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Did you know that early spring is the best time to book a cruise? Yep! As you dream of summer vacation and warm places start looking for deals and making it dreams come true with a cruise this year or next!
Some people think you have to have deep pockets in order to afford a cruise vacation. Truthfully, though, cruising can be cheaper per day than a reasonable hotel room. If you plan ahead, you can get your room and all-you-can-eat food for as little as $50 per day! I’m going to share my best tips for how to save on cruises, including how to help you book your cruise at the best price.
How to Save on Cruises
The best months to book a cruise are early spring and fall. It’s when people are dreaming of vacations, but not actually taking them. Booking a year out can get you the biggest incentives, deal packages, and even room choices. When you book super early, you also can take advantage of time. If at any point between the time you book and the time you sail the price goes lower, you can always call and get them to change your price to the new discount!
If you can’t book early, then be prepared to book last minute. While you won’t have the room choices of booking early, they would rather fill a ship than have empty rooms. Look for cruises in the Caribbean to have the best last-minute rates as there are a ton of ships in the area and many are mega ships that hold 6,000 people. The best rates are all about supply and demand, and this is usually an area of the sea with a lot of supply! Booking late in some areas of the world will not get you a better rate, though, so you have to be flexible on your dates, location, and room types in order to save. Also, know that some ships are always sought after (like Disney lines), so booking late won’t save much.
Search the Internet
With any big vacation, spending time researching and planning always pays off. Do some research to pick the best ships, locations, and even times of the year to travel. Also, do some soul searching on whether you are a mega-ship person or prefer smaller ships. Once you decide what you are looking for, sign up for emails from your favorite cruise lines. They’ll send out emails every few weeks with different promotions and you’ll be the first to know about BOGO offers, packages, kids sail free, and even flash sales.
Talk with a travel agent
While you can still book on your own (and I do recommend still doing your own research), travel agents can also help you figure out how to save on cruises. Ask if they have any secret sales or specials running. Also, ask if they have any groups going that you can join in on. Taking advantage of group pricing might save a bundle over current rates depending on when you are booking.
Tip: Booking through an agent or cruise deal website never raises the cost and can only help you out. While the internet lets you book yourself going through an agent usually gets you a few extra perks you won’t get on your own directly (like onboard ship credit).
Know special sale dates
While the early spring and fall can bring the best rates for next year’s cruises, there are still some big discount days to watch for. (Remember, you can always price match down to the lower price if you have already booked). Most large cruise lines offer big discounts on Black Friday. These are one day only sales, but they are quite substantial. You’ll also find sales around big holidays like the retail industry runs.
Some of the best rooms on a cruise ship are not the ones with a balcony! Long-time cruisers know that the inside staterooms are the best deals out there. You end up only sleeping in your room, so enjoy the view from the railing on the promenade deck. (A pro tip: Watch for deals that mention room upgrades—you pay the inside rate and get a room with a view for the same price.)
Also, be flexible on dates to save a ton. Shoulder dates on cruise ships are similar to shoulder dates in other vacation spots. Just like a beach house rental drops almost 50 percent off once school starts back, cruise lines do the same. Look for deals on shoulder seasons and save up to 40% off. Keep in mind that shoulder seasons do vary based on cruise location.
Hop on a repositioning cruise
Some of the best discounts are on cruises as the ship moves to another area. Cruise ships don’t sail in Alaska all year long; they are like migratory animals and move to warmer waters in the winter. When searching, many of these in North America are labeled as “Panama Canal cruises.” You’ll have a lot of at sea days, but still have a great vacation being pampered.
Cruise from a nearby port
One of the biggest costs of cruising can be before you even get on the ship—the airfare to the port. To save significant money, look for ships leaving from ports closer to home. You may find a lower rate per night leaving from Puerto Rico, but you still have to get there! Choosing to leave from Charleston (which is only 1.5 hrs away for me) costs a tiny bit more per day on the boat, but saves us over $1500 in airline tickets! If your goal is to see the world by boat, this can’t always work, since most ports only have the same destination offers, but this does let you get started cruising for the least out of pocket.
Be a cruise organizer
Think you can convince some friends to join you? Most cruise lines offer a free room to the “group planner” for any group over 16 people (or 8 cabins). Go big and get another free cabin for 32 people. (Maybe we should all go on a coupon cruise?)
Looking for more cruise tips? See how to save on onboard cruise costs!