Home > Personal Finance > 10 Things to Know Before You Book a Cruise

Comments 0 Comments

More than 20 million people will go on cruises this year, spending an average of $1,779 per passenger per week, according to Cruise Market Watch. The advantages people find in this type of travel include the opportunity to explore multiple destinations without checking in and out of hotels, having amenities and entertainment all in one place, and the chance to make friends with fellow travelers. Because the price covers transportation, lodging and at least some of the food, it’s not cheap, but it can be reasonable.

But before you say anchors aweigh, it will pay to learn a little about cruising. Because while an all-inclusive bundle sounds great, you could encounter fishy pricing structures within the cruise world that you need to understand.

To find out how to best enjoy smooth sailing and good value, we checked in with Stewart Chiron. He’s taken more than 100 cruises in the past 25 years and maintains CruiseGuy.com. Here are his top 10 tips:

1. Research Online, Book Through an Agent 

It’s always a good idea to do some comparison shopping and find interesting itineraries at decent rates — but Chiron says book through an agent, not a website. That way, you’re sure to get the most current deals, plus any insider discounts. “There may be resident discounts, military discounts, discounts based on the part of the country you live in, and last-minute deals,” Chiron says. “An experienced cruise agent can get you the right trip in the right cabin at the right price.”

The “experienced” part is important, Chiron says. You want someone with “real-world experience” and who’s been on the specific ship you’re considering, so you can ask about the quality of the food and entertainment, get an idea of what’s included in the ticket price, and learn about the atmosphere — some cruises are intimate and formal, some are more family-friendly, and others are just big party boats.

2. Book ASAP

While many cruise destinations are available year-round, the best rooms aren’t. The top rooms on the top ships are usually booked up to two years in advance. Booking early has other perks, too. “If the price drops before you make the final payment, you’ll have the cabin at the lower price,” Chiron says. “When you have this mad rush of people looking to book that last-minute space, you end up with the better cabin and you save the money.”

3. Join Loyalty Programs

Before you book a cruise, make sure you’re signed up for the line’s rewards program. It’s usually free, and there’s no reason not to start racking up free benefits. It’s not like you have to be loyal to any one cruise line either. That’s just the fastest way to get perks like free gifts and food, priority reservations and service, and on-board discounts.

4. Book Ship & Flight Separately

This isn’t always cheaper — you should definitely compare — but it usually costs less to pay your own way to the port of departure. This is because cruise lines have to look at air rates much further out than you do. Sometimes, though, they offer “free air” — in other words, the airfare cost is bundled into the ticket price, and you’re paying for it whether you use it or not. So when you talk to an agent, ask for a comparison of the cruise only and cruise and air rates.

“Less than 30% of all airline tickets are booked direct [through the cruise],” Chiron says, and going around them could save you hundreds, “especially when you’re going for more exotic itineraries, like to Europe.”

Self-bookings also mean you have control over the times and number of connecting flights. But on the downside, flight delays may be your problem to deal with. When the flight comes with the cruise, they make sure you get on the boat.

5. Budget for Extras

“All-inclusive” is often a little misleading. The basics are covered, but if you want better dining, specialty services like massages, some forms of entertainment — including gambling, merchandise and alcohol — you’d better bring extra cash. “On the newer ships you have specialty restaurants,” Chiron says. “The beauty is the sky’s the limit: There’s incredible options for you to customize your experience your way, which makes a whole lot of difference.”

6. Tip Less

Don’t feel guilty about not tipping everybody who serves you. A per-day gratuity is usually built into the ticket price to cover tips. On the other hand, a lot of these guys and gals aren’t paid that well, so a little extra tip might mean a big boost in the service you get. Remember you’re going to be seeing these people for several days, not just for one meal or one night at a hotel. For advice on who and how to tip, ask.

7. Check With the Government

There are at least two government-run websites to check when booking a cruise. One is travel.state.gov, which has the latest travel advisories about dangerous destinations and rules about visa and immunization requirements. Many countries are on good terms with the United States and are eligible for a visa waiver, but some aren’t. And if you have any issues with your passport — or don’t have one — this is your first resource. The site also has plenty of info about country-specific crime, laws, medical facilities and other stuff travelers need to know.

The second site to check is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has cruise ship inspection results, tips on staying healthy, and outbreak updates. You may have heard it’s common to get sick on cruises, and it’s true there are a lot of people in close quarters on board. Of course, it’s possible to get sick anywhere, but things like noroviruses are often associated with cruises because health officials require the industry to make reports. “They have to report anything over 3% of the passenger crew count,” Chiron says.

8. DIY Excursions

If you’re cruising for a bruising, look no further than the added expense of excursions. Guided exploration and tours in foreign countries can be a lot of fun, but they are also pricey, and the cruise lines make a lot of their profit this way. However, like airfare, you don’t have to book your adventures through the cruise, and it’s often cheaper not to.

“I always recommend people go on the cruise lines’ websites and see what’s being offered in the ports on your cruise,” Chiron says. “At a lot of ports, you can do it yourself, see more, and have it be a lot less expensive. Eight people on a short excursion in Europe for $200 a person? That’s $1,600 you could use to plan a very personable, private VIP tour for significantly less money that’s going to be much more memorable for you and your friends.”

9. Look at Travel Insurance

Like everything else, you could get your insurance through the cruise. But, like everything else, it’s often cheaper to shop around and buy elsewhere. Especially if you’re touring through a port that’s risky for whatever reason — seasonal weather, political instability, violent crime, disease — you may want coverage for illness, cancellations or evacuations. Check out a site like InsureMyTrip.com for comparison rates.

10. Check for Repositioning Cruises

As we mentioned, many destinations in the Mediterranean and Caribbean are available year-round. Others aren’t, and when cruise ships are switching routes, you can score big. “It’s all weather-related, and some ships are offering repositioning cruises when they’re going to or from Europe or to or from Alaska,” Chiron says. “They have incredible itineraries that are usually combinations of three or four itineraries and cruise lines are just giving that away” at the regular rates. These route changes usually occur during or after September.

Bottom line? Cruising can be an extraordinary adventure but can come with an extraordinary price tag. Plan well, and you can sail the seas without worrying about buried treasure. And as Chiron puts it: “It’s a great way to see the world because you’re not packing and unpacking, not checking out of hotels, and not waiting in airports. My favorite part is you’re not waking up in the same boring place every day.”

This post originally appeared on Money Talks News. 

Image: iStock

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Our Owners

Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. which is the owner and administrator of a number of business related to credit and credit repair, including CreditRepair.com, and eFolks. In addition, Progrexion also provides services to Lexington Law Firm as a third party provider. Despite being owned by Progrexion, it is not the role of the Credit.com editorial team to advocate the use of the company’s other services. In articles, reporters may mention credit repair as an option, for example, but we’ll also be sure to note the various alternatives to that service. Furthermore, you may see ads for credit repair services on Credit.com, but the editorial team isn’t responsible for the creation or implementation of those ads, anymore than reporters for the New York Times or Washington Post are responsible for the ads on their sites.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team