How to get a cruise deal
Planning a cruise? Bargains abound these days—From when to book your cruise to money-saving itineraries, here’s our step-by-step guide to finding value on the high seas.
Choose your timing
For the luxe lines, book as soon as possible. Some companies announce sailings as early as a year and a half in advance at rates that are as much as 60 percent off, and come with spectacular extras like onboard credits, 2-for-1 deals, and free airfare and transfers. On the more mass-market lines, you may get early deals and upgrades, but the best fares right now are last-minute specials.
Use a travel agent
Their special relationships with cruise lines mean that agents often have access to better rates. They can also provide value-added perks, including onboard credits, private tours and excursions, and prepaid gratuities.
Pick your cabin carefully
You don’t have to give up a veranda to get a deal—sometimes all you have to do is move down one deck, as is the case with Crystal Cruises, where going from Deck 9 to 8 can save you $250 per person. Once you choose a category, have your agent, who will be familiar with the ship’s layout, help you pick the quietest room.
Watch the airfares
Cruise lines negotiate rates with airlines early, so if airfares drop later, the line no longer has the best deal—but if prices go up, you’re in luck. Before you reserve, check out airfares both with the line and on your own.
Book your next trip on ship
Showing your loyalty by planning your next cruise while on board has long had its benefits, but recently cruise lines have upped the ante. Some offer as much as 10 percent off to people who book their next sailing before leaving the ship, while others provide up to $200 in onboard credits for the next cruise.
Get on everyone’s list
The same advice that goes for airlines and hotels goes for cruise lines. Sign up for loyalty programs and e-mail blasts, and you’ll get special sale fare alerts.
Protect your investment
If you do book early, consider paying in full, as many lines offer an additional savings of up to 15 percent off the price. Research insurance (some companies offer refunds if you lose your job later) and ask the line if it offers a price guarantee, so you’re protected if rates continue to drop.
Take a repositioning cruise
Repositioning cruises—when a ship is moved from, say, summering in Alaska to wintering in the Caribbean—can offer great value, plus the chance to visit off-the-beaten track ports. A couple caveats: Be prepared to spend more days at sea and to buy a one-way airline ticket, as these sailings start in one city and end in another.
Go during shoulder season
Cruises during shoulder season (like December to early April in the Caribbean) can cost 20 to 30 percent less than peak season trips. Just be sure you’re still getting what you want out of the trip, whether that’s perfect beach weather or colorful fall foliage.