Cruising 102: One-way cruises and cabins with a view

AskEd & AnswerEd
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on January 26, 2006. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: AskEd & AnswerEd, cruise, Ed Perkins.

I received quite a few cruise questions that I didn't fully answer in my Cruise Primer last November, so here's an update and extension.

One-way cruises


Two recent questions deal with one-way travel. One reader writes, "Is it possible to purchase a cruise for only one way? We are considering a cruise out of San Francisco to Alaska, with a young child, and flying back." The answer to that one is easy: "Yes." Although a few years ago almost all Alaska cruises were up-and-back, usually from Vancouver, the major lines now offer quite a few "cruise one way, fly the other" options.

Durations range from a week to 14 days. Some itineraries cover just the "panhandle," between Vancouver, San Francisco, or Seattle in the south to Skagway/Haines in the north, in both directions, with plenty of stops and explorations along the way. Others extend the northern terminal to Whittier, Seward, or Anchorage, including a crossing of Prince William Sound.

The easiest way to arrange the one-way airfare trip is to buy it as part of a cruise/airfare package. That way, you get a good airfare deal. The only possible drawback is that, on a cruise-north itinerary, your cruise line might book you on one of the many overnight red-eye flights from Anchorage to Seattle or Vancouver—a real problem if you hate sitting up all night on a plane as much as I do, but no problem if you're OK with an overnight flight.

As far as I can tell, one-way cruises are more prevalent to/from Alaska than in other major cruise markets. However, you'll find a handful of one-way "repositioning" transatlantic cruises—from the U.S. to Europe in spring, Europe back to the U.S. in the fall—as cruise lines move their ships between winter Caribbean and summer Mediterranean sailings. Several of the big lines offer their transatlantic repositioning cruises with an optional one-way airfare leg at an attractively priced one-way return. Many European river cruises—notably on the Danube, Rhine, and Moscow-St. Petersburg waterway—operate one-way. Also, you can usually buy shorter segments of ultra-long cruises, such as around South America or even around the world. In these cases, too, cruise operators often package airfares to/from the U.S.

But what happens when the cruise doesn't include a one-way airfare option? A second reader asks a related question, "What are my options returning home to the U.S. from Sydney after my QE2 cruise?" Presumably, that sailing does not offer an airfare-return option. Answering this question is tougher, given that one-way published airfares on the big international lines are usually much more than half the cheapest available round-trip.

Your best bet is to find a discount agency that can sell you a cheap one-way ticket:

  • Several U.S. discount agencies specialize in one-way tickets as part of round-the-world itineraries. Among them are Air Brokers International and AirTreks.
  • If you need a discount ticket from a foreign port back to the U.S. (as our reader needs from Sydney), try to find a discount agency in the foreign port's country. In Australia, for example, try Travel.Com.Australia.
  • Some online sites such as ETN network with consolidators throughout the world. You enter a fare quote, which the site shops around to several agencies.
  • Find a copy of a weekend newspaper for the city from which you want to fly at an international newsstand and look at the ads in the travel section.

If nothing else works, consider the possibility of buying a cheap round-trip from a distant port back to the U.S. and simply throwing away the return portion. But that's a last resort—you should be able to do better. Editor's Note: This practice is called "throwaway ticketing" and is strongly discouraged by most airlines.

Selecting a cabin

A third reader asks, "What is the best location on the ship for an oceanview room?" The answer depends entirely on the layout of an individual ship, but I can provide some general clues:

Read comments or add your own insight!