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?

5 Tips for Saving on Cruises