We love cruises here at Traveling Mom. We love them for multi-gen trips and girlfriend getaways. We love the varied excursions, the gourmet dining, and the kids’ clubs. The only thing we don’t love are the prices. Fortunately, we are happy to share our six best hacks for saving money on cruises.
This post is written in partnership with Ebates. Opinions are writer’s own.
Look for Off-Peak Pricing
Cruise prices are based on supply and demand. For instance, if your family can only cruise Christmas week, you’re going to be stuck with Christmas week pricing. By going two weeks earlier or later you can save up to fifty percent.
Caribbean cruise prices are at their lowest during the fall: hurricane season. While it sounds scary, booking a cruise during hurricane season is less risky than other tropical vacations. Cruise ships can outrun, reroute, or otherwise modify itineraries to move around tropical weather. That said, we recommend travel insurance to protect any trip.
I know firsthand the challenges of working around school schedules. My suggestion is to look for days off that are unique to your school district, such as teacher workdays or the first or last days of summer vacation. By using the schedule to your advantage, you can save while keeping the kids in school. Alternatively, if you have little kids or big ones, you can save by sailing during the school year.
In a similar vein, seven nights is the most popular cruise length, which means many people neglect to even consider six or eight day cruises. Lack of demand drives the prices down.
Use an Online Travel Agent Combined With a Cash-Back Portal
Your first thought may be to use a travel agent for the best prices. I find that not to be the case. Not only do online agencies (Priceline, Orbitz, etc.) offer similar prices, they also often offer perks due to the volume of cruises they sell.
The best part of using an online agency is that you can double-dip with a cash-back portal such as Ebates. For instance, on Ebates I recently saw fifteen percent cash-back with cruise purchases on Orbitz. If a cruise is $1000/each for a family of four, you can save a whopping $600 by clicking Ebates first.
Look at Per-Night Pricing and Know When to Buy
When searching for cruises, you may think it’s most logical to sort for least to most expensive. I find a more valuable gauge to be price-per-night. Looking at the price per night allows you to easily compare cruises of different lengths.
Many theories abound as to the best time to buy a cruise. Show-up-at-the port steals are pretty much an urban legend, but you can find some savings if you book sixty days or less from the sailing date of your cruise.
The exception to the rule is a Disney cruise. Disney cruises sell out on every sailing, so buy the minute you decide to go on a cruise.
Consider Alternate Ports
When you think cruise, you may also think “Miami,” as South Florida contains the two most popular cruise ports. However, you can cruise from any number of coastal cities, which could save you thousands on airfare. For instance, in January 2019 I see sixteen possible departure ports just in the continental United States.
Stop Thinking in Circles With a Repositioning Cruise
If you don’t care where you go as long as you’re cruising, a repositioning cruise is the best bargain on the high seas. If you’re not familiar, a repositioning cruise allows the cruise line to recoup costs while moving ships from one itinerary to another.
Think of repositioning cruises as the great ship migration. They tend to follow the same pattern season after season. Some of the most common are:
- West Coast: Ships move northbound from Mexico to Alaska in May-June, southbound in September-October.
- Trans-Atlantic: Ships move from Florida to Europe (usually Barcelona or Rome) in April-May and return in September-October.
- East Coast: Ships move northbound from Florida to New England in May-June and return in September-October.
Don’t Buy What You Don’t Need
Cruise lines vary widely, as do individual ships within a cruise line. We love the new ships: ice skating rinks, ziplines and Broadway caliber shows are just a sampling of what the new cities on the sea offer.
However, the perks come with a cost. If you are just looking for sun, sea breezes, and a frosty drink, you will save a bundle by looking a cruise on an older ship. In fact, you can often get a balcony cabin on an older ship for the same price as an inside cabin on a mega-ship. I’ll take a private balcony over ice skating any day of the week, but that’s just me.
What are your favorite ways to save money on a cruise? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.