Long time readers may remember that I reside in South Florida. When most people read that they immediately think of the great weather here. While that’s true, that’s only one of great things about where I live.
One of the unexpected perks my family and I enjoy living here is access to the Atlantic Ocean. I’m not talking about the sugar sand beaches. Actually I’m referring to how close I am to all of the major sea ports that cruise ships dock at.
You see I live within an hour drive of the most heavily trafficked cruise embarkation port…and I use it, a lot. Over the years I’ve learned to take advantage of this luxury. I am able to book last minute cruises all the time and save myself hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars off retail cruise vacation prices. I’ve also come across some pretty impressive ways for other people, including those that don’t live in South Florida to do the same.
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We are entering the busy season for cruise liners. Northerners love to take cruises to the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Southern Europe in the winter months because of the great weather those places enjoy. Right now cruise companies are trying to fill cabins and offering “deals” to entice you to buy. But these so called “deal” cruise companies offer are sometimes just full priced vacations. Their marketing is top notch so the scams aren’t always easy to spot, unless you have an expert eye. Before you book your next cruise vacation take down these notes and never pay retail again.
Depending on who you listen to, you’ll get different answers on the debate over when the cheapest time to book a cruise vacation is—well in advance or last minute. Some will say that cruise lines want to condition vacationers to book their trips as early as possible so they start with the cheapest prices and then increase them as time goes on. Others will argue that these companies offer their lowest fares only at the last minute to fill up any unsold cabins because their expenses are the same if they have 800 or 1,000 people on board.
I’ve tried booking at both ends of the spectrum and there are advantages to both. After trying both ways I prefer to book early, but I will say I’ve gotten cheaper pricing booking last minute. I like booking early because most cruise lines or travel agencies promise that if they lower the price down the road they’ll give you the lower rate.
The trick is that you’ve got to be the one to ask for the reduction, the cruise line will never be the one who initiates the reduction. To make sure I am kept abreast of any change in rate after I book a cruise I sign up for the specific cruise lines free online newsletter as well as travel agents news feeds. That way all I have to do is check my inbox once a week for any news.
I also like booking early because a fair amount of times when a cruise I’ve booked hasn’t sold out, the cruise line has upgraded my room or given me an on-board credit for free! I’ve never gotten any kind of free upgrade when I’ve booked my vacation at the last minute.
This is not to say that there aren’t advantages to booking cruises at the last minute, and by last minute I mean 30 days in advance. The words “last minute” doesn’t mean quite the same to a cruise line company as they do for me. 30 days’ notice is plenty of notice for me to go on a vacation.
Like I said earlier if I am just talking cruise fares, I’ve gotten better deals when I’ve waited till the last minute to book a cruise rather than booking 3-6 months in advance. But what I gain in price cuts I lose in choice. Generally last minute bookings mean you don’t get your pick of cabins. There are limited rooms left and you might be stuck with an interior unit with no ocean view.
Besides the timing of your booking, the destination of your cruise can also affect price in a significant way. If you aren’t too particular book a cruise to nowhere. Cruises that set sail without stopping at any ports or promise any kind of sights can be gotten for pretty cheap. When you are flexible about where you cruise to, cruise liners will reward you supreme service and cheaper fares.
The same can be said though about popular destinations. The more exotic a locale you want to visit, the heftier the price tag. Choosing a cruise that stops in well-known, tourist attracting spots like Belize in the Caribbean can make your vacation more affordable. Booking cruises that stop in more remote locations like Russia or Scandinavia will drive up the rate.
Unless you live near me you will undoubtedly need to book a plane ride to get you to your ship. This is what can make a cruise vacation out of reach financially for some people. To alleviate this cruise lines offer air fare along with cruise packages. They tell you that if you bundle your services together you’ll receive a discount.
I’m sorry to say this just isn’t true. Most times it’s cheaper if you book your air fare separately. You are much more likely to snag yourself a cheap flight. If a cruise line finds a cheap flight for you, you’ll never see that extra money. That’s why it’s better if you look online at comparison sites like kayak.com or at airline sites directly to see what’s out there.
The only time it might be best to use the cruise line air and sea package is when you are flying internationally. International flights are much more expensive and don’t have as much variation in prices or flight times as domestic flights do. Also if you book your flight and cruise together through the cruise line company and your flight is delayed or canceled the cruise liner will take care of getting you to the cruise. You won’t have to worry about anything. If you book the two separately and your flight is delayed or canceled you won’t get any sympathy from the cruise liner, they’ll set sail without you and probably won’t give you a refund.
You can also find deals when you book a large number of rooms together. Think of cruise ships as floating hotels. And just like when you book hotel rooms, the more rooms you book the cheaper the rate you get. Cruises are great for family reunions, vacations with friends, weddings and other special events. In these instances it makes sense to book a block of rooms so that everyone will pay the same price and be near each other. In these instances you might be able to get a group rate which should give you a respectable discount.
If you are willing to go out on a limb and book all the rooms under your name and then collect the money from the rest of the people, you might even be able to get your room for free. People that organize large group bookings often receive their room for free if they book enough rooms. Before you book call your travel agent or the cruise line directly to see how many rooms you need to book before they’ll give you a room for free as each company sets different amounts.
You should also look for discount rates like you get on land. If you typically get a discount for meals or theater tickets, then a cruise line will probably offer you a discount as well. People who are 55 or older, EMT’s, firefighters, policemen, teachers, military or members of certain union groups are all likely to get a reduced fare price. Just be prepared to show proof of your age or occupation in order to receive such discount.
A lot of people put too much stock into the age of a ship when deciding which cruise to book. They believe a ship built back in the 90’s or early 2000’s will not give them the same level of luxury as a newer built ship. This isn’t true. The only thing that will be better are the decorations. Older ships actually offer better deals for this reason. Look for ships built 10-15 years ago, they’ll typically be a bit cheaper and still offer all the same luxuries as newer built ships.
Getting a good deal on a cruise vacation is about more than just ticket price. Don’t limit yourself to looking at just the initial fare price. Remember that discounts come in many forms including pre-paid gratuities, on board credits and discounted shore excursions. If you see a full priced cruise vacation that offers one or more of these other types of discounts you can rest assured that you are still getting a good deal. Most of the time these alternative discounts add up to hundreds of dollars in savings and make your trip even more enjoyable.
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