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Five steps to getting the best cruise deal

SmarterTravel

Booking a cruise is a multistep process. First, you want to figure out your vacation schedule and budget. Then you need to choose a cruise line and itinerary. And after all that is done, you need to shop for the price.

I can’t pick an itinerary for you, but I can help you find the best deal on a cruise vacation. The following five steps will give structure to your cruise shopping and help you find the best price for your desired sailing.

1. Determine your budget

The first thing you need to do is figure out how much you can afford to pay for a cruise. As you look at your travel budget, remember that your cruise fare includes accommodations, transportation, meals, and entertainment. You’ll pay extra for shore excursions, airfare, airport transfers, alcohol and soft drinks, and souvenirs. Be realistic about the price you’re willing to pay. You’ll have more fun on a mainstream line you can afford than on a luxury line that will put you into debt.

2. Choose your line and itinerary

Based on your budget, you should next determine a cruise line and itinerary. If money is tight, you might want to consider a mainstream line, such as Carnival, Norwegian, or Royal Caribbean. A shorter cruise in the shoulder season will cost less than a two-week cruise at a popular time. In general, the Caribbean is the cheapest destination because you can fly from multiple U.S. homeports, sail year-round, and choose from a variety of itinerary lengths and destinations.

If you have room to splurge, you might want to check out a premium or luxury line or a popular (and therefore more expensive) destination such as Europe or Alaska. Depending on your cruising preferences, you should weigh the pros and cons of booking a fancier cabin on a mainstream or premium line versus booking a lower-end cabin on a luxury line.

3. Shop around

Once you’ve found an itinerary to suit your budget and tastes, you can begin the shopping process. Call the cruise line or check its website to see what price it’s offering. Price the cruise on a few online sites, and contact a travel agent to ask what she can offer. The more quotes you have, the more confident you’ll feel about what this cruise should cost you.

4. Beat the quote

You should never settle for the first low price you see without trying to get it even lower. Bring your low number to a travel agent, either online or offline, and ask if you can get a better deal. An easy way to do this is to use CruiseCompete; you’ll submit a request detailing your intended itinerary and the price you’re looking to beat, and the company’s affiliated agents will come back to you with their best offers. Even if agents can’t offer you a better price, sometimes they can add value to your booking with ship credit, free upgrades, and other cruise-related perks.

5. Book your cruise

Once all the numbers and offers are in, all you have to do is choose the best one and book. All of the research and price comparison you’ve done will make you confident that you’ve gotten the best deal available. Now, you can reward yourself and use the money you’ve saved to buy a new swimsuit or formal outfit for your upcoming vacation.

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