Ready to set sail? Here are some tips for saving money on a cruise vacation:
The cruise industry is launching its Oct. 20-27 sale week, but if you’re not ready to take the plunge yet, cruise lines also offer discounts during the annual “Wave Season,” which runs from January through March.
You may get a lower price attempting to book at the last minute, but by booking early, during sale periods, you can often get perks such as free airfare to the departure city; an upgraded cabin; or onboard credits to spend on extras like a massage.
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To take advantage of such incentives, travelers need to book at least four to six months in advance to get the ship, travel dates and state room of choice, said Carrie Finley-Bajak, CEO of the cruising information site CruiseBuzz.net.
Also, if you aren’t picky about which cabin you get, you can save by accepting an unspecified cabin guarantee — letting the cruise line choose where to put you, depending on what’s available.
High season is generally during the summer and other times of the year when school is out. That includes spring break, around the December holidays, Thanksgiving, etc.
For the best deals, book travel for other times of the year: you can sometimes find deals after Thanksgiving and before Christmas. And in spring or fall, Caribbean and Mediterranean cruises are more affordable, as are Alaskan voyages, said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief, of CruiseCritic.com, which has online cruise reviews and advice.
SAIL OLD SCHOOL
Select a cruise with an older ship. It may not have as many amenities, but it also won’t have nearly as many of the cabins with balconies, which are pricier than the smaller interior cabins.
Cruise lines move their ships from their rotation in one region to another every few months, usually as the high season in one region cools off and before the next destination heats up. For example, a ship will shift from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean for the winter, or vice versa. Or from the Caribbean to Alaska for the summer (and do a cost-comparison on cruises from Seattle or Vancouver, B.C., to Alaska).
Booking a vacation on one of these repositioning cruises can be significantly cheaper than a regular itinerary. However, repositioning cruises are only one-way. The voyage also can take 10 days to two weeks, with fewer stops at ports along the way.
TARGET CHEAPER ITINERARIES
The shorter the voyage, the less costly the cruise. If you’re looking for ultracheap, go for a three-day cruise, which tend to compete more on price.
Other ways to find deals: Monitor sites that advertise deals. Some of them include Cruisebuzz.net, Cruise.com and Cruisedeals.com. In addition, getting on cruise company mailing lists can tip you off to sales in advance.
CONSIDER A TRAVEL AGENT
A cruise vacation has a lot of components to sort out, from air travel to offshore activities that often are not included in your cruise costs. Travel agents can help sort out the details and find deals.
ACCOUNT FOR EXTRAS
The term all-inclusive is often associated with a cruise vacation, but in most cases, it’s far from the truth.
“If anybody says cruising is all-inclusive, they’re crazy,” said Spencer Brown, adding that passengers have to pay extra to visit the spa, use the Internet, eat at certain restaurants and for shore excursions. There may also be a hotel stay before your departure, government taxes, fees and gratuities to cover.
Here’s a tool to help add up potential travel costs when you book a cruise: independenttraveler.com/travel-budget-calculator