Frequent travelers Gil Engel and his wife, Linda, wanted to cruise to Australia last year but found the prices—more than $8,000 per person—to be out of reach. Yet in March, the Engels are boarding the Princess Dawn for a 28-day cruise round-trip from Sydney, stopping in Darwin, Melbourne, and Tasmania. What did they pay? Just $3,700—more than 50 percent off the listed rate.
Getting that price took several months of active price monitoring and some clever haggling from their travel agent. But finding a cruise deal is still easier than ever. “This past year, cruise lines have been offering never-before-seen deals,” says Amy Daniel, the Engels’ agent at Alabama World Travel. Indeed, with a down economy—and the arrival of new vessels ordered in more prosperous times, like the 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas—lines have been scrambling to fill their ships, enticing potential customers with slashed rates, shipboard credits, and free airfare.
This strategy has been working for the cruise lines: last August, Oceania announced that 32 of its 2010 sailings were already sold out, thanks to a two-for-one promotional offer on European sailings. Meanwhile, the Yachts of Seabourn—which introduced discounts of up to 65 percent off brochure fares—reported that 2010 advance-booking sales more than doubled from 2009.
Because of that success, cruise lines have started to rethink their pricing strategies for the upcoming year. “Fares are already on the rise to some extent—some as much as 20 percent,” says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of Cruisecritic.com. “But rate hikes aren’t as consistent as the industry would have hoped, which means that there are still a lot of great offers out there. You just have to work harder to find them.”
Navigating the cruise industry to find a true deal in this ever-changing travel climate can be daunting, so Travel + Leisure compiled a list of money-saving tips. Some advice is timeless, like relying on a trusted travel agent. After all, these experts know the ins and outs of every ship and may be able to book a balcony stateroom for the price of an interior cabin, just by selecting the right deck. Other suggestions involve a little more legwork, like monitoring Twitter for deals.
From when to book your cruise to money-saving itineraries, here’s our step-by-step guide to finding value on the high seas.