Ready to sign up for a cruise? Before you get out your credit card, check these tricks of the trade.
Booking three to six months in advance will often save you money, and also give the best choice of cabins. The earlier you book, the bigger the discount.
Several cruise lines give an extra discount if you pay in full at least six months in advance of your cruise date, sometimes as much as 15 percent.
Last minute bookings can also result in savings – no ship wants to leave with empty cabins. However the downside is that cabin choice may be limited, or the ship may have no cabins left at all.
Cruises are usually most expensive in high season, so if you go sooner or later you can get a cheaper fare. Examples: Alaska cruises are cheaper in April, May and September; Mediterranean cruises in September and October; Caribbean cruises in early fall or in January and February. However, check that the weather is still pleasant or the wildlife is at the stage you want to see. Sometimes a fare will be less just before or after a holiday.
CONSIDER A REPOSITIONING CRUISE
Typical repositioning cruises go between the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, or from Alaska in the fall to the California coast or to Baja for the winter. Repositioning cruises are sometimes half the cost of the same number of days when they get to their destination, but they have more days at sea and fewer ports of call.
DO A NEW ITINERARY OR AN INAUGURAL CRUISE
These cruises often have special introductory rates. However, if you take an inaugural cruise on a new ship, do not expect everything to be perfect. Some problems are inevitable as the kinks are worked out.
PUT TOGETHER A GROUP
Groups that travel together save together. If you put together a group from your church or club or school or even a family reunion, we can get you a group fare. Usually if there are 15 or more, you can get a free extra ticket.
CONSIDER AN INSIDE STATEROOM
To some people, a view is important. But to others the cabin is only a place for sleeping and changing clothes, and they would rather give up the window and keep the money. If you like to sleep late, having an inside cabin will prevent early morning sunshine from waking you. But you will not have a view or know what the weather is.
HAVE THREE OR FOUR IN A CABIN
Third or fourth persons (or children) go at a fundamental discount, sometimes free. Then everyone shares the cost, and the savings. Make sure you get along – it can be excruciatingly crowded.
BE FLEXIBLE – TAKE A 'GUARANTEE'
If the ship is sold out of the cabin category that you want, you can confirm your booking and the cruise line gives you a guarantee to provide a cabin in that category or one higher, but you do not know where the cabin will be.
With a standby reservation, you are called at the last minute if there is a cancellation. But be careful of expensive last-minute air fare. Standby bookings work well when you live near a city where cruises originate, then you can make fast plans and not have to deal with air.
BECOME A REPEAT PASSENGER
Cruise lines usually give a special discount to past passengers. Or they may give upgrades in cabin category. If you've sailed on a cruise line previously, always tell that when you ask for a quote or make a reservation.
CHECK FOR SPECIAL PROMOTION
Watch ads and newsletters for promotional specials on both small ships and big ships. There may be a two-for-one offer, kids free, or 50 percent off for the second passenger.
Tell when you book if you are celebrating a honeymoon or anniversary or a family reunion on the cruise, and you we can sometimes get you an extra discount.
Sometimes instead of offering a cheaper fare, a cruise line will offer free days at a hotel at a port before or after a cruise, or will offer additional days of cruising for a discounted rate. Example: "Book three months early and get a free hotel room in Vancouver." Sometimes a cruise line will offer credit you can use in shipboard shops or casinos.
CABIN UPGRADES FOR SPECIAL REASONS
Some lines offer an upgrade in cabin category if you are a repeat passenger, on a honeymoon, celebrating an anniversary, are retiring, recovering from an illness, or you bought other passengers on board. When you book tell if you have a special circumstance and try to get you an upgrade.
Sometimes cruise lines offer frequent-flier miles on some of their voyages.
If you arrange to stay on the ship for a second cruise, on many ships we can get you the second week at a greatly reduced rate.
The way that this works is that you tell the cruise line the cabin category of your choice, but you will not get a specific stateroom design until a week or so before sailing. You get the best available cabin at that time. This is also called "tba" (to be assigned).
SENIOR CITIZEN SPECIALS
Some cruise lines have discounts for persons over age 55 or 65. Sometimes if a senior citizen is traveling with a younger person, a discount will apply to both fares. If you are a senior, be sure to mention it when you ask about a price.
WATCH AIR FARES
There are ways to save on air fare too. Sometimes the cruise / air package is cheaper; sometimes booking air separately is cheaper. If you do not need air because your departure port is nearby, you can get a credit on the airfare if it is built into a package price. Plan as far ahead as possible to get the lowest-priced tickets. You may be eligible for a senior discount, or if going with a companion, you can buy a four-coupon packet with many airlines.
HOTELS AND CAR RENTALS
Cruise lines often have pre or post-cruise packages that are reasonably priced that can be arranged for at the same time you book your cruise. As you plan your total vacation and what you will do at the beginning and end of the cruise, tell the agent your plans and they can check what the cruise line has to offer compared to what they can get for you directly with a hotel at their promotional rate.
COMPARE CRUISE LINES
Different ships often go to the same destinations. Investigate about the ships and cruises that go to that destination. Compare itineraries, accommodations, educational programs, shore excursions and fares. Some cruise lines have cabins for singles with no single supplement. By comparing, you may find a cruise that offers all you want and has a wonderfully cheaper fare. (Be sure when you compare fares that you know whether shore excursions and port charges are included or not.) Check with an agent because cruise lines send notices to agencies when there are special deals and make sure your agent always checks for any new special offers .
CHECK NEWSLETTERS AND WEBSITES
At smallshipcruises.com, for example, we have a front-page column that will give you latest discounts and special offers on ships.
LET PEOPLE KNOW WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR
If you tell your agent the ships and the destinations you are most interested in, and when in the future you might want to book, they will tell you when any discounts become available. You can also subscribe to cruise newsletters from website informatin centers, agencies, and cruiselines themselvles to get cruise news and specials. They will never charge a fee for getting a quote for you or booking your cruise and they may know of a special offering that you would not otherwise know about.
But remember, the most important thing of all is to not book a cruise just because of its price, but to find a cruise that best fits your needs and desires