Last Updated on September 15, 2023

Tips for saving money when booking a cruise online

Booking a cruise is an exciting way to explore new destinations while enjoying luxury and relaxation. If you are not careful though, the overall cost can easily end up being much higher than first expected.

Fortunately, there are numerous strategies you can employ to make the most of your cruise experience without breaking the bank.

In this article, we’ll delve into 15 proven tips to help you save money when booking a cruise, allowing you to enjoy the high seas while keeping your budget in check.

1. Factor in Cruise Pricing Fluctuations

The best time to book a cruise can often be very early on (for a good discount or extra benefits) or to book at the very last minute.

Booking well in advance can secure you lower rates while waiting until closer to the departure date might lead to reduced prices as cruise lines aim to fill the remaining cabins.

The truth is that prices fluctuate quite a bit between the time the cruise is first on sale and the day the cruise takes place.

If you want to learn more about when to get the best prices for a cruise you might want to follow our cruise price test.

2. Try and Avoid Travelling in School Holiday Periods

If you do not have children of school age, then try and avoid traveling during school holiday periods.

Similar to many other forms of travel, prices are hiked up for popular periods and, when it is school holidays, cruises are normally more expensive.

So travel in May or June, for example, rather than during the Easter or summer holiday season. Or go in the 3rd or last week of September or later, instead of the start of September if you can.

3. Consider Travelling on a Repositioning Cruise

Repositioning cruises involve ships relocating between different regions, often resulting in unique itineraries at a fraction of the cost of regular cruises.

This type of cruise tends to be much more affordable than traditional cruises due to their limited availability and appeal to budget-minded travelers.

Furthermore, a great benefit is the extended time you get onboard as compared to a typical cruise, as repositioning cruises often last much longer, giving you more time to explore and experience all that your ship and the destination ports offer.

Relaxing on deck on a positioning cruise from Jamaica
Relaxing on deck on a positioning cruise from Jamaica

4. Opt for Inside Cabins

Inside cabins may lack a view, but they are certainly usually more budget-friendly.

Since you’ll be spending most of your time exploring the ship and its destinations, you might find this option suits your needs just fine.

When we go on a cruise, more often than not we actually stay in an inside cabin as we find it more than sufficient.

If you are traveling on a cruise as a special occasion and want a superior room, then that totally makes sense.

If you want to travel more than once a year on a cruise and save money to have the budget to travel more, you’ll probably find an inside works just fine.

Norwegian Epic inside cabin
Valeria in our inside cabin

5. Cruise from Nearby Ports

Choosing departure ports that are within driving distance can save you money on airfare, parking, and transportation.

The benefit of a fly/cruise where you fly to the departure city is that you can start the cruise off in a sunny or interesting location.

Choosing a cruise though, that departs and returns to/from a local port, can mean a better value-priced cruise for you as you’ll be avoiding these extra flight costs.

You can also save money this way because:

  • you can take more luggage (or buy things during the cruise) and not worry about baggage costs (as you would if flying back).

6. Check Prices Direct vs With a Cruise Travel Agent

If you have not already, then you might want to take a look at the price test we are doing to compare the cost of booking with a cruise line direct vs booking with an agent (see the price test challenge here)

What I have found in the past is that you can very often get extra reductions or benefits (such as free car parking) by using a cruise travel agent.

7. Take Advantage of Loyalty Programs

A simple way to immediately get a favorable price or to get some kind of freebie when booking a cruise is to join their loyalty program.

Most cruise lines have their own loyalty program, three examples being:

Benefits from loyalty programs may include discounts, cabin upgrades, free parking, free onboard spending, and other perks.

8. Pack Smart

Make sure to bring the essentials such as sunscreen, toiletries, and medications to avoid overpriced onboard or at-port purchases.

9. Check for Group Rates

If you are traveling as part of a group, it is definitely worth contacting the cruise line sales department.

Some cruise lines offer discounted rates for larger parties.

10. Consider Purchasing a Beverage Package

If you are certain that you are going to be drinking several drinks every day on the cruise, then it is well worth considering prepaying for a drinks package.

At the time of booking, many cruise lines offer the option to buy a drinks package for the cruise.

Most types of drinks are included in the package but, if you want certain drink brands, then sometimes you have to pay for them separately. In other words, you are limited to certain wines and spirits but it is usually a good enough choice for most people.

Note that it is not always cost-effective and really does depend on how much alcohol you expect to drink on the cruise.

Valeria (wife) tends to only drink one cocktail or one large glass of wine so it isn’t cost-effective in such a case.

11. Skip Specialty Restaurants

While specialty restaurants offer a unique dining experience onboard, the main dining options, buffets, etc. are usually included in your cruise fare.

You can dine and eat extremely well on cruises, without the need to pay any extra.

12. Book Future Cruises Onboard

Cruise lines often offer exclusive discounts and perks to passengers who book their next cruise while still onboard.

Do not be tempted to book another cruise without giving it careful consideration just because of the benefits they will give you.

But, if you are certain that you would be booking another cruise anyway with that cruise line, then these exclusive discounts can actually be quite tasty.

13. Subscribe to Cruise Line Newsletters

Do not forget that by signing up for cruise line newsletters, you’ll receive exclusive offers, promotions, and last-minute deals.

14. Limit Onboard Spending

One thing with cruises is that it can be so incredibly easy to build up a big expenses account and end up with a sizeable bill at the end.

Set a budget for onboard expenses such as drinks, specialty dining, and spa treatments to avoid overspending.

15. Consider Booking Excursions Independently

While cruise line excursions can be convenient, booking tours independently can often lead to cost savings. Research local tour operators in advance.

Do be aware though that the one key advantage of using a cruise line excursion is that they will wait for you if the excursion is late returning to the ship.

Final Thoughts

With careful planning and a bit of research, you can enjoy an incredible cruise vacation without over-stretching your finances.

Remember, a well-prepared traveler is a savvy traveler!

Paul Symonds