In today's economic climate, everyone is looking for travel deals and ways to stretch their vacation dollars. Cruises are an excellent value if you do your homework, book carefully, and can show some flexibility. Here are ten tips that will save you money when buying your next cruise.
1. Keep an open mind. Being willing to try something new or different can result in an incredible bargain, not to mention great vacation memories. Instead of being fixated on a specific cruise line, ship or itinerary; consider all of the available options. Then, decide whether the savings are truly worth the trade-offs.
2. Be flexible with cruise dates and travel off season if possible. Travel during the low or shoulder seasons, before or after a major holiday, or in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sometimes even being flexible by a week can save big bucks. Hurricane season (August through November) brings big bargains, but the trade-offs can include missed ports and changed itineraries. Some cruises in January, May and the first half of December are also good bargains.
3. Buy at the right time. Consider buying early for prime week high season cruises, holiday week cruises, and "must have" requirements such as specific types of accommodations (such as family cabins), specific sailing dates, ships, or itineraries. Booking within 60 days of departure might yield the best bargains for hurricane season (September through early November) and other slow periods such spring shoulder seasons (late April, May and early June)and the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas week.
4. Dig for savings online. Look for the lowest available rate ranges before doing comparison shopping. Good places to start can be VacationsToGo.com, Cruises.com, Travelzoo.com, and a variety of other cruise-oriented online sites. Many sites may quote prices without port charges, taxes and fees, fuel surcharges and other costs, so completely price out any purchase before comparing prices.
5. Put your cruise out for bids. If you'd like top cruise travel agencies to bid for your business, check out CruiseCompete.com. This free service allows vacationers to anonymously request competitive cruise quotes. All customer account information stays private and anonymous, so none of the cruise agencies can contact you directly and there’s no obligation to purchase. It's up to you to contact agents if you are interested in their bid.
6. Check out auction sites. If you still can't find the price you want, consider bidding for your cruise. Sites such as Skyauction.com and LuxuryLink.com can be good sources of cruise bargains. Make sure to have comparable price information before bidding on a cruise and read the fine print for additional costs and surcharges. Don't get caught up in bidding fever, though. Set a maximum price and stick to it.
7. Work with a great travel agent. A good travel agent has access to deals and promotions that may not be available to the public and can save you time as well as money. Travel agents can also be excellent sources of information when comparing cruise lines and ships. Look for an agent with membership in American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) or Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). In addition, if you are set on a specific cruise line, look for an agent that has preferred status with that line. You might receive a higher discount on your cruise.
8. Inquire about discounts. Cruise lines regularly provide a wide variety of discounts, including military discounts, senior fares, group travel discounts, past passenger specials, state or regional resident discounts, air gateway discounts, 2 for 1 specials, kids cruise free deals, cruise line stockholder discounts, and more. This is just one of the many reasons for working with a good travel agent. Make sure to let your agent know about past cruises as well as military and stockholder status, if any.
9. Look for free upgrades and shipboard credits. Guaranteed upgrades at time of booking are sometimes offered by cruise lines or travel agency consortiums to stimulate sales. These upgrades allow you to purchase a cheaper stateroom with a guaranteed upgrade of one to five categories, depending upon the promotion. Guarantee cabins provide another opportunity for a free upgrade. Only buy a guarantee if you will be happy with the category you've purchased as well as any potential stateroom in that category. Also ask your agent about potential "soft sailing" upgrades. Shipboard credits will give your account a set amount to use for ship shore excursion purchases, spa treatments, specialty restaurant charges, and other times.
10. Consider booking your own air and transfers. Making air arrangements separate from your cruise booking can save money and provides complete control over your itinerary and connection choices. Check with your travel agent and research online sites and low-fare airlines. Using frequent flier miles when possible can also generate thousands of dollars in savings. In addition, hailing a taxi from the airport is often less expensive than purchasing cruise line transfers for two or more people.