Savvy shoppers can almost always find a good deal on a cruise, if they know the strategies to employ. Knowing where to look and when to book can mean the difference between setting sail and staying put. But remember that some deals that look great on paper can turn out to be not-so-awesome.
There are strategies that can be used to make sure you get on board that luxury cruiser with money left in your pocket.
Always be looking
That jaw-dropping deal could come from anywhere, so you need to have your finger on the pulse of every Twitter feed, email newsletter, and daily deal website you can find.
Most cruise agents and agencies maintain a Twitter feed (check out @cruisedeals, @cruisecom, and @cruisedealsbtd) that shares promotional offers. Use Twitter’s list feature to bundle these feeds into one list, in essence creating your own cruise deal aggregator.
The larger cruise lines also use email lists to fill their boats. Sign up with Norwegian, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity to get notified of last-minute sales and promotions. To make sure you don’t miss anything, we recommend establishing an email account just for this purpose.
But don’t stop there. Major coupon sites also sometimes feature cruise deals, so check Groupon and LivingSocial on a daily basis. Jetsetter, an offshoot of TripAdvisor, also features flash sales on cruises, sometimes up to 50% off!
Time your booking
If you plan to cruise during the summer or holiday season, it’s important to book early. These trips tend to fill up fast, and prices only climb as the time approaches. This is especially true for the luxury cruise lines and river cruises. However, you may be able to take advantage of an early bird fare if you are ready to book the moment the trip comes online.
Now, if the destination is more important to you than the time, you can save money by choosing travel dates that fall outside of the peak season. The “shoulder season” differs for different locations – May is the time to visit Alaska, April for the Mediterranean, and October for the Caribbean. Basically, when you travel before or after the summer swell, you’ll find lower prices and smaller crowds on board.
And finally, if you are totally flexible about where and when, you can score incredible deals when you book last minute. It doesn’t even mean dropping everything to go – last minute when it comes to cruise tickets is typically 90 days out from departure. The one thing to remember when booking a last minute cruise is that the airfare to get to your port of departure can be steeper.
Choose a cabin guarantee
A cabin guarantee basically says that you will receive a cabin within the tier that you paid for, but that you don’t get to choose where that cabin is located. Many cruise lines offer discounts of $50 to $100 per passenger for taking this option.
This is a great money-saving option provided that you truly don’t care where your cabin is located. But, if you are prone to seasickness or are bothered by noise, it may be worth it to pay a bit more to choose your exact stateroom.
Book in bulk
If you’ve got the time and energy to manage a tour group, you could snag your own room for nothing or next to nothing. For example, Princess Cruises will give you a free room if you can book 16 lower berths. Smaller ships require even fewer bookings to meet the threshold for a free room credit.
As the tour leader, you can choose whether to keep the credit for yourself or offer smaller discounts across all of the rooms. Plenty of other bonus offerings are available for groups, too, such as free onboard credit, free photo packages, special drink packages, and discounts on excursions at ports of call.
Understand the discounts available to you
There are lots of ways to get an additional discount on a cruise ticket. One is brand loyalty. Many lines offer perks to their frequent guests. These can include cocktails in the private lounge, special access to the spa, complimentary dinners, or even a free or heavily discounted cruise once you’ve accumulated enough points.
You may also receive a discount via special programs for senior citizens, military personnel, and children. For example, AARP members get a 5% discount on cruises booked at least nine months in advance on Norwegian. The same carrier offers 10% off for U.S. and Canadian military families.
One further avenue to explore is residential discounts. There is a complex formula behind the calculation of a cruise line’s revenue stream, but part of it stipulates that the line receives a certain number of bookings across various cities, states, and regions. If the line is lacking in a certain place, it will drop the price for people booking from that area. There’s no guarantee, but it’s always worth mentioning your home city during the booking process.
Ask for a refund when fares change
Even though you’ve booked that dream cruise, it pays to keep an eye on prices as the departure date approaches. If you find that the fares go down after you’ve booked but before you submit your final payment, you should be able to take advantage of that lower rate.
Policies vary from line to line, but you may be able to request that the new rate is honored for your booking, cancel your booking and rebook at the lower rate, or else receive the difference in an onboard credit.
Bundle your cruise with airfare and attractions
The truth is that the price of your ticket is not the only expense that goes along with taking a cruise. In many cases, you’ll need to fly to that port of departure. Plenty of extras on board also cost money. And during your trip, the ship will stop at various ports of call. You don’t want to miss the chance to explore!
Major lines including Celebrity, MSC, and Royal Caribbean offer package deals that include airfare and attractions. You may even be able to secure your hotel stay for the day before and day after your cruise this way. Buying these services in a bundle can mean lower rates on each individual piece.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by the time it takes to implement all of these strategies, don’t hesitate to call a travel agent.
They often have access to deals that aren’t advertised to consumers, so you could still snag a great deal. Whatever you do, don’t let that ship sail without you!