Most experienced cruisers go online to search tips for saving money when booking a cruise. You should do the same. That is because cruises can be expensive if you fail to plan or consider ways to maximize savings. This is especially true when traveling with your family or others. Do not get caught up in the excitement of your cruise vacation. When this happens, you might make unnecessary purchases. Those can lead to severe sticker shock once you start adding up the total cost of your trip.
The following are steps you can take to avoid unnecessary expenditures and free up more cash. You can used the saved money to do some of the fun things you really want to do on your cruise.
1. Book Your Cruise in Advance
The days of showing up at the pier and getting on a cruise ship for pennies on the dollar are long gone. Today, there is only one strategy that offers you the best way to maximize your budget. By booking your cruise a year or so in advance you can save money. You will often pay a lower deposit and receive special incentives. Depending on the cruise line, these may include onboard credits, fare discounts, drink packages, or a free meal at a specialty restaurant.
2. Book During Wave Season
Like any other aspect of travel, there are times of the year where you are more likely to get a better deal in terms of costs and discounts. One period when you can score a bargain cruise is during “wave season.” This is when many people book cruises because there is not much happening on their calendars. It is also when many people in the U.S. are getting back money from their income tax returns.
The term “wave season” refers to the early part of the year (January-April). From a consumer savings perspective, it is similar to Black Friday or Cyber Monday but lasts much longer. In preparation for this peak period, cruise lines often start rolling out good deals in December and January. They also add incentives in the form of enhanced onboard amenities to entice customers. These promotions might include drink packages, specialty dining, Internet package, paid gratuities, or onboard credits. The cruise lines continue to use different pricing strategies throughout the wave season.
3. Consider Alternate Onboard Accommodation Arrangements
Consider all types of cabin options if you are traveling with a family or other group. Base your decision on group makeup and the amount of time you plan to spend in your stateroom. Instead of a suite, mini-suite, or family cabin for four passengers, consider booking a balcony and an adjoining interior cabin. Another option is two adjoining balconies. If you go with an extra interior cabin, those occupants could enjoy the benefits of a balcony, without the added cost.
You may find the cost for the two cabins could be lower than a larger accommodation. You also get one more bathroom than with some larger accommodations (e.g. mini-suite) and more luggage storage area.
4. Book a Guaranteed Cabin
To get one of the lowest rates available, ask your cruise advisor or the cruise line about a guaranteed cabin (stateroom). This type of booking guarantees you a specific cabin type (e.g. balcony, inside, or ocean view). A drawback is that it will not be assigned until shortly before your cruise start date. Additionally, you may get a cabin with a partially or totally obstructed view. You might also in a noisier area or one that you may not like as well.
On the positive side, a guarantee stateroom will typically provide the lowest rate in the same cabin category. Further, you may get upgraded to a higher level cabin if someone cancels. There is also another added benefit of selecting a guarantee cabin…cruise lines often offer an opportunity to upgrade to a bigger stateroom via an online auction. By bidding, you might be able to snag a larger family-sized cabin, a mini or full-sized suite, or a larger balcony. These offerings are usually cheaper than typical advertised prices.
5. Enroll in the Cruise Line Loyalty Program
Cruise lines reward returning passengers with a variety of perks that can save you money. Depending on the cruise line, you can save money on cruise fares and onboard expenses (e.g. alcohol, Internet, photos, specialty coffees). Typically, a loyalty program will have a number of tiers. You collect points based on the number of nights cruised with a given line. As you move higher up in points, your benefits improve. If you are considering ongoing cruise vacations on the same line, check out their loyalty program first. Some lines have expiration dates on their points earned. If you do not cruise regularly with the line, you may lose your status.
6. Sign Up for Cruise Line and Cruise-Related Website Mailing Lists
By registering your email address on major cruise line websites, cruise blogs, and travel sites, you will receive advanced notice of special offers and upcoming sale pricing. You also receive helpful information related to the cruise booking and travel process. This can aid you in getting a better cabin or rate because you find out about cruise line promotions. You also learn proven cruise booking strategies.
A key to getting the best value for your money is to spend time doing some research on the internet. Also, work with an experienced cruise advisor. Such a resource can help you with arrangements. He or she can also coach you on ways to save money and get the most value when booking your cruise vacation.
For hundreds of additional ideas for saving money and maximizing your cruise experience, check out The Complete Guide to Ocean Cruising: Everything You Need to Know for a Great Vacation.