7 easy ways to save money on a cruise vacation
- Going on a cruise can be a value-packed vacation option if you plan carefully.
- We asked a cruise expert for her best travel hacks to save you money on your next cruise vacation.
- Read her seven best pieces of advice below.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Vacationers are turning to cruises in record numbers – nearly 26 million people worldwide went on a cruise in 2018, a higher number than in any other year.
With so many cruises come opportunities for saving money. Cruising can be a value-packed vacation option, as your accommodations, most meals, and most entertainment and ship facilities are included.
But between flying to your departure city and dealing with the inflated prices of peak travel season, it’s easy to spend more money than you need to on your vacation.
Experienced cruisers sometimes wait for last-minute cabins, plan a cruise they can drive to, or book sailings during off-peak times of year when demand drops.
We asked Colleen McDaniel, editor in chief of the review site Cruise Critic, for her best travel hacks for saving money on a cruise vacation.
Here are seven of her best tips to enjoy your next cruise for less money.
Be flexible with travel plans
Timing your cruise to fall outside of peak travel season can save you a lot of money.
Granted, if you are planning a cruise with your family, this tip may present a challenge. But Colleen McDaniel, editor of Cruise Critic, said it’s worth a try.
“For families, this is often a tough one, due to the need to align travel dates with school breaks – often the peak of travel season,” she told Business Insider. “But if your travel dates are flexible, timing your purchase to fall outside of peak season is a way to save hundreds per traveller.”
By booking an Alaska cruise for September instead of July, for example, you could cut your cruise fare almost in half, McDaniel said. The same goes for a Caribbean or Mediterranean cruise in the fall, instead of summer.
“By booking during that period, instead of that region’s peak travel season, you could really save a significant amount,” she said.
Another perk of booking outside of peak season – beyond saving money – is that there will likely be fewer crowds to dodge. That means onboard, you might have a better selection of a variety of things, from reservation times to coveted seats by the pool. And in port, you’ll encounter fewer crowds as you’re exploring.
Wait until about three months before you want to sail to book your travel
Tim Boyle/Getty Images
Cruise fares tend to drop in the 90-day window prior to a sailing, once travellers’ final payments are due, McDaniel said.
“If cruise lines receive booking cancellations and need to fill cabins quickly, they will often lower fares to entice travellers to book,” she said. “While you might not get your top cabin choice, or the restaurant reservation you were hoping for, you’ll very likely get a great deal.”
So if you’re able to snag a cruise deal on short notice, you can usually find some significantly reduced fares during the three-month period before sailing.
Book a repositioning cruise
A repositioning cruise is a sailing option that may not be widely known to inexperienced cruisers.
Cruise lines are constantly shuffling their fleet of ships, says McDaniel, moving them from one region to another to better serve demand and adjust to seasonality needs.
“Rather than transfer empty ships from one home to another, cruise lines sell these repositioning sailings as a unique offering to travellers,” she said.
Unlike a round-trip sailing, repositioning cruises provide travellers with the opportunity to travel to completely different regions, all on one cruise.
“You might be starting in the Caribbean and ending in the Mediterranean. Or sailing from Hawaii to Canada. Or even Tokyo to Alaska,” she said. “Because these unique itineraries aren’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea – they’re often longer than a one-week sailing, and sometimes have a number of sea days – cruise lines do usually offer these at a lower cost than their regular cruise offerings.”
But keep airfare costs in mind. Because these aren’t round-trip sailings, you’ll need to book an open-jaw flight. To save money on those costs, look for cruise packages that include airfare, McDaniel recommends. You can see a list of 2019 repositioning cruises here.
Choose your home port wisely
Airfare has the potential to be a significant portion of your vacation budget if you’re planning to fly to your departure port. To save on the cost of airfare, look to nearby home ports that you could sail from instead.
“If you’re in the Northeast, there are tons of sailings from Boston, New York and New Jersey offering sailings to Bermuda and the Caribbean, as well as New England and Canada,” McDaniel said. “Even some transatlantic sailings to Europe. If you’re farther down the East Coast, look to Baltimore, Norfolk or Charleston, all which offer regular sailings. Other home ports to consider (are) Galveston, New Orleans, Los Angeles or San Francisco.”
But sometimes you can’t be as flexible with airfare. If you’re cruising to Alaska, for example, you’ll need to sail from the West Coast.
It still helps to compare departure port options, though. If flights to Vancouver are too high, McDaniel advises to see if flying to Seattle or San Francisco might save you some money.
Try and snag free airfare and other perks
If mandatory airfare is a significant cost, look for incentive deals from the cruise lines that include complimentary airfare bundled into the cost of your cruise.
“That can save thousands,” McDaniel said.
To learn of these special promotions, follow your favourite cruise lines on social media or subscribe to their e-newsletters. For example, Norwegian Cruise Line often has value-added offers like its Free At Sea promotion, which provides perks like a beverage package, an Internet package, a specialty dining package, or shore excursion credits.
Plan to fly in the day before you cruise
Jerod Harris/Getty Images
If you’re not sailing out of a port you can drive to, plan to fly in the day before you cruise.
“A great air deal is only great if it gets you where you want to go, when you want to go there,” McDaniel said.
“If you don’t book through a cruise line and arrive late on the day your scheduled to cruise, you could miss your ship. If you’re flying in the day before, look for hotels that offer cruise deals, which might include things like transportation to the port or happy hours for cruise guests.”
Use reward points to sail
Thomas Cooper/Getty Images
While many frequent fliers know they can redeem credit card points for flights, it’s less known that cruise-goers have the same option.
The Chase Ultimate Rewards program allows cardholders to save by using points instead of money when booking their next trip. By using points to book, cardholders are not only able save money – but in some cases, spend nothing at all.
Through the Ultimate Rewards platform, Chase cardholders can search for cruise options on different lines including Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess Cruises. Cardholders can browse cruise options directly through the Ultimate Rewards platform, and then book using points through a travel concierge who can assist with customising the experience.
Meanwhile, Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders earn three times the points on travel and dining and receive 25% more value from points when redeeming them for travel. This makes it easy to accrue points over time, so your everyday purchases turn into rewards points and your rewards points turn into cruise vacations.
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