One way to save money on a cruise is to take advantage of onboard credits, or OBCs. Even though I have cruised many times on all the major lines and even worked in the industry, I myself had only found out about one of these onboard credit programs last year when I booked a cruise on the Ruby Princess. But I didn’t find out from the Princess vacation planner, who never mentioned a word about it—I learned about it from longtime Princess cruisers posting on a forum! While not every cruiser qualifies for an OBC, you definitely don't want to be entitled to one and not know it. Here’s what you need to know to keep from missing out on OBCs you may have coming to you:

What are OBCs?

OBCs work much like a gift certificate. They can be used towards any shipboard purchases such as spa treatments, shore excursions, gift shop purchases, premium beverages and even gratuities on some lines. At the end of the cruise, your total balance due for all shipboard expenses will be reduced by the amount of onboard credit you have.

Information about OBC offers is often inconspicuous on cruise line websites and you have to know to look for it. Often only frequent cruisers or others in the know, such as travel agents are aware of them. Some credits are a modest $25 and others can be $100 or more, but if you book at a really good cruise fare (less than $100 per person per day including taxes), any amount of OBC is just icing on the cake. Here are six ways to get onboard credits on the popular mainstream cruise lines:   

1. Royal Caribbean Bring a Friend Promotion

Love to cruise on Royal Caribbean? Why not show friends and relatives who have yet to take the plunge what they've been missing. Royal Caribbean will give you a $25 onboard credit for each cabin your friends or family reserve. Get the details here.

2. Princess Cruise Line Military Benefit

Princess thanks active and honorably discharged American, Canadian or British military personnel for their service with this incredible onboard credit benefit: $50 for cruises of 6 days or less, $100 for 7–13 days and $250 for 14 days or longer. Unlike some OBCs, this one can be combined with other OBC offers. And once your military benefit application is approved, they’ll automatically apply the military onboard credit to any future Princess cruise that you book so you don’t have to re-apply each time!

3. Loyalty OBC

Two cruise lines give OBCs just for being a repeat customer, but the downside is that they tend to be relatively small, like Princess Cruises' Loyalty Commends which you'll finally be awarded on your 20th Princess cruise. The upside is that they can usually be combined with other offers and promotions such as Norwegian Cruise Line's Lattitudes Insider OBC.

4. Stockholder's OBC

I wouldn't buy stock in a cruise line just to get an onboard credit, but if you already own the stock and want to take a cruise, it may be worth it to book that particular line. If you're already looking to invest and also happen to be planning a cruise, you might want to consider cruise line stock. Many stockholders have cruised enough times that their cumulative stockholder's OBCs have more than covered the purchase price of the stock! Click for more information on stockholder benefits for Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines.

5.  Cruise Lines Early Saver Price Drop

Plenty of cruisers have claimed Early Saver Price Adjustments or OBCs of as little as $10 to as much $800! However, success is dependent on a combination of luck and diligence:

  • Cruise fares fluctuate up and down constantly and it's a stroke of sheer luck when the price for your specific ship, sailing date, cabin category and number of guests drops dramatically. 
  • Check for price drops frequently and regularly. The Fare-Viewer is a helpful tool.

If you find a lower price, submit a Price Protection Claim Form to request a rate adjustment or OBC.  In some cases you can request a cabin upgrade instead. Many have reaped the benefits of Early Saver, but there are several restrictions. Click here and scroll down to Early Saver for detailed terms and conditions.

6. Best Price Guarantee

If you find a lower fare within 48 hours of booking a cruise, the following lines will apply an OBC to your reservation equal to 110 percent of the price difference: Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian, Celebrity and Azamara Club Cruises. The lower price must be for the same ship, sail date, cabin category and number of guests in the cabin.

This is a guest post by Deidre from Dania Beach, FL