue signal efforts. These sorts of investments are made primarily to park investors’ and retirement fund money someplace while clicking the DEI and/or ESG checkbox. I think the 2023 investment is more about the need to generate revenue. How do you turn a cruise line profitable? Raise prices, cut benefits. In addition, inflation is a huge concern in all service industries right now. So imagine if you invested $1.1 billion in a cruise line that generates $39 million in revenue. They want to grow the company and compete with huge cruise lines in an unstable market but cruise ships take a long time to come online. I can’t see them succeeding without deeper pockets like MSC or even some of the highly leveraged cruise lines like Carnival or Royal. I could see a merger down the road with a bigger line, maybe NCL or a boutique line like Oceania but who knows?

SharonKurheg January 4, 2024 - 10:14 am

VERY interesting. Thank-you for the info!


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