7 Smart Ways to Save Big On Your Next Cruise

Tips and tricks to help you maximize your cruise vacation and minimize costs.

By Holly Johnson, ContributorSept. 20, 2017
By Holly Johnson, ContributorSept. 20, 2017, at 12:16 p.m.
U.S. News & World Report

7 Ways to Save On Your Next Cruise

Cruise ships at sunset.

For smooth (and affordable) sailing, use a travel credit card, consider a repositioning cruise and try these money-saving tactics.(Getty Images)

Most cruise itineraries stop in several destinations, giving you a taste and feel for different cultures and places. And since cruise prices typically package lodging, food and entertainment costs into a single price, an at-sea vacation can offer a better value (and more predictable price) than a land-based trip. And if you're dreaming of a cost-effective family trip, cruising the friendly seas can be a smart way to save money and see the world.

Still, not all cruises are inexpensive. To avoid blowing your budget, you'll want to pick a cruise ship itinerary and cabin that matches your needs and price point. If you want to curb costs on your next cruise, use these money-saving strategies before you book.

Book Less Than Three Months Out

While there are savings to be had by booking a cruise a year out, you can also score some hefty savings by booking a last-minute trip. Because cruise lines are eager to fill empty cabins for upcoming itineraries, they often release space at discounted rates a few months out. Online resources like VacationstoGo.com offer a smart place to look for last-minute cruises at drastically reduced prices. With their 90-day ticker, you can even save up to 83 percent on cruises in the next three months.

Choose a Repositioning Cruise

Repositioning cruises are special cruises that help cruise lines move a ship from one region to another. Instead of relocating an empty ship, however, cruise lines offer discounted rates on cabins for cruisers who want to enjoy onboard amenities and beautiful ocean views. Not only are repositioning cruises inexpensive, but they offer a cheap (albeit slow) way to travel comfortably to a new destination.

Keep an Eye Out for Special Promotions

Some cruise lines offer special promotions that can make your entire cruise more enjoyable and affordable. For example, MSC Cruises offers frequent 2-for-1 deals on Caribbean itineraries, as well as free drink packages, onboard credits and free internet access. Kids also cruise free on select itineraries in the Caribbean, Europe and other parts of the world. If you have kids, make sure to check around for cruises that offer the best amenities and prices for families.

Use a Travel Credit Card

Travel credit cards can help you score a cheaper cruise, but that's only if you get the right card. Generally, the best travel credit cards for cruises are ones that let you book cruises through their own travel portal or ones that offer flexible credit. Premier Chase travel credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve cards can be a smart choice since you can book cruises at a discount using points. You could also try the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard, which lets you redeem points directly for any cruise with any cruise line or discount travel provider.

Reserve Your Own Shore Excursions Before You Go

While you'll want to enjoy all the free amenities on your ship, chances are you'll want to find shore-side activities as well. You can spend time at port exploring on your own or book organized excursions such as sightseeing tours and snorkeling trips. If you plan to book excursions, it's always wise to shop around before you leave for your cruise. Your cruise ship will offer the same shore excursions you can find on Viator.com, but often for 20 or 30 percent more. By booking excursions yourself, you can get the same experiences for a lot less.

Drive to Port

While some cruise itineraries can cost a pretty penny, one of the most expensive components of any trip is the cost to get to your port. If you fly a family of four, you can easily pay a few hundred dollars per person in airfare, and that's before you even step foot on your ship. Driving to your cruise port can help you trim costs, even if you have to rent a car. Make sure to compare the cost of flying versus driving to the closest cruise port to your area. If the difference is big enough, the savings might make the hassle worth it.

Avoid Pricey Upsell Charges

While cruise fares typically package accommodations, meals and entertainment, it's easy to tack on hidden add-on fees. For example, most cruise ships offer upgraded dining options, drink packages, special entertainment venues, spa treatments, and various other added services and amenities. If you take advantage of all these options, you could easily spend a lot more than you planned. Instead of splurging, enjoy all the free activities your ship has to offer. Alternate restaurants every night, see the free shows, participate in free dance lessons and contests and stay away from the onboard casino. The more upcharges you can steer clear of, the less your cruise will cost in the end. And that can only mean one thing – more money to spend on your next trip.

12 The Best Cruise Lines of 2017

The Best Cruise Lines of 2017

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Holly Johnson, Contributor

Holly Johnson writes about travel, credit cards, personal finance and frugality for a wide ...  Read more

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.


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