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Different people take different things into consideration when booking a cruise. Me? I love a good bargain, but there are other things that are equally if not more important than the fare alone. The following will show you how to get the best cruise prices and perks! Just be warned to do your own homework and ensure you understand the terms and conditions when you book.
How to find the bargains and freebies:
- Subscribe to every cruise line’s email list. This is the best way to quickly know about new sales as well as new itineraries. Yes, your inbox will get pretty full, but most email apps will have ways you can filter your cruise email to a folder automatically.
- Follow cruise lines on social media. Just know that if you have a busy feed, those deals can zip by and you might miss them.
- Log in to cruise sites and check rates often. Bookmark the cruise lines you want to sail on and if you see a good deal, book it! Cruise lines will sometimes run unannounced rate specials and cruise rates can fluctuate daily depending on how far out the sailing date is.
- Specific destination or itinerary? Shop around! Cruise line sites, travel deal sites and travel agencies can have different rates on the same itinerary. Don’t discount offers of onboard credit or other sailing perks as they can add up!
- Work with a travel agent. Travel agents can keep you updated on cruise fare fluctuations and help you get the best deal, sometimes even after you’ve already booked!
- If you see a deal, grab it! Great rates do not stick around for long and if you hesitate, you may miss it. Sadly, I learned this first-hand a few years ago.
- Sign up for a cruise line credit card. Just like any other Visa or MasterCard, these are cards you can use anywhere. Card members typically earn points for any purchase they make. Points then multiply when the card is used for purchases with the cruise line. Points can be applied to cruise purchases in the future.
- Drop and go! If you are dying to cruise and can travel last minute, you can find some amazing deals! Cruise lines want to fill their ships knowing that passengers will buy extras while onboard.
When booking your room:
- Location, location, location. Your stateroom rate will vary depending on where it is located on the ship. Less expensive rooms tend to be in the bow of the ship. Just know that they are not as expensive for a reason. Our very first cruise we booked a room near the bow and were awakened every port morning by the sound of the anchor dropping.
- Book a guaranteed room. A guaranteed room means you pick the type of room (interior, verandah, etc.) you want but you don’t get to pick the specific room or location. You are then guaranteed to get at LEAST that room class if not better. You pay the lowest fare for the room type and are then given your room assignment just before your cruise. On our Alaska 2016 cruise, we booked an obstructed view stateroom and happily wound up with an unobstructed view.
Best times to book:
- Book when new cruise itineraries are announced. Rates are typically less expensive on cruise dates that are newly announced.
- … or book a last minute cruise. Cruise lines will drop rates if a certain cruise is not meeting ideal booking numbers. They want that ship full to capacity! This rate will drop the closer you get to the sail date.
- Book during wave season. Because of the popularity of vacation booking from January through March, cruise lines offer extra perks during this period to lure travelers. Cruise rates may not change, but you’ll find lots of benefits like onboard credit, beverage package deals, or room upgrades.
Get free onboard credit:
Free onboard credit is pretty much like getting free cash. Those drinks and photos you purchase while on a cruise can add up so definitely factor in offers of onboard credit when you are considering the cost of a cruise. Just note that it generally will not count toward casino costs or gratuities. How do you get OBC?
- Buy stock in the company. Buying stock in Carnival gets you onboard credit for any of their cruise lines including Carnival, Princess, Costa, Holland America, P&O, Cunard, and Seabourn. Royal Caribbean does the same for Royal Caribbean, Azamara, and Celebrity.
- Book your next cruise while aboard another cruise. Typically, this will give you a substantially reduced down payment rate and some amount of onboard credit. Generally, the cancellation policy is very flexible and some lines will allow you to transfer your purchase to another passenger. Plus, it’s nice to know you have a cruise booked when you disembark!
- Look for cruise lines offering OBC for certain occupations or military service. In addition to military service, some lines will have specials or programs for teachers, nurses, fire, and police.
Save after you book:
- Know your final payment date and wait! If you see the price has dropped on a cruise you have booked, you can typically get the cruise line to honor the reduced price. However, this will not work if you have paid for your cruise in full, it will not apply if the new rate you are seeing is a flash deal or sale, and it may not apply if you have booked a sale cruise or through a discount site. But, it never hurts to ask!
- Take advantage of referral rewards. Once you book, some cruise lines will offer discounts or perks if you convince friends or family to book the same cruise.
- Buy travel insurance! This has saved us on one or two occasions where we needed to cancel or change travel plans at the last minute.
Loyalty programs can be of great or of little value depending on what is offered and what you value. Perks typically include things like free internet minutes, discounted laundry, special cocktail receptions, and priority boarding or disembarking. However, if your goal is to find the least expensive rate on a particular itinerary, it makes sense to be flexible in who you sail with. Just don’t let fancy status levels blind you.