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How To Earn An Extra Cruise This Year

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If money were no option, a lot of us would cruise far more often. But given that most of us will never know what it’s like to have a hot-and-cold running cash spigot, the best we can do is find ways to cruise as often as possible without breaking the bank. With cruises becoming more popular — and thus, thanks to that whole supply-and-demand thing, more expensive — squeezing in that extra cruise each year is becoming a little bit tougher. But it’s definitely not impossible.

The Key To Cruising More

In life, you have to make sure to have your priorities straight… and that applies to cruising, too. We all know that nothing great comes easy. If you want to lose weight, you might have to avoid some of the foods you really enjoy. If you want better grades in school, you have to crack open the books and study. And if you want to take that extra cruise, you have to save more money… which is likely going to mean making some tough sacrifices.

Again, it’s about priorities.

For me, cruising is definitely a priority, as you might have guessed. And given that the money tree I planted in my yard turned out to be a weed, I’ve had to come up with a bunch of different ways to save up for my cruises. Here are just a few of the ways I do it.

1. Control Your Money

If you’ve ever listened to The Dave Ramsey Show, you know that one of his biggest mottos is “You control your money, your money doesn’t control you.” Having in the past been that guy who looks in his wallet and says, “Where did all my money go?”, I’ve found it really important to create (and stick by, as best I can) a budget. Needing a little help with that, I’ve relied on the Every Dollar app, which not only allows me to keep track of how much I’m spending on what, but helps funnel extra money into my cruise fund.

2. Making Sacrifices

In taking an honest look at my spending, I realized one big expense for me was eating out… which I tend to do a lot. I work from home, so it’s important to get out of the house and away from the computer every now and then. What better way to do that than head to a restaurant for a lunch or dinner break? Instead, I’ve been trying to eat more of my meals at home, which is a lot cheaper. I can get a week’s worth of lunches for what I’d pay to go out to eat a couple times. To shake things up, I sometimes invite people over to join me for lunch or go to their place. It’s easy to blow off lunch at a fast food restaurant when I know that doing so will help me spend a week being served great meals in the main dining room of a ship.

3. Take Advantage Of Cruise Line Programs and Offers

Harmony of the Seas.

Depending on the cruise line, you can find all kinds of ways to save money depending on how and when you book, as well as the way in which you pay off the trip. Carnival is well known for their $50 deposit offers, which are a great way to lock in a good deal without having to fork over a lot of money. (Just be careful to make sure that if the deposit is non-refundable, you’re booking a date that you can definitely sail!)

Carnival also now has the EasyPay program, which makes it really easy to spread your payments out over an extended period of time. While some see this as Carnival getting their hands on your money sooner (and it thus earning money in their account as opposed to yours), others — myself included — much prefer the convenience of a payment plan to having to cough up a big chunk of money on that dreaded “Final Payment” date.

4. Get Creative

You know how I kill two birds with one stone? I get rid of stuff I no longer need and make money at the same time by selling stuff on eBay. Another friend of mine has made a killing selling stuff she makes in her free time on Etsy. There are all kinds of ways that you can make a little extra cash if you put your mind to it. And since that’s money you wouldn’t otherwise be making, you can earmark every penny of it for your cruise fund! Speaking of which…

5. Start A Cruise Fund

photo credit: flickr/Pictures of Money

Whether it’s an empty can you throw all your change into or an actual bank account, have a place to save money that’s separate from all your other money. I thought that seemed kind of silly… until the first time I rolled six months worth of loose change and found out I’d collected a couple hundred bucks. One of my contributing editors actually has $25 a week taken out of his paycheck and put into a special “cruise account” he has set up at the bank. (This is, in many ways, an even better idea than the can-of-change thing. Why? It’s at least a little bit harder to raid your bank account than it is to stick your hand in a jar whenever you need a few extra bucks!)

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No matter which route you take, trust me: It adds up quicker than you think.

6. Befriend Your Travel Agent

It’s one thing to have a travel agent. It’s another to actually develop that relationship. Because trust me, there’s nothing better than having someone you not only trust with your travel plans, but who knows exactly what type of person — and, by extension, cruiser — you are. They’ll let you know when a great deal come up on a ship they know you’ve enjoyed in the past, or maybe point you toward something you wouldn’t have thought of yourself. The better you get to know each other, the easier it’ll be for them to make sure you wind up on the right ship for you… and at the best price possible.

READ MORE: 5 Reasons to Use a Travel Agent

7. Give Yourself Credit (Card Points)

A plane landing as seen from Maho Beach (PC: flickr/Global Panorama)

Remember earlier, I mentioned The Dave Ramsey Show? Well, there’s one area where we definitely differ: He pretty regularly preaches about the evils of credit cards, whereas I’m a big advocate of making them work in my favor. I get why he’s against them… way too many people get in over their head by living beyond their means. But if you’re a regular traveler — and you have a good head on your shoulders — it would be crazy not to rack up the points.  I’ve flown around the world on my American Airlines card, plus they have promotions that give you up to 60,000 miles just for signing up. (As a point of reference, you can typically get a round-trip flight in the continental United States for around 25,000 miles.)

Similarly, all the major cruise lines have cards with attached rewards programs. The card affiliated with Norwegian Cruise Line, for example, offers double points on any NCL-related purchase. So if you put a $3,000 cruise on the card, you’re getting 6,000 points. Same if you charge things on board, including shore excursions or meals in the specialty restaurants. Of course, the key is to make sure you’re paying those cards off every month. Otherwise, the points you accumulate won’t be worth the interest fees you wind up paying.

8. Book A Cruise While On A Cruise

Norwegian Escape in Nassau.

Granted, most of the programs offering you discounts or on-board credit if you book a future cruise while on your current vacation aren’t nearly as lucrative as they once were. Over the years, cruise lines have stripped many of the perks away. It can, however, still work in your favor. For example, if you buy a CruiseNext certificate while on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship, you pay $250 for a certificate of equal value toward your next cruise… and get $100 on-board credit to spend during your current sailing. The more you buy, the more you save. But know exactly what you’re buying, how much credit you’re getting… and any restrictions which will apply.

9. Ask For The Gift You Really Want

Whenever the Spice Girls sing “Tell me what you want, what you really, really want” the answer should be… cruise line gift cards. When your birthday rolls around, don’t be afraid to let Aunt Ruby know that instead of thermal underwear, what you’d really like is a gift card. Just make sure she knows which line you want to cruise on! Meanwhile, make sure to take advantage of good deals when they arise. For example, you can often get gift cards at a 10 percent discount through AARP or Verizon. (This is the one occasion where you can raid that cruise bank account you’ve set up… after all, you’ll be making money in the long run.) Just make sure you know how and when you can use those gift cards, and when they expire.

These are just some of the various ways I’ve developed in my never-ending quest to squeeze in an extra cruise or two each year. With a little inventiveness, foresight and yes, some sacrifice, you’ll be able to set sail too!

Got any money-saving tips for your fellow cruisers? Hit the comments and share them! 

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Everything Carnival Horizon, Part 6: Kid’s Stuff

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Given that yesterday we focused on the various bars featured on the Carnival Horizon, it seems only fair that we dedicate a little time to those who aren’t actually old enough to enjoy them. That’s right, we’re talking about the wee ones today, and looking at what Carnival’s newest ship has to offer them. And being that “family fun” is sort of this line’s middle name, the answer is: lots of stuff.

Where To Take Your Thing 1 and Thing 2

Carnival Horizon

We’re not sure exactly why, but kids and water go together like peanut butter and jelly. And not just little kids… we’re talking about the overgrown ones, too. This ship takes the water park that was so popular on the Carnival Vista and cranks the fun up a notch by adding some of Dr. Seuss’ favorite characters. So far, Horizon is the only ship in the Carnival fleet whose water park features Dr. Seuss creations, but we wouldn’t be at all surprised if that changes in the months to come.

Carnival Horizon

Here, you can choose between the Cat’s Hat slide (which is over 400 feet long) and the Fun Things slide, named after those infamous troublemakers, Thing 1 and Thing 2. While the Fun Things slide is smaller than the Cat’s Hat slide, it’s also quite a bit faster.

Back down on the deck, you’ll also find a great WaterWorks area with a splash zone featuring more ways for your kid to get wet than you even knew existed. There’s also a bucket which periodically dumps 150 gallons of water on those below for reasons some of us will never quite understand, although it undeniably delights the squealing and soaked crowds.Carnival Horizon

Of course, there is also the main pool area, which is a big draw for families. Yes, it can get crowded, and yes, you’ll see chair hogs.

Carnival Horizon

Parents should be advised that while Carnival does have “pool attendants,” they are not actually lifeguards. It is the responsibility of parents to keep an eye on their own offspring, and supervision is outright required for those under 13.

Where to Work off That Energy!

If you don’t mind dealing with the aftereffects (read: sugared-up kids), Cherry on Top is always a favorite spot to stop for candy and custom-made desserts. (We can’t get off any ship featuring this venue without at least three — or maybe five — handmade ice cream sandwiches.)

Carnival Horizon

Another great place that families are drawn to like leaves to the gutter on your roof is the SportSquare complex. And why not? If you want to do it, it’s going to be found here. There’s mini-golf, basketball, foosball, ping-pong, billiards, Twister (yes, Twister!), shuffleboard  and of course, the SkyRide (although be warned: your young ones must be at at least 54 inches tall in order to ride the highway in the sky. Don’t get them prematurely excited if, when you get on board, they aren’t going to be tall enough to enjoy it.)

Carnival Horizon

Photo by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Line

Now, we know this is a family vacation and you no doubt want to spend as much time as possible with your loved ones. But let’s face it: you probably wouldn’t mind ditching them for a while, too, right? (It’s okay to admit… you’re amongst friends). Well, while you’re enjoying all the adults-only activities (which we’ll cover in Part 7), there are kids clubs which will keep the tots entertained. And as with most major cruise lines, they’re broken down by age group. Camp Ocean is for kids 2-11, Circle C handles those 12-14, while teens from 15-17 hang out at Club 02.

Photo by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Lines

One of our very favorite kid-friendly onboard entertainment options is the fun-for-all-ages Hasbro: The Game Show. We recently watched three kids trounce three adults in a game of Connect Four (played on a ginormous backdrop with different colored basketballs serving as the chips usually used in the game). Get there early, make some noise and maybe you’ll get picked to go up on stage and have some fun.

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Something To Do Around Every Corner

Carnival Horizon

Feel like taking in a movie? You’ve got options, including the (for fee) IMAX theater or the (free) Dive-In movies shown most nights by the pool. Keep an eye on the Fun Times newsletter (or the Carnival Hub app, which we can’t recommend enough that you download either before leaving home or once you’ve boarded) to find out where the Fun Squad will be hosting events like the Gotcha! game or the Jenga-like Carnival Tower.

In fact, the Fun Times can really be your best friend. We like to bring a few highlighters — a different color for each member of our traveling party — and then, each night, mark the events we want to make sure to hit tomorrow. This is a really fun activity for the kids, as it makes it feel like they have a say in planning at least part of their vacation.

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How To Find Cheap Flights For Cruising

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If you’re a cruise addict, sooner or later you’re probably going to wind up looking for cheap flights. Sure, there are those who only cruise out of their homeport, but unless you happen to live in Florida — out of which approximately a gazillion ships a year set sail — you’re likely to eventually want to do something other than the limited number of ships and itineraries available from the port closest to your home. Or maybe you find a great deal on a one-way voyage and will need to fly to either the departure or arrival port.

American Airlines

The problem? Over the years, airlines have become very savvy as to what ships are coming into which ports. And while they have no way of knowing exactly how many of those embarking or disembarking passengers are going to be hopping on a plane, you can bet they’ve got a basic idea. They know which seasons are busiest for the cruise industry, and which are slower. They know when the cruise lines will be able to demand top dollar and when bargain hunters will be seeking great deals… and they, like hotels in the vicinity of a popular port, set their prices accordingly.

But if you’re a cruise addict, you also know that there are always ways to find a good bargain or, at the very least, save some money on that premium-priced ticket. Here are some of the ways I’ve managed to land a cheap pre- or post-cruise flight over the years.

1. Use a Flight Consolidator 

It’s amazing to me how few people take advantage of — or are even aware of — flight consolidators. These are basically brokers who buy seats in bulk from various airlines, then resell them, often to travel agents who specialize in discount international travel. There are some public flight consolidators, but most of the best deals available can be arranged through a travel agent.

For years, I didn’t even think about using a consolidator because I’d heard horror stories about them. But in 2013, when looking to cruise out of Barcelona, I decided to bite the bullet and give a consolidator a try. By doing so, I saved over $1,000 and realized that sometimes, you have to experience something for yourself as opposed to listening to what other people have to say.

Some of the consolidators have negotiated fares that are often as much as 50% off of the published fare. For example, I have a cruise booked this spring which sails out of Barcelona. Wanting to save some money, I began looking at my options when it came to flying to the port of departure. The first place I looked was American Airlines (because I have their credit card and get double points). As the screenshot below shows, their flight was going for over $3,000.

Through my travel agent, I looked at rates from a consolidator named Centrav. Guess what? I was able to get basically the same flight for $438. (Plus, there was an additional discount if you paid cash for the ticket!) If you’re following closely, or even not-so-closely, you’ll realize that’s a savings of over $2,500 on just this single ticket!

Of course, as with any time you buy a ticket — no matter who you purchase it through — you need to make sure you’re aware of all the conditions and restrictions. For example, when purchasing through a consolidator, you might not be eligible for credit card bonus points. But given how much you can save, that might not be a big issue.

2. Consider Alternate Airports

Often, there’s more than one option of airports within a reasonable distance from the port. For example, if sailing out of New York City, you can fly into LaGuardia, JFK, or even Newark.  And if you’re sailing out of Miami, it might be cheaper to fly into Fort Lauderdale – or vice versa. Of course, you also have to factor in how you’ll be getting from the airport to the port. Will you need to rent a car? Are there shuttles or some other form of transportation readily available, and at what cost? Heck, do you have a friend who wouldn’t mind playing chauffeur? Depending on the port and the airline, some cruises might offer transfers for a nominal fee.

3. Google Flights

This handy Google feature basically allows you to enter information on when and where you want to travel, then compiles a list of the best rates available. Better still, it gives you the ability to track prices and receive an email when the prices drop.

While I’m a big fan of Google Flights, it’s important to note that they do not list prices on Southwest flights. They do list what flights Southwest has available and information on those flights, but not pricing information.

4. Book During Off-Peak Travel Times

Look, I know it’s very tempting to linger on disembarkation day. You want to have one last breakfast or maybe wander around snapping a few final pictures of the ship. But if you’re willing and able to get off the ship early (especially if you have priority disembarkation), it increases your chances of getting a cheaper flight. Earlier flights are almost always cheaper than those later in the day.

Look at this screenshot showing the difference between a 10 a.m. flight and one leaving just an hour later.

But of course, this comes with a huge caveat: You absolutely, positively have to leave yourself enough time to get off the ship, get through customs (if necessary), and to the airport. Another option is to consider leaving late in the day or in the early evening. Again, because most people want to fly out in the late morning and early afternoon, those are the flights which will wind up costing you the most money. It’s the law of supply and demand in action!

If you find a great price in the evening but don’t relish the idea of spending the idea hanging out at the airport, you can often purchase daytime access to a hotel room at a discount. There are several sites through which you can book this type of thing.

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Read More: 7 Tricks to Booking Cheap Flights

The app I turn to most often is DayUse.com. Enter the city in which you’re going to be spending the afternoon and the date. The app then generates a list of available hotels and tells you how much it will cost you to spend a certain number of hours there. For example, a room might be available from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. for $99. And depending on your budget, isn’t it worth spending $100 not to sit in the airport all day?

5. Bundle Your Airfare and Cruise For A Better Rate

Cruise lines have bulk buying power when it comes to airfare. The savings can be hit or miss, but it’s worth doing a little research to see if it works out in your favor. One major bonus of booking your flight through the cruise line: It guarantees that you will get to the ship if you’re delayed by weather or a mechanical reason.

6. Low-Cost Carriers

Say what you will about low-cost airlines, but they offer affordable pricing in most cities. Sometimes it will be a smaller airport outside of the major city, but if you can save a few hundred dollars — and when traveling with a family, those ticket prices add up! — it could be worth it. Keep in mind that low-cost carriers like Allegiant, Spirit, and Frontier often charge extra fees for carry-on luggage and come with absolutely no perks.

It’s not for everyone, but if you’re looking for an economical way to get from point A to point B, it might be worth at least seeing what kind of rates you can get. Just make sure, as always, you know all the conditions and restrictions attached to the airfare so there are no surprises when you get to the airport.

7. Use an Airline Credit Card

A couple years ago I signed up for the American Airlines Advantage Citi Card. As a sign-up bonus, they gave me 50,000 airline miles. If you book your reward travel far enough in advance you can get a round-trip domestic ticket for 25,000 miles (plus $11 taxes). Which means my sign-up bonus was basically worth two free trips. Now of course, every credit card’s offers, point-plans, and redemption structures are going to be different so, like with everything else we’ve talked about here, it’s important to know what you’re signing up for.

If you know anything about me, you know I’m a big fan of Dave Ramsey… who regularly preaches about the evil of credit cards. However, if you pay it off every month and make it work for you, I don’t see anything wrong with that. My card has a $95 annual fee, although others have no fee at all.

How do you save money on your cruise airfare? 

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5 Ways to Cruise For Less

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Savvy cruisers are always looking for the best deals to save some money on their next vacation. There are plenty of hacks out there for saving money on your next cruise vacation, and here are 5 extra ways to cruise for less.

1. Bunk up with friends.

cruise stateroom

If you’re cruising with friends and don’t mind bunking up, cruise lines regularly offer sales where the 3rd and 4th guests in a cabin can sail along for dirt cheap. Sometimes the fares for the 3rd and 4th cruisers in a cabin are only $10 each, or perhaps even free! While this usually sells well to families booking with kids, it also works in favor of friends cruising together who can simply split the difference and enjoy the savings.

2. Group Bookings = Discounted Rates

Group bookings always get discounted rates that are lower than what you’ll see advertised. Group bookings consist of a minimum of 16 cruisers, based on 2 people to each stateroom. Plus, a big perk to a group booking is that one of the 16 cruisers can cruise with a free base fare (port taxes and fees still apply). Or, the group could always decide to split up those savings.

As a bonus, group bookings usually come with low deposits such as $25. And, if you use a travel agent (which you absolutely should, especially for a group booking), they often know of select sailings when group bookings apply for a group of 10 rather than 16.

3. Book with an onboard credit sale.

Cruise lines regularly have sales that offer onboard credit bonuses. The amount of credit can vary depending on things like the length of your sailing or the type of stateroom you choose to book, but cruise lines will offer anywhere from $50 to $500 in onboard credit. Just keep in mind that the credit is per stateroom, not per person.

4. Use credit card points.

If you are loyal to a cruise line, you could earn your own cruise credit just by applying for the rewards credit card through the cruise line. For example, I cruise Carnival often, so I have a Carnival World Mastercard through Barclays Bank. I charge almost all of my expenses to the card and then pay it off each month, treating it like a debit card. Each quarter I earn on average about $100 in cruise reward points. I can then apply these toward my cruise fare, use them to purchase excursions, pre-purchase onboard credit for myself or things like a drink package, spa package, etc. They say “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” but if you handle your credit card responsibly, you can earn “free money” in rewards.

5. Use a travel agent.

You should always use a travel agent, but just in case you need more reason to do so, travel agents can score you extra deals on your cruise. Agents receive advanced notice and agent-only specials that aren’t advertised to the public. Plus, they can offer onboard credits and incentives that also aren’t available when you book a cruise yourself.

How do you save money on your upcoming cruise?

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