How to Get a Cruise Deal
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.
Choose Your Timing
For the luxe lines, book as soon as possible. Some companies announce sailings as early as a year and a half in advance at rates that are as much as 60 percent off, and come with spectacular extras like onboard credits, 2-for-1 deals, and free airfare and transfers. On the more mass-market lines, you may get early deals and upgrades, but the best fares right now are last-minute specials (though this could change in the months ahead as prices stabilize).
Use a Travel Agent
Their special relationships with cruise lines mean that agents often have access to better rates than you could get by booking on your own. They can also provide value-added perks, including onboard credits, private tours and excursions, and prepaid gratuities. You’ll find lists of preferred agents on the lines’ websites. Or check out T+L’s A-List travel agents who specialize in cruising (see “Where to Cruise in 2010”).
Pick Your Cabin Carefully
You don’t have to give up a veranda to get a deal—sometimes all you have to do is move down one deck, as is the case with Crystal Cruises, where going from Deck 9 to 8 can save you $250 per person. Once you choose a category, have your agent, who will be familiar with the ship’s layout, help you pick the quietest room.
Watch the Airfares
Cruise lines negotiate rates with airlines early, so if airfares drop later, the line no longer has the best deal—but if prices go up, you’re in luck. Before you reserve, check out airfares both with the line and on your own.
Book Your Next Trip on Ship
Showing your loyalty by planning your next cruise while on board has long had its benefits, but recently cruise lines have upped the ante. Some offer as much as 10 percent off to people who book their next sailing before leaving the ship, while others provide up to $200 in onboard credits for the next cruise.
Get on Everyone’s List
The same advice that goes for airlines and hotels goes for cruise lines. Sign up for loyalty programs and e-mail blasts, and you’ll get special sale fare alerts.
Protect Your Investment
If you do book early, consider paying in full, as many lines offer an additional savings of up to 15 percent off the price. Research insurance (some companies offer refunds if you lose your job later) and ask the line if it offers a price guarantee, so you’re protected if rates continue to drop.
Take a Repositioning Cruise
Repositioning cruises—when a ship is moved from, say, summering in Alaska to wintering in the Caribbean—can offer great value, plus the chance to visit off-the-beaten track ports. A couple caveats: Be prepared to spend more days at sea and to buy a one-way airline ticket, as these sailings start in one city and end in another.
Go During Shoulder Season
Cruises during shoulder season (like December to early April in the Caribbean) can cost 20 to 30 percent less than peak season trips. Just be sure you’re still getting what you want out of the trip, whether that’s perfect beach weather or colorful fall foliage.
Follow Cruise Lines on Twitter
Most major cruise lines have Twitter accounts to keep followers up-to-date on their latest promotions and news. Cruise Critic (@cruisecritic)—and other Tweeters with an active community—is a great forum to post questions about deals, itineraries, ships, and cabins.