Getting the Best Cruise Price Tips
Read these 10 Getting the Best Cruise Price Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Cruises tips and hundreds of other topics.
Stateroom size and location have an impact on cruise price and enjoyment. Consider these factors when choosing a stateroom aboard ship:
- Inside cabins are the least expensive. However, spending a little more for an oceanview or balcony cabin adds value to the over-all cruise experience for most cruisers. Some travelers say they spend very little time in the cabin, but viewing a spectacular sunrise, a magnificent rainbow or scenic shorelines clad in pajamas in the privacy of a suite or balcony cabin is worth the price. And, the price difference may be minimal on large ships with many balcony cabins.
- Choose the highest affordable cabin category and request an upgrade if available. Travel agents/cruise specialists who do a lot of business with a cruise line sometimes get preferential upgrades for their clients.
- Do not leave cabin/stateroom assignment to chance. Consult a deck plan in cruise brochures or online for exact stateroom locations and request a specific room. Avoid cabins located below or above nightclubs, theaters or the gym. Avoid cabins across from the laundry and housekeeping stations. Avoid cabins next to elevators or in a corridor near the dining room. Avoid outside cabins on promenade decks where walkers and runners pound past and the view may be obstructed. Avoid cabins in the bow (front) of the ship. Waves hitting the bow reverberate through bow cabins and there is more motion in this area. Choose a cabin mid-ship on a mid-level deck for the least motion at sea and a central location for all cruise activities.
- Understanding “ROS” or “Best Cabin Guarantees.” ROS (Run of Ship) guarantee means you pay for the lowest category cabin and possibly receiving an upgrade to a higher category cabin if it is available near sailing date. Best Cabin Guarantees means getting the “best cabin available in a certain category” rather than choosing a specific cabin. There is no true guarantee for ROS or Best Cabin Guarantees. There is only the possibility of an upgrade and no choice of cabin location if an upgrade does occur. You could wind up with a higher category cabin in an undesirable location such as in the bow of the ship or above the disco. Choose a specific cabin rather than risk disappointment in your cabin location.
There is much to be said for sitting down face-to-face with a local travel agent who can facilitate cruise options and choices. A local travel agent who understands your needs and your budget and knows the cruise market may also have access to special promotions and perks not offered online. They can help you decipher the fine print such as cancellations, penalties and restrictions. A local travel agent is your travel advocate. They have more clout than individual travelers when it comes to problem solving savvy.
If you do not know a local travel agent, check your local telephone Yellow Pages. Contact the Chamber of Commerce for travel agent members. Visit CLIA's Website (www.cruising.org) for a list of member cruise travel agencies in your area or ask friends for personal recommendations.
All travel agencies book cruises, but cruise specialists often have access to more specials and amenities than a general travel agency. Examples of perks includes: prepaid gratuities, complimentary shore excursions and shipboard credits. Some of the leading online cruise specialists recommended by frequent cruisers include:
- Cruise Brokers (www.cruisebrokers.com) - one of oldest online cruise agencies
- Cruise.com (ww.cruise.com) - claims to be the largest cruise specialist Website.
- Cruise Marketplace (www.cruisemarketplace.com) - named to Arthur Frommer's “New World of Travel” list as one of nations best cruise specialists.
- Cruise Center (www.cruisecenter.com) - boasts over 10,000 discounted cruises.
- Cruise Deals (www.cruisedeals.com) - owned by Carlson Travel Corp.
Also, check out Cruise Compete (www.cruisecompete.com)
. This Website is a reverse auction site. You choose cruises you are interested in from drop-down menus and many of the above agencies bid for your business. There is no obligation to purchase and it is a great way to compare cruise prices and perks.
Heads Up: When shopping for a cruise or any travel on the Internet; look for a customer service toll-free number. No number? Look elsewhere. It is important to talk directly with agency representatives when there are questions or problems.
Most cruise line Websites provide a wealth of information on cruise pricing, categories stateroom layouts and more:
- Begin by checking cruise line “specials” for promotions and discounts.
- Compare fares between different itineraries, travel dates, categories of staterooms and different levels of the ship. Print fares for comparisons with other travel sources.
- Call the cruise line's toll-free number and ask about free or discount airfare, pre or post night hotel stays and other promotions that are often not on the Website.
- If one cruise is stands out above the rest, request a “hold” while researching travel options. A hold is particularly helpful when you want to book air using frequent flyer mileage or compare airfares from different cities and airlines. Typical holds range from 24-hours to seven days.
- While on the cruise line Website, print deck plans and cabin layouts to help select the best cabin or suite if you decide to book the cruise.
There are extremes in cruise pricing. Prices featured in most cruise line brochures are the equivalent of hotel “rack rates.” Don't let these prices scare you. They are highest rate that virtually no one pays. You can often save 50%-70% over cruise brochure rates. On the other hand, major city newspapers and online travel Websites abound with offers for week-long cruises for as low as $499. There are also cruise auction Websites that feature cruises at rock-bottom prices. Bidder beware! Don't get excited without doing your due diligence. These teaser bargain fares and cruise auctions don't include expensive mandatory government and port fees and there are many add-ons based on sailing dates, stateroom categories and other fees. Read the fine print!
Interestingly, with the exception of suites, cruise prices are not based on the size of a standard cabin as much as cabin location. The lead prices quoted in newspaper ads and specials on the Internet (the ones that say “from”) are usually for an inside cabin deep in the ship. No window. If you are claustrophobic, avoid booking inside cabins. Naturally, an inside cabin costs the least, followed by oceanview cabins, balcony cabins and suites. Another rule of thumb, the higher the deck, the higher the cruise cabin price.
As a rule, the more balcony cabins on a cruise ship, the lower the balcony cabin prices are. If possible, treat yourself to a private balcony cabin. The full glass door and balcony make your cabin seem much larger. Balconies offer a private retreat with all the benefits of being out on deck. On a scenic cruise, such as the Panama Canal or Alaska , a private balcony greatly enhances your cruise experience. And if money is no object, savor the luxury of a mini-suite or full suite .
Regardless of whether you choose a local travel agency or an online cruise specialist, before you commit to booking a cruise:
- Don't be pressured into making hasty travel decisions. Travel agents and cruise line sales representatives can usually hold cruise reservations for a short time to give you the chance to consider all options.
- Read everything carefully…especially the fine print. Be sure you understand cruise cancellation policies and all restrictions and limitations.
- Charge all cruise travel on a credit card. If a cruise agency does not accept credit cards go elsewhere.
- Don't rely on verbal agreements and promises. If you are promised extra amenities, such as a cruise cabin upgrade or onboard credits, get these promises in writing
In addition to searching for special cruise discounts and deals, here are some additional strategies for finding the best cruise prices:
- Choose a cruise destination with lots of competition. For example, many cruise lines offer Caribbean and Alaska itineraries and prices are competitive. There are fewer cruises to Asia, the Antarctic and Africa so these cruises cost more. It also takes longer and costs more to get to the cruise embarkation port.
- Book early. Cruise specialists say best fares are typically six months to one year in advance. Booking early also offers the best choice of cabins, dining and pre or post cruise stays. (Note: if you do book early and the price of the cruise goes down, most cruise lines will honor the difference until final payment about 60 days before your cruise.)
- Book last minute. Due to competitive early booking discounts, last minute deals are not as prevalent as in years past. It is also difficult to find reasonable last minute airfare. However, flexible travelers who live within driving distance of cruise ports should register online with cruise lines and cruise specialists for last minute Email bargain alerts.
- Be flexible. Cruise fares vary 30% or more between high season and low or shoulder season. Delaying sailing by a week or two or sailing a week or two earlier may result in significant savings.
- Least expensive cruise fares may not actually cost less in the long run. Bargain cruise lines offer few amenities and perks and many hidden costs. Factor in freebies such as free airfare, pre- or post-night stays, complimentary wine/open bar, gratuities included, shipboard credits and free excursions that are standard on some luxury cruises and they may actually cost less. (See Hidden Costs of Cruising.)
It's equally important to understand what cruise travel agents cannot do for you. Travel agents are professionals. They are in business to make a living. Don't expect a local travel agent to spend hours researching a cruise for you and comparing other cruise prices without a fee, especially if you do not book your cruise with them.
Travel agents will do everything possible to ensure that your cruise meets expectations; however, they cannot guarantee you a perfect cruise. They cannot guarantee that your flights will be on time or that your cruise ship will wait for you. They cannot “double-book” different flights or with multiple airlines so you have back-ups. While they are your cruise advocate when there are travel problems or emergencies, they are not ultimately responsible for missed flights, lost bags and unavoidable travel disappointments. Although they negotiate with airlines, hotels and cruise lines, they sometimes cannot prevent travel problems and their consequences.
Knowing where you want to cruise and having a realistic idea of how much you can spend on a cruise is important. The more information you provide for a cruise specialist, the better they can help you find the best cruise at the best price. Discuss how many people are traveling with you and any special requirements they have. If cruise cost is your primary consideration, make sure the agent understands this and offers cost-saving options. Discuss offers you see advertised or on the Internet and give them the chance to make a competitive offer.
A good travel agent works with you to determine when to cut corners and when to stretch your cruise budget a bit. Keep in mind you get what you pay for and the cheapest cruise is not always the best way to go. Be open-minded to the agent's suggestions and receptive to alternative ideas. However, be wary if a cruise agent pushes only one cruise line instead of offering comparisons among several cruise lines. Rather than being objective, the agent may be influenced by high commissions or agent promotions with that cruise line.
Whether you choose an online cruise specialist or a local travel agent, it is important to choose a travel agent who understands your travel style and is interested in establishing a long-term relationship with you…not just making a quick sale. Unfortunately you are just a booking number with some online cruise agencies. You may not have a designated cruise travel agent. You must speak with agents on “duty” at the time of your calls rather than establishing a relationship with one cruise specialist.
The way the agency answers the telephone and responds to your initial cruise inquiries gives you a good idea how they approach customer service. Asking some basic questions can help narrow your choices:
- What professional cruise training do you/your agents have?
- Are you a member of American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) or Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA)?
- What cruise research and booking services do you provide and what services do you charge for?
- Do you have a toll-free 24-hour telephone number for assistance in the event of problems or last minute needs?
- What do you offer that other cruise agencies don't offer?
If a travel agent does not welcome your inquiries and is not interested in spending the time to learn about your cruise preferences and concerns, find another agent who is.