Now comes the most important stuff – how to find the best cruise discounts!
The cost of your cruise vacation can be significantly reduced by considering many of the following and armed with this information you are better equipped to ask great questions, get exactly what you want and obtain the highest cruise discounts!
The Season you choose to travel will affect the cost of your cruise. The cabin you choose will cost more “in season” than it will “off-season”.
Consider – is the money you save by being flexible worth the trade off in timing for you? If you are looking for seasonal savings and best cruise discounts, consider the following to be off season or at least shoulder season (just prior to high season):
- Caribbean Cruises – September to just prior to Christmas sailings, first two weeks in January (excluding New Year cruises)
- Alaska Cruises – May and September and occasionally some October sailings
- Europe Cruises – April, May, September and October
- Bermuda Cruises – May and September
- Canada / New England Cruises – no real price break due to limited sailings
- South America Cruises or South Pacific Cruises – varies by cruise line and demand.
Keep in mind that there are year round cruises in the Caribbean but hurricane season is generally from June to November so you could miss some ports of call or be diverted to others should the weather turn unfavorable. Cruise discounts during this period should be to your advantage.
Best Cruise Discounts Due to Season…
The “best” cruise discounts, due to season, will be during the fall, because September through just prior to Christmas sailings are essentially a “slow” period for the cruise lines. Keep in mind that this does not include Thanksgiving week, which will be priced at a premium.
Christmas, New Year’s, Easter, Spring Break, and national holidays where kids are out of school, teachers have breaks, or summer holidays at drive to ports are prime times for the cruise lines. Even booking a year out may not result in much in the way of a cruise discount at holiday time, but at least you will get on board!!
Times of “International Crisis” may depress demand for cruising and travel in general. If you have the courage to keep traveling, as many have, without incident, you will discover that cruise lines may be offering a remarkable cruise discounts to keep their ships full.
Most cruise lines make the majority of their profits from what is called “on board revenue”. This is the money you spend while on vacation. Examples are alcohol and non-included beverages, gifts, shore excursions and of course in the casinos.
The actual price of your cruise when the market is depressed for international tension hardly covers the hard costs of promotion, advertising, sales and marketing etc.
Understanding Cruise Pricing
Before you start shopping for cruise discounts, please understand what the components of cruise pricing are. Some are discountable by the cruise line, some are not:
CRUISE FARE – the actual fare charged by the cruise line for passage on the ship. The cruise line has full flexibility with this fare and cruise discounts are usually from this component of your cruise cost and this is where the cruise deal comes from!
PORT CHARGES, DEPARTURE TAX, CUSTOMS FEES, IMMIGRATION FEE and OTHER GOVERNMENT FEES – charges levied on the cruise line for a particular sailing that are non-discount able. Some of these components are often called “Non-Commission able Fares or Fees (NCF)”.
AIR FARE OR OTHER TRANSPORTATION COSTS – costs of getting you to the port of embarkation and disembarkation. Not usually discounted but often subsidized.
Truth In Advertising…
Be very cautious when reading advertising that states the price starting with the word “from”. Generally, this refers to the lowest available, least desirable cabin category (may mean upper and lower bunk beds) and may mean very specific dates and very specific cabins. So the “From $299” may excite you (as a cruise deal) but as we said earlier “there is no free lunch”. It is not how much you save – but what you get for what you pay!
Rates printed in cruise line brochures are rarely applicable. Do not be discouraged by what you see in these glossy, highly sensual marketing pieces.
Rates in the brochures are inflated and are in the same vein as “manufacturer’s suggested selling price” for automobiles. (Thankfully, some cruise lines are more and more approaching truth in pricing and brochure rates are coming closer to your actual fares.)
The rate in the brochure allows the cruise line to dramatically lower the price to you by way of announcing a cruise discount of 40/50/60 or even 70% so you assume you are getting the deal of your life.
Baloney – EXCEPT – when you are traveling at the cruise lines peak periods such as Christmas, New Year’s or Spring Break.
Even then you will find Early Booking Discounts (by a variety of names) may be applicable to the brochure rate.
It does happen from time to time that you will pay a premium close to or at the brochure rate. If the sailing you are interested in is close to capacity, the cruise line will raise the fares to increase their yield! I once paid a high brochure rate because I absolutely wanted to go on the New Year’ sailing.
Had I waited until January 2, I could take the same ship and same itinerary for 45% less!!!
You will often see promotions labeled as “2 for 1” or “TWO FOR ONE” suggesting that two of you can go on the same cruise for the fare that one person would pay. Most often that “2 for 1” cruise deal, refers to the Brochure Rate.
You take the Brochure Rate, divide it in half and that is what each of you pay. (That does not include air, taxes or port charges). The reality is, unless you have picked a high season or high demand sailing there are fares available to you that will be much lower.
Our point here is, challenge the fare by doing your homework. And, again, as my father always taught me, there is no such thing as a “free lunch”!
Paths to the Best Cruise Discounts
EARLY BOOKING CRUISE DISCOUNTS
Every cruise line establishes a discounted fare structure in their brochure. You will see the “brochure rate” followed by some equivalent to an early booking incentive.
- Princess Cruise Lines calls it’s early booking discount – Love Boat Saver© rate.
- Carnival Cruise Lines names their early booking discount – Super Saver© rate.
These EBD’s may have restrictions as to limited time offer and “book before dates”. It is reasonable to conclude that this rate is the minimum cruise discount you should expect for your cruise deal, if you meet the terms and conditions outlined in the brochure.
AGENCY GROUP SPECIALS
Travel agencies are often given incentives by the cruise line to block significant amounts of space well in advance of the sailing dates. The incentives may be in the form of added amenities, better pricing or both. Consortium and National Accounts of the cruise line will have very good opportunities for you to save significant money.
The following table shows the significant price saving a client can enjoy by taking advantage of this particular agency’s group promotion. Always ask your booking agent what groups the agency has available. They may not be exactly on the travel dates you want but the cruise discounts or savings for moving your plans by a week or two can be significant:
7 Nights – Sunday,September 14, 2011Eastern Caribbean aboard the XYZ of the SEAS
|Category||Brochure Price||ABC Agency Price||Client Savings|
|AC – Oceanview mini-suite with private balcony||$3836||$1380||$2456|
|BB – Oceanview stateroom with private balcony||$3130||$1226||$1904|
|DD – Ocean view stateroom||$2839||$1165||$1674|
|FF – Obstructed view stateroom||$2639||$1073||$1566|
|II – Inside stateroom||$2240||$981||$1259|
|JJ – Inside stateroom||$2117||$919||$1198|
You may see some “added value” by a particular agency with group space on a sailing. This “added value” may take the form of additional amenities such as:“Value – 1 bottle of wine and 5×7 photo vouchers included for the first and second passengers.” Or “US$100 per person on board credit for the first and second passengers in the cabin.”
REPEAT PASSENGER SAVINGS PROGRAMS
The majority of cruise lines jealously guard and covet the loyalty of their past passengers. Each cruise line offers incentives (cruise disconts) for their past passengers (often referred to as Alumni) to remain with the cruise line and continue cruising on their ships. Some examples are:
- Princess Cruise Lines – Captain’s Circle Club
- Holland America – Mariner Club
- Norwegian Cruise Line – Latitude Club
- Crystal Cruises – Crystal Society
Past passenger or Alumni cruise discounts can mean significant savings if you have sailed with that cruise line before. Always ask if there are past passenger fares available on the sailing you are interested in (assuming you are a past passenger).
If you are not a past passenger, consider traveling with friends that have sailed on that cruise line before. Most cruise lines will “share the wealth” by allowing a past passenger to book friends and family who have not cruised the line before, a past passenger fare as well. This may be limited to one or two extra cabins at a maximum but well worth investigating. On some sailings past passengers may receive cruise discounts of more than $1,000 per person!
Of special note here is Carnival Cruise Lines. Carnival Corporation owns not only Carnival Cruise Lines but Holland America, Seabourn Cruises, Cunard Cruise Line, Windstar Cruises, Costa Cruises and most recently Princess Cruises. They offer the VIP or Vacation Interchange Privileges™ program.
If you sail on any of their World’s Leading Cruise Lines™ you will be entitled to the same past-guest savings currently being extended by any of their cruise lines to their past guests. This means, for example, if you have sailed on a Carnival ship, you are eligible for past passenger savings on Windstar Cruises or perhaps a Holland America cruise if you choose.
From time to time, cruise lines will offer regional specials based upon geographic areas. You may find an offer, which is restricted as follow:
If you can prove residence in an area where the special is being offered, you may end up with significant savings. At times when a cruise line is faced with a yield challenge on their ships they may look for an area or area where they have not yet sold much space and then discount the space in that area to gain the extra business. They usually will not open the special to everyone because in certain areas they may have done well and frankly don’t want the hassle of clients looking for price changes!
The point here is that often, regional specials or cruise deals, may save you more than past passenger programs and agency group booking discounts. Ask your booking agent for the “best available fares” for the category you are looking for. Be flexible – if there is a regional promotion the week prior or subsequent to the week you want to go – change your plan and pocket the savings.
Yes – it does pay to get older when it comes to cruise discounts! Most cruise lines offer additional discounts (starting about 5% and going much higher) for passengers age 55 and over. Ask your booking agent if the particular sailing you are on has a Senior’s Promotion. Compare this price to any groups, regional specials and/or past passenger specials to come up with your lowest rate.
If you are willing to gamble a bit, you can possibly be upgraded to a higher category by booking into what is called a “category guarantee”.
The difference is that with a “normal” reservation you will receive an “assigned” stateroom and you will know the exact number a location of the stateroom.
Under a “category guarantee” you leave it to the cruise line to assign you a cabin just prior to sailing (anywhere from one week to three days prior to sailing). The advantage is you will receive at a minimum, the category you are paying for but you stand a good chance of being upgraded to a better category for no extra charge.
Sometimes and depending on the ship’s yield, this upgrade may be several categories. The only downside is if you want to avoid the bow or aft (very front or very back) you may be assigned there so it might not be worth the gamble to you.
There are several types of “category guarantees” to be aware of.
- ROS – (Run of Ship): This is generally the lowest fare you can get on the ship. You will not know what type of cabin or where it is located usually until the week of sailing. But you will get the lowest rate available and could end up with good upgrades. The cabin could be an inside or an outside.
- INSIDE ROS: – Same as above only you have restricted it to Inside Cabins only and you will get the lowest available rate for an inside cabin with potential for upgrades. (Sometimes referred to as category “Z” guarantee).
- OUTSIDE ROS: – Same as above only you have restricted it to Outside Cabins only and you will get the lowest available rate for an outside or ocean view cabin with potential for upgrades. (Sometimes referred to as category “Y” guarantee).
SPECIFIC CATEGORY GUARANTEE
Ship cabins are laid out on decks and are given category numbers or letters. You can select a specific category to guarantee and will receive the lowest rate for that category – you will get at least the category you guarantee but leave the cruise line the option to upgrade you without charge. For example, on Holland America, a category H stateroom is the minimum view cabin. If you select category H, you will receive at least an ocean view cabin, but may receive upgrades to more expensive categories without any upgrade charge. You won’t know your cabin up front but if this doesn’t cause you anxiety, it may be worth it to try for the upgrade.
Talk to your booking agent about how full a particular sailing is and look carefully at the deck plans. Some categories have very few cabins and if you can book a guarantee you will likely get an upgrade without having to pay more money!
A note about upgrades: An upgrade is basically moving you from a lower category to a higher category without charging you for the upgrade. Essentially with this cruise deal, you are getting a higher priced (not necessarily different layout) cabin than you paid for.
Some cruise lines (notably Princess Cruises) ask your booking agent at the time of booking whether you would be willing to receive an upgrade if one becomes available. Not a stupid question! If you are adamant that you want a specific cabin on a ship, ensure you tell your booking agent “no upgrades”. You generally have the right to approve the upgrade before they move you. Under many “past passenger” programs, an upgrade may be extended to thank you for your loyalty. This is not automatic but upgrades are generally extended to past passengers before “first time” passengers.
THIRD & FOURTH PASSENGERS IN A CABIN
If you don’t mind sharing your cabin with a third or fourth person, you can achieve significant cruise discounts for these passengers.
This is ideally suited for families, say, Mom and Dad, junior and his sister. Remember that the space available is generally the same as a double occupancy cabin and so may be constrained – but it is often better than paying the same double occupancy rate for another cabin.
You will receive one rate per person for the first two passengers in the cabin and then a discounted rate for the third and/or fourth passenger in the cabin. The discount will be on the cruise fare only. Port charges, taxes and air fare will not normally be discounted. In addition, if the third and fourth guests are children there may be a “kid’s rate” available. Generally, children under two will be free but you may have to pay port charges and taxes.
BOOKING ON BOARD
Once you are on board you may want to consider booking your next cruise with an on board cruise line representatives.
Cruise lines recognize the best time to sell you another cruise is while you are enjoying a present cruise. Often they will make available attractive offerings, cruise discounts or incentives for you, such as reduced deposit requirements, additional amenities or shipboard credits. The deposit is fully refundable and you will have locked in the incentives.
Some cruise lines will allow you to leave the ship and destination open and you can discuss alternatives with your booking agent once you return home.
The cruise line will advise the booking agent of your reservation and your agent will oversee the entire booking until the time of sailing. Your agent will also confirm to you whether the offer is indeed the best or whether there are other options you may wish to consider.
BACK TO BACK CRUISES
Many cruise lines offer alternating cruise between the Eastern and Western Caribbean, and you can stay on the ship extending your 7 or 10 day vacation to 14 or 20 days, visiting many different ports. Often there will be an incentive or cruise discount to do the back to back. It may not be much (anywhere from $100 to 10%) but it is a way to extend your vacation for less.
Cruise lines move their ships from and to different markets at specific times of the year or when a new ship enters the market and needs to be positioned to its home port. For example, April will see a large number of ships move from the Caribbean to the Alaska market. October will see the reverse. Often these sailings are long, and you may get significant discounts for taking advantage of the repositioning.
New launches may feature a unique itinerary as the ship positions from its port of construction to its port of operation and cruise discounts may apply to this type of sailing. A good booking agent will be aware of these type of opportunities.
Cruise operators release their sailing schedules one year or more from time of departure. Popular cruises, especially those during holidays, school vacations and the summer, sell out quickly — and the cruise fares rarely go on sale. The farther out you book your cruise, the better the price you will get. This is generally fact – not fiction.
The closer it gets to sailing date the higher the price may be. Buyers are often deceived by “last-minute deals” where the “last-minute” deal price is still higher than the rate you would have paid if you booked a year and a half ago. It does not pay to put off booking in the hope you might get a lower rate down the road.
More often than not, the closer to the sailing date, the higher the price can go and there are fewer choices of cabins. The best time to book is when you know you want to go. It doesn’t matter if the price goes up or down after you book, if you are confident and excited about going then you know you got the best rate at the time.
Also, some cruise lines will protect the pricing if they lower it, however they don’t come to you. You need to watch the pricing after you book or have your agent do it for you. Besides the price and cabin availability, the cost of waiting may be missing the cruise altogether.