Cruise lines tout sea vacations as inexpensive, all-inclusive getaways. But, if you’re not a savvy shopper, the base price for your sailing could easily skyrocket into the thousands of dollars. If you want to find the best price possible on your next cruise, follow these five tips for getting great cruise deals.
1. Book early
No one likes this piece of advice, but it’s true. Cruise popularity is at an all-time high, and ships are selling out in advance. If you book early, you’ll find staterooms available in the lowest price categories and have your pick of departure dates, cabin locations, and dinner seatings. Book late, and you’re more likely to find higher-priced cabins, if you find any at all. Oceanview and balcony cabins are especially popular and tend to sell out the fastest. Read our feature for more advice on when to book.
2. Sail at off-peak times
It goes without saying that the most popular cruises will be the most expensive. If your schedule is flexible, you can easily save a few bucks by sailing at the beginning or end of a destination’s cruise season, when fewer people tend to go. For the Caribbean, which is a year-round destination, look for cruises in August, September, or October.
In addition to low prices, you may find that ships and ports-of-call are less crowded in the low season, so you can spend more of your vacation time doing fun things and less time waiting in line. Some people think that the shoulder season means bad weather, but that’s not always true. A cruise line won’t travel to a destination when the weather would make a sea vacation truly unpleasant, so you can still experience good weather without paying extra for it.
For more on off-peak seasons for a variety of cruise destinations, read our story on when to cruise and how to save.
3. Cruise one-way
For a unique and unusually inexpensive cruise vacation, try a repositioning sailing. These one-way sailings take place when a cruise line sends a ship to new waters at the beginning or end of a cruise season. Typical itineraries feature sailings between Europe and the Caribbean, between Alaska and the Caribbean or Mexico, up and down the U.S. coasts, or through the Panama Canal.
Repositioning sailings may be longer than normal cruises, include more sea days, or feature unusual combinations of ports-of-call. For these reasons, the per-day rate for the sailings can often be less than that of a normal seasonal sailing.
4. Shop around
These days, you have many options for booking a cruise. You can call a travel agent, shop at a big travel provider such as Travelocity or Expedia, or visit a cruises-only online seller. If you know which cruise line you want to sail, you can call the line directly or visit its website.
As hard as the cruise lines try to maintain consistent pricing, you can find different prices for the same cruise depending on where you shop. If you want the best price possible on your sailing, we always recommend shopping around. An online cruise seller may have bought a block of rooms at a group rate and can offer you a discount, while a travel agent may be able to offer you extra perks, such as shipboard credit, a free upgrade, or complimentary wine and soft drinks. You won’t know where the best deal is unless you look around.
If you want to check offers from several providers at the same, you can compare cruise prices with SmarterTravel’s price-comparison tool .
5. Let agents bid for your business
Once you’ve selected a few sailings for which you want to check prices, you have another option for comparing offers without doing very much work at all. CruiseCompete allows you to send a request to all of the site’s affiliated travel agencies, specifying your preferred itinerary, cabin type, and other special needs, and then travel agents respond to you with their best offers. You save yourself the hassle of checking dozens of websites or calling several agents, and the best part is that the service is free. So if you don’t see a price you like, you’re under no obligation to book.
If you’d like to learn more about CruiseCompete and how it works, read our article on this unique website.