If you’re dreaming of visiting multiple far-flung locales, ancient cities and dreamy island destinations in one trip – without blowing your budget – consider a cruise for your next vacation. Although many lines sail to similar destinations around the world, cruise experiences vary greatly depending on several factors. Before booking, you’ll have to choose between an ocean or river voyage, decide what size ship you wish to travel on and consider the length of your journey. You’ll also need to determine what types of onboard amenities you’re interested in, pinpoint your ideal shore excursions and – of course – calculate the overall value of what you’ll receive for the price you pay.
To help you snag a great rate on your next cruise vacation, U.S. News spoke with cruise industry professionals to discuss cruise pricing trends and compile expert advice. Read on to see the top tips for finding cheap cruise deals. (Note: Some sailings may be affected due to the coronavirus pandemic. Cruise lines may require travelers to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or present a negative COVID-19 test before boarding. Some excursions and onboard activities may also be limited. For the latest information, please visit the CDC website and each individual cruise line’s website.)
Keep up with current cruise trends
John Mast, senior director of global cruise marketing for Expedia Group, says, “Since 2019, average booking value has seen a notable spike. Prices are a little more fluid for mass-market destinations such as Mexico, the Caribbean and the Bahamas. Still, they remain at a premium price for destinations such as Alaska and Europe, especially into 2022 and 2023. Supply and demand are at play as the industry recovers. Trips with a shorter booking window may offer exceptional value, whereas further out trips into 2022 are in very high demand, so prices are higher than historical norms.”
Chris Gray Faust, managing editor at Cruise Critic, agrees. “Right now, we see a broad range in post-COVID pricing, with high fluidity. Pricing has been a bit higher because supply is limited at the moment, with fewer ships sailing and ships sailing at reduced capacity,” she says. “On the other hand, there are numerous deals and sales that lines are using to entice travelers to return to cruising. In a recent Cruise Critic survey, 61% of respondents said they are currently booking based on price and want a good deal. That indicates that bookings are not being driven so much by the ‘need’ to travel that everyone felt when the lockdown lifted. Instead, people are being motivated by the desire to cruise tempered by the desire to get a bargain or at least the best price available.”
Book with a travel advisor – especially if you’re new to cruising
But the perks don’t end there. Faust continues, “If you’re working with a travel agent, they can also alert you to sales and specials offered through their preferred supplier agreements. Another benefit of booking with a travel agent is that they will track the pricing, so if it goes down, they can contact the cruise line and get the price adjusted or see what else can be done to compensate, like a category upgrade, onboard credit, etc.”
Becker agrees. “Travel advisors know the people at the cruise lines,” she says. “They also have access to special amenities through various relationships,” meaning you may save money on extras in addition to scoring a lower price for the cruise itself.
Look online for flash sales and price drops
Mast says, “Flash sales are usually available closer to departure dates when cruise lines introduce ‘no frills’ pricing on their remaining inventory, which are low rates that include no built-in amenities such as drink packages, onboard spending credits and more. They depend on supply and demand.”
But remember, flash sales are only available for limited sailings, so you’ll have to act fast. “When you see the sale go live,” Faust says, “don’t delay in booking because the date you want might become unavailable.”
[Ready to plan a cruise? Find the best value sailings on GoToSea, a service of U.S. News.]
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Book during wave season
Additionally, Becker recommends considering a fall sailing. “There’s usually another smaller ‘wave’ in October,” she says. “However, COVID has changed this as more cruise lines are going ‘inclusive’ based upon historical data from passengers. There are more value adds included now than ever before, such as gratuities, shipboard credits and drink packages.”
Don’t pay for what you won’t use
Book early for the best selection
Travel with a group
Look for holiday and weekend specials
Book an all-inclusive cruise
Similarly, Azamara includes amenities in its pricing, such as its signature AzAmazing Evenings experiences; select spirits, wine and beer; bottled water, specialty coffee and teas; gratuities; shuttle service in ports; and other perks. Meanwhile, luxury line Regent Seven Seas Cruises offers two-for-one all-inclusive fares that cover airfare (varies by destination); unlimited shore excursions; a one-night, pre-cruise hotel stay; two- or three-night land programs; unlimited beverages; prepaid gratuities; specialty dining options; Wi-Fi access; and transfers between the airport and ship.
Look for airfare packages or other incentives
Book your next cruise while on your current voyage
Look for solo traveler perks
Some larger ocean cruise lines, like Celebrity Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line, boast single staterooms on select ships designed specifically for solo cruisers (and priced accordingly for one person). In fact, fares for these cabins may even cost less than what you’d normally pay per person if you were traveling with a companion. Norwegian Cruise Line adds extra perks like complimentary key card access to the Studio Complex and Lounge, where you can meet other single travelers, relax with a cocktail or watch shows on the big-screen TV.
Join the cruise line’s frequent cruiser program
Viking Cruises’ guests are automatically enrolled in the Viking Explorer Society after their first voyage. This free membership grants travelers discounts on future river or ocean cruises, as well as invitations to onboard cocktail parties. Additionally, members will receive updates about new ships, itineraries and special pricing. Celebrity Cruises’ exclusive Captain’s Club benefits vary by level, but they include stateroom upgrades, complimentary welcome events, onboard premium offers and discounted laundry and spa services.
Sail on an older ship
Book a cruise when school is in session
Take advantage of food, beverage and premium packages
Specialty dining packages are also an option if you’d like to upgrade your restaurant choices while on board. Royal Caribbean International offers a three-restaurant package, as well as an unlimited fixed-price dining option that includes multiple specialty restaurants throughout your sailing and lunches on sea days. Holland America Line offers premium cruise packages on select voyages. Perks include one shore excursion, an upgraded beverage package, one night of specialty dining and a Wi-Fi package on seven-day sailings. Check with your specific cruise line before booking to see what discount packages are available.
Take a shorter cruise
Look for last-minute deals
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