At some point or another, a cruise is usually in order for most travelers. Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway or great views, non-stop entertainment or lots of culture, there’s something out there to fit the bill.
But, speaking of the bill, these escapes aren’t always cheap. After all, you’re getting food, entertainment, lodging, and activities all in one — and you’ll probably want to splurge on a few extras like shore excursions and alcohol. To help soften some of the spending, here are eight different ways to find better cruise prices.
1. Book very early — or book very late.
There are two key times to book your cruise to save the most money. Especially for highly popular lines, like Disney Cruise, or popular seasonal itineraries, like Alaska in the summer, you have to book as far out as possible. As time goes by, prices will go up because of the limited availability. That’s no surprise — but did you know how early in advance you can plan? “This would be around a one year out from your sail date,” says Steve Griswold of Pixie Vacations.
Alternatively, Grisworld suggests searching just one month before you want to take your vacation to pick up great last minute deals. He also points out that 2015 in particular is looking like a great year to take a cruise vacation; there’s a great deal of stateroom availability overall. So there are great deals out there for cruise vacations.
2. Stay on top of your research.
Sign up for email updates from your preferred cruise line – you might be alerted of a one-day sale, says David Bakke, travel expert at MoneyCrashers. Use a website like Cruise Critic to research prices, thanks to its comparison tool. If you have a spa day in mind, book that for a day when the ship is in port and prices are cheaper because of reduced demand.
3. Watch the “extras.”
For starters, there’s tipping. Lots of cruise lines already have a gratuity added to your bill, as do some onboard bars and restaurants, says Bakke. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tip; some cruisers prefer to tip the crew who they see directly, but make sure they take the automatic adjustment off the cabin bill. To avoid food premiums in port, Bakke also suggests hitting up one of the food or sandwich bars onboard and taking some free eats in an insulated bag with you.
4. Avoid crowded months and spring for shoulder season.
If you’re booking Christmas week, summer, spring break or any times when kids are out of school, except to pay top dollar for your cruise. “For the best savings you need to stay away from when everyone else’s vacations,” Griswold says. “Hurricane season sounds horrible, but we have traveled many years during September and October out of Florida ports and have had perfect vacations.” (This is typically August through November. Learn more about safety during this time — and the few islands that lie outside the affected areas.)
Of course, shoulder season timing varies depending on the region. Bakke adds: “The most inexpensive time to cruise Alaska is either before or after summer (May and September). The cheapest time to cruise Hawaii is in the winter as long as it’s not over a holiday; however, you might be dealing with more rainy weather.”
5. Know the generally cheap spots.
Looking for a really cheap 3-day or 4 day extended weekend trip? Try Carnival Cruise Line, MSC or Costa for really amazing rates. You can even find great deals on Royal Caribbean, too. These 3-4 day cruises are also a nice way to try a cruise for a first time cruiser, or to try a new cruise line.
6. Do your own math for pre- and post- cruise plans.
Look into the airfare and transfer packages that cruise lines offer, says Griswold. Then price these yourself to see how much the bundled price saves you, if at all, or ask a travel agent to lay out the options for you. Sometimes you can rent a limo to and from the port yourself for less than what the cruise-arranged transfers would cost. You can also ask an agent about pre- and post-cruise hotel packages close to the port, to eliminate the worry of missing the ship or your connection home. Again, they may be privy to deals that will ultimately save more on the “odds and ends” of your trip than if you were to book them all from the same source (i.e., the cruise ship).
7. Get future perks while you’re onboard.
While on your cruise, stop by the future cruise-booking desk. “All cruise lines have these and they will offer you extra incentives to book your next cruise now. You don’t have to know the exact dates or pay in full, and they will add your travel agent’s name to the reservation so they get credit and can help you with the [future] cruise when you get back home,” says Griswold. Perks include credits, reduced or waived deposits, and stateroom discounts.
8. Keep an eye out on fares even after you book.
If your cruise fare drops significantly, call your travel agent or the cruise line to receive compensation. “If you call before final payment, some lines will adjust your fare to reflect the lower price. Other cruise lines will offer onboard credit or upgrades,” says Michaela Hall, a traveler, writer, and speaker at Awe Inclusive. Those who have made final payment will have less negotiating power, but can still come out of the conversation with on board credit or upgrades. Cruise prices fluctuate constantly, so keep an eye out for changes.
Bonus: Let ShermansTravel clue you in!
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the wonderful resources that we have at ShermansTravel. We have an entire Deals team that constantly curates, negotiates, and double checks the best deals on the market — including for cruises. You can find hot deals in several places here: the Cruise Tracker column that launches on our blog every Tuesday; our weekly Top 25 Deals newsletter that always has a few fab cruise sales; and the Cruise Deals section of the site.