Booking a cruise? How do you know if you’re getting a great deal? We talked to a variety of experts — including travel agents and luxury travel specialists — and tapped into our own experience to bring you this list of seven tips for booking a luxury cruise at the best possible value.
1. Wait as Long as Possible
It sounds counterintuitive, but booking your cruise at the last minute can really pay off. While this isn’t always the case, some cruise lines will offer reduced prices to fill rooms just before a cruise departs. Keep checking the rates and occupancy as the departure date draws closer. It’s a bit of a risk, but if you’re flexible, you can most likely find a good deal on short notice.
2. Flexibility Is Key
Like waiting to find a deal at the last moment, being flexible in choosing and booking a cruise is one of the best ways to save. Go into your search with an open mind, preferably before settling on any particular destination, cruise line, or even — if possible — time of year. Look at destinations in their off-season, consider less popular routes, and compare similar itineraries across brands.
3. Look for a Repositioning Cruise
Many ships relocate at several points throughout the year, changing locations to sail the upcoming season in a different part of the world. Cruise lines sell these one-way sailings — and often at reduced rates.
Luxury travel expert Jeffrey Ward of Savvy Navigator says, “Repositioning cruises are a great way to get a great rate onboard a beautiful ship. Every fall, many lines reposition ships from Europe down to the Caribbean, and these are great trips for those who love being at sea. In the spring, the ships return to Europe from the Caribbean. If you’ve ever dreamed of a Transatlantic crossing in suite-category cabin, this is the way to do it.”
4. Use a Travel Agent
“Buying a cruise is a specialized purchase that requires a greater degree of understanding than other travel bookings,” says Scott Kertes of Vacations by Design @ Hartford Holidays. “In the world of luxury cruises, there are many choices ranging from ship size; cabin size; dining, entertainment, and enrichment options; demographics and lifestyles; inclusions and exclusions.” Not only can a travel agent — especially one who specializes in cruises — help you navigate all the options, they can also find you better rates and snag you better extras than you would likely get on your own, Kertes says.
5. Choose the Right Port City
Flying to the city your sailing leaves from can be a huge add-on cost to a cruise vacation. Factor in the price of air travel when choosing your cruise. If possible, choose a cruise that leaves from a port you can drive to — and don’t forget the smaller ones! If flying is absolutely necessary, look into cruises that depart out of a city that may be cheaper for you to fly to.
6. Price Out the Extras
Planning out your onboard spending in advance is a great way to save money. Beverages, for example, can really add up over the course of your cruise, so a prepaid beverage package might be the way to go. Just don’t make any assumptions — research the cost of drinks onboard (don’t forget soft drinks) and see if a beverage package will save you money, or offers more than you’re likely to need, resulting in possible overspending.
7. Explore Shore Excursion Options
Start planning out your port visits before you get onboard — and do your research. While a cruiser’s first instinct may be to choose from a cruise line’s own shore excursion options, an outside company may offer similar tours and activities at a lower price. Alternately, some luxury cruise lines offer included excursions on some or all sailings. Even if these cruise fares seem more expensive, do the math on what excursions would cost you, and you may find that the higher fares are a better deal in the end.
You can also check to see if your credit card rewards (or, in some cases, concierge) can help with paying for or finding excursions. While rewards cards can be valuable, they are generally available only to applicants with good or excellent credit (if yore not sure where you stand, you can get a free credit report snapshot from Credit.com). In addition, rewards cards are a good deal only for those who pay their balances off in full each month. Otherwise, you’ll likely spend more on interest than you receive in rewards.
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