How to Get Cheap CruisesBy Meg Jernigan; Updated June 08, 2017
Can a budget-friendly cruise be on your horizon?
So you want to go on a cruise, but don't want to pay the big bucks? If you want to cruise on a budget, prepare to be nimble when planning. Prices typically drop as departure dates near because empty cabins are a bane to cruise companies. Plan for shoulder season travel, rather than booking for major holidays like New Year’s or Christmas. Keep all expenses such as airfare and onboard extras in mind so that a cheap cruise doesn’t creep into budget-busting territory.
Nuts and bolts of finding cheap cruises
A phone call to a travel agent may find you the best deal on a cruise. Agents have access to lower rates and last minute deals. For do-it-yourselfers, begin with an individual cruise line’s bargain web pages. Carnival, for example, has a Today’s Deals option at the top of its home page. Cruise Sheet searches the internet for last-minute deals and allows you to set up an email alert for future price drops. Cruise Deals does this, too, and also acts as a travel agent for booking trips. Don’t forget old standby travel booking sites like Travelocity, Expedia and Priceline, and make sure to take advantage of discounts for seniors, military members, teachers or others you may qualify for.
My budget is really, really tight
Cruise companies offer deals on ships that otherwise might sail with vacancies. They make money selling food, drinks and other services, so it’s to their advantage to fill cabins even at bargain prices. Look for a cruise in the off season, such as during the school year or hurricane season in the Caribbean. Check out smaller ships with fewer amenities that frequently are cheaper. Once you’ve booked, keep an eye out for price drops on your cruise. Your travel agent or the cruise line might give you an onboard credit for the difference. Costs are frequently lower on repositioning cruises, when companies move ships from one port to another to be ready for the new season.
Other ways to save
Always check to see if there are additional charges for items from upscale professional photos to a simple glass of soda. Many cruise lines allow guests to bring water, beer, wine and liquor on board. It’s much cheaper to bring your own, but make sure you understand the regulations or your stash may be stored away from reach until the end of the trip. Avoid on-shore excursions that carry an extra charge. Instead, make your own sightseeing plans. Stick to the standard free dining options rather than eating at onboard restaurants that charge extra, or look for discount dining packages offered by your cruise line. Limit phone and internet usage as there are added charges for phoning or going online.
Tips for a better cruising experience
Be flexible about destinations and don’t buy a cruise package that includes airfare to and from the port. In all likelihood, you’ll be able to find a lower airfare on your own. If you live close enough to the port, drive and leave the car at a hotel that allows park and stay. Once on board, keep in mind that last-minute travel can mean a less desirable cabin or a dining room table near the kitchen. A good attitude in these circumstances keeps the cruise fun. All of the best plans for finding a cheap cruise can go for naught if your passport is expired or close to expiring. Some countries require that a passport's expiration date is at least six months after the trip is completed. Check the cruise line's requirements for documents when booking.