Even if it involves spending hours researching and on the phone, everyone wants the best deal possible when booking a cruise vacation. Rightfully so, as a cruise can be a large investment. With that said, not every cruise comes with a hefty price tag. Some cruises are budget-friendly and can be pulled off without breaking the bank.
1. Realize Your Options
Since you’re looking for a cheap cruise, remember that you won’t be setting sail to the Caribbean on a seven-night voyage. These cheap cruises are mostly limited to the Mexican Rivera from the west coast and Bahamas from the east coast, with the occasional deal thrown in here and there.
Also, remember that Miami-based cruise ship Norwegian Sky now includes an open bar on all sailings.
2. Start with a Travel Agent
It all starts here, with a travel agent. Pick up the phone and dial up your local agent. They won’t cost you a dime and will help you go through your options. Always be up front with the agent with your budget and tell them exactly what you’re looking for. Also, ask them if you’re eligible for any discounts. Common cruise discounts are military (active and retired), senior discounts, and interline discounts.
3. Choose Your Cabin Carefully
You won’t find a balcony for under $50 per day (and if you do, book it immediately!), but know that certain staterooms on the ship demand premium pricing. That’s not just limited to balconies. Rooms near elevators, closer to public areas, and higher deck staterooms (even interior) are often more expensive.
4. Book a Repositioning Cruise
Ships are constantly on the move. They will spend a season in the Caribbean and then sail off to Europe for six months before returning back to the Caribbean. If you want a steal of a deal, consider booking a repositioning cruise. Granted, you will be on the hook for your return airfare because it would start in the Florida and end in Barcelona, but the value is there. I booked a 16-night repositioning cruise on Carnival Sunshine in 2013 for $399, or $25 per day. Look for decently priced repositioning cruises.
5. Cruise Hurricane Season
Hurricane season is one of the best times of year to cruise. The rates are rock bottom and worst-case scenario, the cruise line will alter your itinerary to keep you far away from the storm.
6. Shoulder Season is Great
There isn’t really an “off” season in the cruise industry, but there is a shoulder season. One of the most popular times is at the end of summer when the kids go back to school. During this time, you can find really good rates because the ships have to still fill the rooms.
7. Monitor Price Drops
There are different price drop programs out there that will monitor your fare and email you when the price goes up or down. If your cruise fare allows, you can then contact the cruise line and get a price adjustment, upgrade, or onboard credit.
The free price drop monitoring service I use is with cruiseline.com.
8. Remember Extras
A lot of cruise lines are charging extras for little things now. If you want to board faster, you pay additional. Want a prime cut of beef at dinner? Pay extra. All the little fees add up, so make sure you do your research and don’t get hooked on the $199 price tag. Consider the extras like port charges, gratuities, spending money, parking, shore excursions, and all the little things we tend to forget.
9. Use Reputable Cruise Searches
Some online agencies charge a booking fee or a service charge for booking a cruise online. Avoid those at all cost. Try booking direct through the cruise line or using a booking engine that doesn’t charge a fee.