Five Ways to Save on Cruise Costs

KCL readers love a bargain…and if that bargain is for a cruise vacation, all the better. Cruises are generally viewed as luxury vacations, but they can be surprisingly affordable, if you know how to shop for the best cruise deals. For one thing, cruise vacations are the ultimate all-inclusive, one-price vacation. Your cruise fare generally includes airfare, accommodations, meals, onboard entertainment and taxes. That makes it easy to budget. Plus, you don’t have to worry about finding and paying for a taxi to go to dinner or finding child care; it’s all right on the ship.

If you are one of the more than 16 million people planning on taking a cruise vacation this year, here are a few tips on how to save:

Book early

You might think that waiting until the last minute will get you a good cruise price, but that’s not usually the case. Incredibly, most cruise liners are booked to capacity before they depart, especially during peak times and to popular destinations. And, the first cabins to go are the least expensive ones–and the most expensive ones. How early you should book really depends on when and where you are cruising. Cruise lines take reservations up to 18 months in advance. If you are traveling during spring break, Christmas or New Year or if you have your heart set on one of the few family suites or new luxury enclaves like NCL’s The Haven, it pays to book more than a year in advance. (With most cruise lines, a relatively small deposit will hold your reservation until 60 to 90 days prior to sailing.)

Try a repositioning cruise

Repositioning cruises are those one-of-a-kind voyages that are scheduled to get a cruise ship from its regular sailings in one part of the world to another part of the world. For instance, if a ship spends the winter in the Caribbean and the summer in Alaska, the repositioning cruise will travel in late April from South Florida to Juneau or Anchorage. A ship that summers in the Mediterranean and winters in the Caribbean Sea will make repositioning voyages (with itineraries like Barcelona to Ft. Lauderdale) in early spring and late fall. Such cruises are generally offered at a much lower per day rate than other sailings, sometimes up to 50 percent. Plus, you get to visit ports that aren’t part of a regular weekly cruise schedule.

Join a cruise loyalty program

Some of the best cruise deals go to members of the ship line’s frequent cruiser programs, like Holland America’s Mariner’s Club and Royal Caribbean’s Crown and Anchor Society.  You usually qualify for membership after just one cruise. Members get early notification of new cruise itineraries and other new features as well as savings of up to 60 percent on selected voyages.

Take a group with you

One of the best ways to save on cruise travel is to take a group of your friends, neighbors or church members with you on vacation. Most cruise lines–Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Holland America Line, Carnival Cruises–define a cruise group as 16 passengers traveling together in at least eight cabins (third and fourth passengers in a cabin don’t count toward the 16 passenger minimum.) There are some exceptions, but generally if you get 15 people to go on the cruise, the 16th person sails free. Airfare, port taxes and airline taxes are almost always additional. In addition, many cruise lines offer group perks like free cocktail parties, excursions and/or group photos.

Don’t ignore off-peak dates

Think taking a Caribbean or Mexican cruise the first week of December is too close to the Christmas holiday to be enjoyable? Think again. This week is traditionally the least expensive week in the entire year to take such a cruise, with rates approaching 75 percent off of standard cruise fares. Similar discounts exist for other parts of the world. Maybe you should just do your holiday shopping early. ;)

Anyone planning a cruise this year? How are you cutting costs?

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35 thoughts on “5 Tips for Saving on Cruises”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for all of the great stories and tips. Keep ‘em coming.

  2. I think Celebrity might be the only cruise line that does this but they have drink packages. I think we paid $250 for a 5 day cruise. I had my husband go get all the drinks for us and any drink that was $8 or less was included and was free! They had a less expensive package for drinks $5 or less and of course a more expensive one as well….. it was my first cruise but I had heard drinks were expensive so we got it. We added up our drinks and at the end of 5 days we would have spent somewhere around $600 for drinks. One bottle of water was $6.00!! so this package more than paid for itself. I have friends who after the cruise told me they spent well over a $1000 on drinks alone on other cruises…. So this is a GREAT deal… Look into Celebrity!

  3. Melody says:

    Alaska next Sept! Hubby is retiring and we are taking off! We went to a presentation last night and I hope to make our reservations by Saturday in order to get tickets during the “sale”! i am jazzed!

  4. Anonymous says:

    We leave in a month for a Med TA, this will be my 20th cruise and I am addicted.

    There are a few other money saving perks we get and love…

    On Princess I always make an open booking while onboard (normally keep a couple to use) The deposit made onboard is $100pp and this gives you an open booking to use for any cruise booked direct thru Princess or any TA and no further payment until final is due. When you book cruise you receive OBC depending on the type of cabin and length of cruise for using the onboard booking. You have 4 years to use the booking or it is fully refundable.
    This OBC normally covers our gratuaties on the week long cruise.

    The other great OBC is if you cruise any carnival owned line which Princess is one of and own 100 Carnival Shares you get OBC, also depending on length of cruise.

    We also receive free internet packages from the loyalty program, anount of minutes depending on length of cruise.

    To me the planning is half the fun of cruising. Neither DH of I drink much but he normally gets the soda card and with the OBC we very seldon have much of a bill at the end.

  5. All these are great tips but I should just point out that when you do all your planning and research yourself you are missing a great opportunity. A professional travel agent will not only share all these tips with you, there are tons more that perhaps you have not thought of. All the cruise lines are not created equally and a good agent will help you select the right one for you. They can always get you the same or better fare than you can get directly from the cruise line and they offer valuable service. Usually at no extra cost. So next time you get ready to sail, give it a try. I think you will find it a positive experience. And it might save you from making a costly mistake. It would be a shame to waste your time and money on the wrong cruise.

  6. Thomas Hake says:

    Actually the best way to deal with the tip is to go to the customer service desk at the start of your trip, telling them you would like to remove automatic gratuity. Then you don’t get hit with that sneaky charge…they do a bad job of telling you, and if your like most people you tip normally anyways. Employees of the ship would rather have the cash now, than to have a credit in they’re account anyways.

    • Anonymous says:

      The cruiseline pool the gratuaties and they get shared between all the staff, if you tip them cash at the end of the cruise and have removed the auto tip they have to hand the cash in to be split or they can lose there job. There are lots of posts about this on cruise critics.

  7. I am going on one in December – this will be my 2nd cruise trip for my birthday – going to the Bahamas are December is the best time to go – weather is great. **I do not buy my flights with the cruise because they OVER CHARGE WAY TOO MUCH! Just FYI – book your flights separately and make sure you sign up for travel alerts for lowest fares – check the fares on Tuesday and Wednesday nights – they tend to go up after that. Purchase the Beverage packages – this will save you a lot of money. I purchased my cruise about over a year and a half in advance – put a down payment of $250 and pay down the rest by October of this year. Of course we paid it way sooner than later because we wanted to start saving money for the trip itself – When i went to pay it off my travel agent told us that because being a WA resident there was another $100 discount taken off. For both my boyfriend and I we paid only $1100 for cruise and the flights – because we booked the flights separately. There are also other places to eat on the ship that you have to pay for. Take my advice and avoid it!!!! You can eat Johnny Rockets anytime of the day when you are back home – enjoy the free buffets and nice formal dinners! So… the main way to save money on cruises is…1) purchase the cruise way in advance 2) purchase airfare separately and sign up for travel alerts through 3 different flight companies 3) do not eat at other restaurants on the cruise unless you really really really want to – (buying ice cream here and there is fine—but buffet also has ice cream 4) purchase the beverage package.

  8. I am going on one in December – this will be my 2nd cruise trip for my birthday – going to the Bahamas are December is the best time to go – weather is great. **I do not buy my flights with the cruise because they OVER CHARGE WAY TOO MUCH! Just FYI – book your flights separately and make sure you sign up for travel alerts for lowest fares – check the fares on Tuesday and Wednesday nights – they tend to go up after that. Purchase the Beverage packages – this will save you a lot of money. I purchased my cruise about over a year and a half in advance – put a down payment of $250 and pay down the rest by October of this year. Of course we paid it way sooner than later because we wanted to start saving money for the trip itself – When i went to pay it off my travel agent told us that because being a WA resident there was another $100 discount taken off. For both my boyfriend and I we paid only $1100 for cruise and the flights – because we booked the flights separately. There are also other places to eat on the ship that you have to pay for. Take my advice and avoid it!!!! You can eat Johnny Rockets anytime of the day when you are back home – enjoy the free buffets and nice formal dinners! So… the main way to save money on cruises is…1) purchase the cruise way in advance 2) purchase airfare separately and sign up for travel alerts through 3 different flight companies 3) do not eat at other restaurants on the cruise unless you really really really want to – (buying ice cream here and there is fine—but buffet also has ice cream 4) purchase the beverage package.

  9. Satin says:

    I am planning my first cruise actually. I plan to rent a car and driving to a port that is near me instead of taking a plane since its cheaper (I always rent from Budget rental car). I live in Lake Charles, Louisiana, so we have ports in Houston which is only 2 hours away from me. I am just not sure how parking is going to go. What I am personally doing right now is sign up for cruise deals and compare which ones the best along with the cost of the main cruise line I plan to sale. I get savings to my inbox from Cheap Carribean, Dunhill Travel, and more. Also I check out price comparison websites and blogs like Kayak as well. Another thing I check is how certain months and days of the week make a difference and see if I can plan my cruise around those days that are the cheapest.

    Good post, came right on time with what I was planning!

  10. Anonymous says:

    We went on a cruise 2 years ago for $150 a person – it was awesome! There is no way we could have stayed in a hotel for 3 nights and eaten out at a fancy restaurant for the same amount of time for the same cost. And you get go to the buffet or get room service 24 hours a day – one night we ordered the cheese platter at midnight just because we could (it was all included.) Since we live near a port it make sense as an inexpensive off season family vacation, so I want to do it again in a few years :-)

  11. Lacey says:

    any advice on the best alaskan cruise? We are going on our honeymoon in June and trying to figure it out early! Thanks!

  12. Lisa Wood says:

    17 more day’s tell me and husband are one are Carnival’s cruise to baja Mexico!! 2 of my siblings are coming plus our 2 friends are as well!
    We ended up booking early back in Feb i believe and saved BIG time. It was like 150.00 per person plus we eneded up upgrading to a beck room since we only would all have to chip in a little extra. We did not book any excursions which kind of worry me but I think we should still have LOTS of fun and I am told i can plan those on the trip or in mexico for cheaper lol!
    Any advice?

  13. I cruise with a travel group each year but i also take at least one additional cruise. I cut my cost by booking hotels near the cruise port that offer shuttle to the port or free parking (if sailing from close to home). for me it is too much of a hassle to fly in on the day the ship sails. So I dont take advantage of the transfers or airline options the cruise lines offer.

    I am off on another cruise in October with the travel group. One thing I do to cut down cost is to book way ahead so for my Alaska trip in June 2012 I have already paid my deposit. I put away money each month so there is no lump sum 60 days before the cruise. I also try to pay for everything out of my checking account cruise fare, airfare etc so that I dont have a huge credit card bill waiting for me later. I usually dont pay for the excursions but go out to the pier where the ship is docked and find someone that is gathering a group for a van or bus for sightseeing. it is a fraction of the cost of the ships or other 3rd party excursions.

    Lastly you dont have to buy every picture that they take of you on the ship (i did the first year $200+ worth) after that I take as many pictures on different backgrounds and then choose 2-3 of the best. you can take them to Walgreens, CVS or Sams Club to make duplicates for others in your group or family.

    Happy Sailings!

    • Lisa Wood says:

      Thank you so much for this info! I am new to cruising and mine is coming up and was worried about not booking the excursions. I also planned to take my own camera since I love taking my own pictures plus I have friends who can take a couple shots of me and me of them!
      OMG this topic is getting me so exicted about going!!

  14. Anonymous says:

    With today’s climate of people losing their jobs and houses, I think I really find the responses to this post offensive– it’s a booze cruise. (from the comments of course). Great for all of you who can afford to go on a cruise but I’m trying to feed my family.

    • I’m sorry you find it offensive, but some of us are trying to feed our families as well. My boyfriend and I have been together since high school, every penny we earned before I started using coupons went to bills and our family, and we have slowly saved up enough for one great vacation. I don’t think that it’s something to get offended over. Granted some people may not have the worries others do, but what’s wrong with saving up (which is why you’re using coupons right, to save money?) to enjoy something every now and then?

      • Anonymous says:

        It is super nice that you flagged my comment and it’s been flagged for more than 12 hours. It doesn’t change the fact that I have a problem with the comments to this post. I still have a problem with people spending thousands of dollars on a cruise when 46.2 million people(according to the Census Bureau) are living in poverty. It is still an affront to the people who are .losing their houses .So, when are these people going to get a vacation in the Bahamas?———-No need to answer—–it’s NEVER!

  15. Anonymous says:

    Just returned from my first family cruise! We sailed on Carnival’s cruise line and the biggest savings came from bringing our own bottled soda. Granted juice, tea, and coffee was free, but nothing beats a nice cold ginger ale should you encounter any seasickness!

  16. My boyfriend has been bothering me to go on a cruise for years, he even saved up (thanks to coupons) but I’m just way to nervous and scared to ever spend to much time off the ground, I don’t even fly. If we have a vacation we drive, or its a no go. I love these deals, and they all sound so lovely but til I can get over the fear of not being on land we have to pass on these. :(

    To the person that post bring your own alcohol, my boyfriends mom told us to do that as well, if they allow it. Very smart, and thrifty idea.

    • The ships are very stable. My first cruise a few years ago I thought it was going to be like the Love Boat with people on deck waving and such and I would call my mom before we got too far away from a tower.. well I didnt even know the ship had sailed it was so smooth. You will be having waaaayyyy to much fun to not know you arent in a hotel. Try a short cruise first and then a longer one. They also have sea sickness patches you can get. I think you should try it at least once.

    • Sarah Mikula says:

      seriously, I get sea sick and motion sickness VERYYY easily (roller coasters, boats, cars I have to look straight ahead at all times). I’m also deathly scared of heights and like to be on the ground as well but cruises are TOTALLY different I’m not even lying. there are also certain rooms and floors on the ship where you can feel the rocking motion more than others but I have never even felt the slightest bit sick from it, at the most it was just a slight dizzying/turned stomach feeling. I think the lower your room is, the more rocky it can be. also, you can get a room with no windows or one that looks out on water if you think one or the other would help (for you I’m thinking not seeing water would be best, but the room can feel more cramped and like a dungeon with 4 enclosed walls with an already small room). Since I’m scared of heights and always think of the “what-if’s” I never get within like 5 feet of the side of the ship and other than that everything is fine. I say give it a try and I’m sure you’ll love it.

      • Thanks guys! I do have a paralyzing fear of heights or anything requiring me to be off the ground. My mother in law suggested a motion sickness pill I can buy at walmart, however it’s not the actual motion, its just the idea of not being on land and out in water. My brain things of all the bad things that could happen (yes i know it can happen on land as well) and the fear just stops everything. I do like your idea Sarah about not having windows, that could work. As long as I’m not aware of what’s going on I’m fine, but the second I notice I get violently sick.

        • Hello Krazy Couponers :) I’m a travel agent and have taken too many cruises to count. I NEVER wanted to go on a cruise. I don’t like water. Until I won an all expense paid cruise at a fundraiser/auction. Well, I had to go it was FREE including airfare & it was the penthouse stateroom. Once I went I was hooked for life. The least rocky rooms are in the center of the ship. If you look at the prices for cabins they are cheaper on the ends and get more expensive towards the center. I always get a center room or one of the closest rooms to the center section in the cheaper room category.

          This blog about cheap cruises is right on the mark. The least expensive times to cruise is the week before Christmas. If our kids school schedule allows we ALWAYS cruise that week. I thought it would ruin the holiday spirit but it was the opposite. It forced me to have everything done early and allowed me to really relax and enjoy. One year we even came home on Christmas eve.

          Also, their are loads of deals out there with great incentives. Coupon books, On board credit, etc. It pays to be patient and know when to book. Cruise prices are all over the map similar to airfare prices!

          I hope if you’re thinking of a cruise you give it a shot. They can be the most peaceful, fun vacations.

          FYI~ the tipping can either be paid ahead of time with your final cruise payment or you can go to the customer service desk and ask to adjust the amount of your tips before the last day of your cruise.

    • Anonymous says:

      For me I hardly notice the ship moving but when I get off I feel like the earth is moving. It doesn’t make me sick it just feel weird.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Great article on how to save big on cruises! Recently, I’ve noticed a couple of the big group buying websites have offered a couple cruises between 40% and 60% off! You can keep track of all the offers from them at http://thedealpages.com so you don’t miss the window to experience another way to save big!

  18. Leslie Mangum says:

    It might sound silly, but bring your own alcohol! They charge by the drink, but juice and soda are usually free. My girlfriend and I bought the biggest bottles of listerine we could find, and dumped them out and filled them with vodka or rum. That way if we wanted a cocktail or 2 we would just make them in our room with the free mixers! Saved us SOOOO much money!

    • Samantha says:

      That doesn’t sound silly at all. My boyfriend and I bought bottles of rum in Jamaica on the second day of our cruise which saved us a lot of money on drinks.

    • not all cruise line allows u to bring ur own alcohol and some allows u to bring 1 750ml/person. Some cruiselines are even worse, they charge u for the soda!

      • Sarah Mikula says:

        yes, most of the ones we have been on charge for soda. cruises in themselves are cheap but the side items you dont realize sometimes make them not so cheap…such as the flight to get there, transportation to the port, hotel if you had to stay the night before the cruise, alcohol, drinks, excursions, tips galore, etc etc. most people sneak alcohol on…I’ve mostly heard of them putting them in water bottles, in side zippered pockets of their luggage, etc and I think thats one of the best ways to save money.

        • Anonymous says:

          We planned on everything BUT the surprise TIPPING that they wanted at the end of our cruise. I don’t mind tipping but it would have been nice to get a “heads up”. It really blew the rest of our money. The recommended percentages were crazy.

    • Ashley Balerna says:

      Sneaking on alcohol has become a lot harder recently. I went on a cruise in June and they confiscated a hidden bottle from my boyfriend’s suitcase. However, we sailed Carnival and were able to have a bottle ordered to our room and was waiting for us when we boarded. The bottle of vodka ended up being $40 but was worth it considering how much it would’ve been to buy drinks individually.

    • We do it too!! I usually use small ginger ale bottles. The alcohol you buy in port is held by the ship until your last night.

    • Anonymous says:

      Bring what you can (alcohol & soda) that the cruise lines allows. I know some people even smuggle more than is allowed. If caught they will take it away. Yes I have saved tons on cruises. I do not buy their soda, pictures, fancy upscale dinners or their excersions. You can do reseach on line and keep the cost down. My favorite site is Cruise Critic dot com. There are people who cruise that do pay more than the cruise itself.

    • Laura Jean says:

      Funny, my husband had a pocket knife taken from his luggage and had to go to the bowels of the ship to get it. Down there, there was a line of people waiting to re claim their brought-in alcohol. One person even tried to put it in his shampoo bottle, but they still figured it out. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment if you try!