“You paid WHAT?”
Everyone wants a good deal…or at least to think they have a good deal. With cruise prices fluctuating at times as wildly as airfares, how do you know that you’re getting the lowest possible price or coveted value-added amenities?
Here are suggestions that may truly increase your chances to get the most value for your dollar.
7. Book your cruise as far in advance as possible. In the “old” days, people would show up at the port, suitcase in hand, 30 minutes before sailing time in hopes of negotiating a last-minute bargain. Those days are over; the tide has turned. Homeland Security wouldn’t allow it and ships seem to always sail full.
The best values, accommodations and availability are offered 10 to 18 months before the cruise, not the week of the cruise. Seriously. Many cruise lines offer early booking savings and will even upgrade those who booked early so the cruise line can then “re-sell” their original cabin to a new customer at a higher price. This isn’t rocket science. Supply and demand drives the rates and, as a ship nears capacity due to heavy sales, fares will increase for those people who book closer to the sailing date.
If you can pick up and go, aren’t fussy about the itinerary, the accommodations or what cruise line, you just might find a last minute bargain (I said “bargain” not a “steal”) one to three months before the cruise. Why? The online cruise sellers block group space as soon as it is open for sale. Eventually they have to return the unsold allotment or get stuck with unsold “merchandise.” This starts to happen somewhere in the vicinity of 90 days before the cruise.
But you absolutely can’t be choosy. The discounted cabin might be all the way at the bow on a very high deck or all the way aft on a very low deck. Think lots of motion and engine vibration, respectively.
If you are willing to spend hundreds of dollars for last minute air fares, then the more exotic cruise itineraries may have the best opportunity for snagging a decent cabin on a last minute (90 days or less) cruise.
6. Look for added benefits and amenities. To entice guests, cruise lines add additional benefits to specific cruises in order to add value and uniqueness when a price drop isn’t in the plan. For example, many times they’ll offer onboard credits (actual dollars that may spent onboard), pre- or post-cruise hotel stays, complimentary airport transfers, lunches or dinners in the specialty restaurants, private shore excursions or onboard functions.
5. You might qualify for special rates or discounts. Many cruise lines will offer senior citizen rates (over 55), active/retired military discounts and resident rates. From time to time, cruise lines like to say “thank you” to those who belong to or have careers with organizations. Firefighters, police, and teachers will have special pricing as a way to show appreciation for all they do for the community. Many times the online cruise “discounters” fail to ask if you fall into any of these categories for special offers.
4. Frequent cruiser? Ask about any Alumni discounts. Most of the cruise lines have their own past passenger clubs. Holland America has their Mariner Club, Carnival Cruise line has their Guest Recognition program, Crystal has their Crystal Society and so on. Each cruise line offers rewards for being a repeat passenger. It may be in the form of a discounted rate, category upgrades, onboard amenities, welcome back parties, or even complimentary wash and fold for your clothes. Cruise lines that are owned by the same company, i.e. Royal Caribbean, may offer past passenger/loyalty rewards simply because you’ve cruised on one of their “sister” cruise lines.
3. Book your next cruise while on your current one. The cruise lines know that the best time to sell a cruise is when their passengers are having a wonderful time on their current cruise. Most cruise lines are very generous and offer extra special savings to passengers that deposit and/or reserve a future cruise while still onboard. You may receive onboard credits worth over $100 per person, a discounted rate, category upgrades, and a reduced deposit.
Another advantage of booking onboard is that you are able to choose your perfect cabin, itinerary and sail date. Most importantly, all you have to do is to tell the cruise lines’ onboard booking agent that you want to have your travel agent back home handle your new reservation. The Future Cruise Consultant (as they are usually called) will look up your travel agent’s name from your existing reservation and give the credit to that agency. Chances are, the agent at home will be so excited that you might even receive a special thank you gift for your effort.
2. Invest in the stock market…cautiously, of course. Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Cruise Lines, being publicly held companies, offer onboard credits to their shareholders. With 100 shares of either company, you are given up to $200 to spend onboard your cruise. If you cruise enough, you can actually make back the cost spent on buying their stock.
1. My #1 best suggestion would be to develop a relationship with a knowledgeable Travel Agent – Look for someone you trust and have confidence in knowing that they work for your best interest. Working with someone you know and trust is far more sensible than chasing a bargain on a computer any day. More times than not, if it’s too good to be true, it usually is. Online mega-agencies may charge hidden service fees, cancellation fees, and penalty fees for name changes or to have documents mailed to your door. Sometimes the charges or penalties are written in grey and in teeny, tiny font. If you should find something fabulous online, let your travel agent know and they can almost always match it.
Travel agents also know when the cruise lines plan to open their new deployment schedules. A home-based travel agent has access to the same sailings and rates as do the huge online agencies. Let your travel agent know what’s on your cruise bucket list and they can watch for it to become “open to sell” and grab the best rates and the most onboard amenities.
There you have it – seven ways to snare the best possible cruise deal and value for your money. Have a great cruise. I hope to see you onboard soon.
PS. If you have any secret tips or tricks for securing a good cruise price, please leave a comment to share with others. Cruise on! – by Sherry Laskin, RFT Contributor and “Cruse Maven”