10 surprising ways to save money on a cruise


Everyone relishes that sweet feeling of satisfaction when you triumphantly nail a bargain, especially where holidays are concerned.

Scouring newspapers, newsletters and websites for cruise offers with early-booking incentives or last-minute deals is common practice and keen rivalry between cruise companies means there is an ocean of choice.

Furthermore, since the pandemic major cruise lines are increasingly rolling in extras, such as gratuities, drinks and Wi-Fi, as part of the overall price or in special add-on deals.

But while these are the most common routes to securing a cruise bargain, there’s a plethora of less obvious options that customers can use to drive prices down even further.

1. Qualify for a loyalty program

These have become vital weapons in the fiercely-fought battle to keep hold of customers and any cruise company worth its salt will have some sort of retention scheme.

They are similar to frequent-flier programs, and perks include cruise discounts and on-board offers, priority check-in, free gifts and invites to cocktail parties. At the very top end, guests can even receive free cruises, though to qualify for such lavish rewards demands a fairly significant outlay.

Clients generally gain automatic membership after accruing a set number of cruise nights (rather than sailings) for which loyalty points are allocated. The entry level is usually around 15-20 nights – though it can be lower for luxury lines. Points are used to calculate which tier passengers qualify for. The higher the tier, the better the benefits.

2. Snap up a repositioning voyage

These slightly offbeat sailings occur as cruise lines relocate their ships from one region of the globe to another, mainly in the spring and autumn, with prices that can be as much as 50 per cent lower than regular sailings. The Atlantic is one of the prime repositioning routes, with voyages between the Americas, where ships spend the winter, and Europe, where many are based for the summer.

Such sailings generally have more days at sea than regular cruises and durations can be irregular. As they are one-way crossings, you need to factor in one-way flights, though these are sometimes included in the price.

Such sailings are not promoted as repositioning cruises, but described as “transoceanic” or “discovery” voyages. Alternatively, they may be named after the destinations involved.

3. Play the cabin lottery

If you’re willing to take the risk of letting the cruise line pick your cabin, you could be allocated one that is a few grades higher than whichever you booked (and certainly nothing lower). However, it’s worth noting that you may not discover your cabin number until you check in and you will be unable to choose its location on the ship.

4. Book early – but with a price guarantee

There’s nothing more galling than snapping up your ideal cruise months or even years before it sails, only to see the price you paid discounted as the departure date nears. Miles Morgan, founder of travel agency chain Miles Morgan Travel, recommends that anyone tempted by early-booking bargains should check if the cruise company guarantees to match the new price and refund the difference. “Saga Cruises is one of the companies that does this and there are others too,” he added. “They reduce the price accordingly so customers who book early do not lose out.”

5. Consider a travel agent

Cruise companies may be reluctant to discount their sailings too heavily but will push them out of the back door, so to speak, to travel agents.

The agencies will then put together one-off deals, sometimes including flights and hotels, thus creating bespoke packages that often provide better value than equivalent arrangements customers might put together themselves.

It’s also worth shopping around between cruise agencies as prices for the same sailing can vary, depending upon the package, as could the benefits offered. These could range from flight upgrades and free parking to cabin upgrades and on-board credits.

Some travel retailers – such as Six Star Cruises – also have their own VIP clubs, offering various loyalty benefits.

6. Book on board

It may seem a little premature to bag your next cruise before you’ve even completed your current one, but many people do and most ships have an on-board booking desk where incentives can include special discounts.

A deposit is usually required, but if one changes their mind after disembarking, they can cancel the booking and the deposit will be refunded or put towards a different sailing.

7. Arrange your own flights

With fly-cruises, it can be cheaper to organize your own flights than accept the ones offered by the cruise company. This is especially true on cruises departing (and returning to) cities where there is a good choice of flights, such as Barcelona, ​​Rome (Civitavecchia) and Palma de Mallorca, and the likelihood is that you will be able to jump on a budget carrier for less.

8. Sail with your friends and family

Alison Earnshaw, managing director of online cruise agencies Cruise 118, Six Star Cruises and River Voyages, says there has been a significant increase in people traveling together post-pandemic and, if groups are large enough, they can qualify for various perks.

“Cruise lines may offer special rates or a free place, perhaps on a ratio of one free place in 12 or one in 16,” she explains. “Sometimes there will be other benefits such as onboard credit too.” Cabin upgrades and free Wi-Fi may also be offered.

9. Join the Army

Most of the main lines, including Royal Caribbean International (RCI), P&O Cruises, Celebrity Cruises and MSC Cruises, offer discounts or on-board credits for members of the Armed Forces, with some also including NHS staff, teachers, social care sector and emergency service workers. RCI also offers reduced “senior prices” for guests aged 55 and over.

10. Go in shoulder season

May and June can be among the most difficult months to sell, particularly in the Mediterranean, as they fall between winter and the main summer season. April and November may also be slow and, as a result, cruises can be at least 20 per cent lower during these times.

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