Recently I was away from the site for a couple of weeks while my husband and I went on an Alaskan cruise for our first anniversary. Being the money saving fiend that I am, I was bound and determined to find a good deal. I’ll be frank here. There is no one size fits all solution to saving on vacations. And I won’t lie, we still payed a pretty penny for our vacay. But I feel confident we didn’t pay nearly as much as we could have. Here are 10 ways I saved on my cruise vacation.
1. DO your Research
I cannot stress this enough. There is no single place out there that you can go and expect to get super awesome deals on your vacation. If you want to know where and how to get the deal, then do your research and check out more than one option. I’ll give you an example. Our cruise left from Seattle and returned to Vancouver. This potentially meant that we would be flying in and out of 2 different cities. While researching I found that flying out of Vancouver was really expensive. Luckily Vancouver is close enough to Seattle that you can take the train. It turned out that by flying round trip in and out of Seattle and simply taking the train from Vancouver back to Seattle to catch our flight saved us about $260!
Also, be aware of any miles or travel rewards you may have access to. This could potentially save you the cost of your transportation, lodging, or even be applied to the cruise itself. These points are valuable, and personally I wish we’d taken advantage of them sooner (see more on that below). But since we didn’t have any points available to us, we had to find other ways to save.
The biggest thing of all is to research your cruise line. If you know when and where you want to go, check that itinerary on every cruise line that offers it. Compare rates and incentives of each to help you get the best deal on the best intinerary. This probably will take the most time, but the money savings can be worth your due diligence. A couple of good websites that I found helpful were Cruise Critic and Cruise Watch.
2. Book in the off season
This is another area where research as well as common sense came into play. As with almost any travel, there is less demand in the off season and so prices tend to be lower. Cruises are no exception. I found that Alaska cruises only sail May through September. The months of May and September are the “off” months as they tend to be colder, less ideal weather, and school is in session. I’ll admit we did luck out a little bit on this one because we already knew we wanted to go to Alaska and our anniversary is in September. We chose a cruise that directly corresponded with our anniversary. Plus, it turned out to be the last cruise of the season. When choosing our cruise I saw some prices in the middle of the summer to be around $500 per person more than the one that we booked.
3. Book within 90 days
First off I should say that you should research and know which cruise you want to sail well before this. But I found that cruises tend to have some of their best prices between 90 and 60 days before departure. If you wait any longer than this you may find the price to lower more, but you run the risk of your desired cabin type to sell out. This was backed up by research I found on Cruise Watch.
At about 90 days beforehand I checked the price of the cruise, and it had gone down significantly from it’s original cost. I’ll admit I was a little foolhardy at this point and was sure the price would lower even more. But about 14 days later to my dismay the price actually went up! I did wait a little bit to see if the price would go back down, but I ended up booking our cruise around 60 days before. I ended up paying $50 more per person because I didn’t book at 90 days like I should have. However we still got a great deal and saved about $380 total on our cabin from the original price.
If you are wondering I did keep an eye on the price after that just out of curiousity and found it went up a little more and then didn’t go back down until about 2 weeks before departure. However the cheapest cabins had already sold out well before this.
4. Choose A Less Popular Route
If possible it is to your benefit to choose a route that is less popular, thus less costly. This includes less popular cruise durations. While Alaskan cruises in themselves are always popular, a 7 day Alaskan cruise is the most sought after. We ended up on a 10 day Alaskan cruise. While at the time I didn’t realize that because it was longer it wasn’t as sought after, I had chosen it because it had the itinerary I wanted. Turns out that 7 day cruises at about the same time on the same cruise line were about $100 per person more than the 10 day cruise that we booked providing our trip with more value.
5. Take Advantage of Special Offers
Each cruise line will have a variety of special offers that they may offer all of the time or only at special times. The cruise line we sailed with, Norwegian, pretty well has special offers all of the time. On booking we were able to choose 1 out of 4 offers to add on to our trip. These offers included free alcoholic beverages for the duration of the trip, free specialty (or costs extra) dining for 4 nights of the trip, free wifi on the boat, or a $200 credit for port excursions.
To find the best value I looked up the a la carte pricing for each of these options and found the beverage option to be worth about $1600 per person (essentially $79 per person per day). This blew any of the other options out of the water. On choosing this option we did end up having to pay an 18% gratuity charge on the value of the package which amounted to about $250 total. But in calculating that we were able to choose a drink worth up to $15, we really only needed to order 1 drink per person per day to still make this charge worth it. And let me tell you it was. We didn’t have any trouble ordering 1 drink per day (wink, wink).
6. Choose what to Splurge on
We picked and chose very carefully what items we would splurge on. We wanted to make sure we got the best bang for our buck and not to let all the little charges get away from us and add up to a big bill. While we could have splurged on an expensive (read: more than twice as much) balcony cabin, we decided the cheapest inside cabin was the way to go since we didn’t plan on spending much time there. And it turned out the room really wasn’t that bad. It was decently comfortable, and we enjoyed the complete darkness of the cabin a little too much.
Of course all cruise lines over price everything. Instead of booking pricey excursions straight with the cruise line, we either made our own plans or booked straight with the tour we wanted to do. This option turned out to be cheaper in every instance. We did splurge a little bit as it was our anniversary, but choosing and booking 1 fairly expensive sea plane tour and booking a 3 night specialty dining package so that we would have a nicer place to dine for our special occasion.
7. Book a Guarantee Room
If you are not picky about your room location then booking a guarantee room is the way to go. A guarantee room essentially is a room that is not assigned until a few days before sailing and you are guaranteed to not receive a room any lower than the class you have booked. So for instance if you book a balcony room guarantee then you will not receive a room any lower than a balcony class room. So what this means is the opportunity for an upgrade. Also, these rooms tend to sell at a cheaper rate.
I’ll admit that this one fell into our laps a little bit. When I booked our cabins I intentionally did not book the straight guarantee class room because on our cruise line that meant that we would not receive any of the special offers. Instead I chose to pay a little bit more and book the lowest category inside stateroom so that we could take advantage of the free beverages. However, since I booked at about 60 days before, all of these cabins were sold out, but instead of listing this category as sold out, the cruise line was selling them as a guarantee room. When we got our room assignment a few days before sailing, we actually got upgraded to the highest category of inside stateroom (read: better location) which if we had booked to begin with would have cost about $75 per person more.
8. Earn More Points Booking Through other Sites
I tried to maximize our travel expenditures by booking a lot of our plans through the Plenti website. By doing this I earned extra Plenti points that I can use for free couponing at Rite Aid (to learn more about Plenti and Rite Aid see this post). Not only that but when going through the Plenti site, I booked the cruise on Expedia. Expedia had a promotion that allowed us to receive a $50 on board credit for our booking (actually we kinda got lucky and somehow ended up with a $100 on board credit on our account which we ended up using at the ship’s spa).
Some other examples would be booking through ebates to earn cash back or booking through a travel loyalty program to earn extra travel miles or points. Plus, we recently switched to a travel credit card and were able to earn double travel points by using the card to pay for our expenditures.
9. Book Lodging through AirBNB
Unless you are getting free hotel rooms through a travel loyalty program, then I would highly recommend booking any lodging you may require through AirBNB. We decided to make the most of our trip and spend some time in Seattle and Vancouver before and after the cruise. We were able to book apartments in prime locations for much cheaper than a hotel.
Also, we were also to choose a location that mattered to us. For instance, in Seattle, we looked for and booked a place that was near to the ship dock so that we could just walk there. And in Vancouver we got a place very near to the Amtrak station to aid us in our early morning train ride back to Seattle. Best of all both of these places were near public transportation and easily walkable, making it easy for us to get wherever we needed or wanted to go.
10. Pack Light
We’ve learned this “trick” previously on a vacation to Europe. With a great recommended packing list courtesy of Rick Steves, we only took 1 carry-on suitcase and backpack each. This helped us in two ways: 1. it saved us $100 on checking bags on the airline, and 2. it was just so much easier to carry. We saw more people than we can count on the cruise ship who brought on board two giant (and I mean GIANT) suitcases each that had to have been impossible to carry. And of course with any bag of this size you have to check it not only on the airline, but on the cruise ship (they deliver it to you later), and on the train.
We, on the other, hand were able to carry all of our luggage with us on board every vessel and had it exactly when we needed it and knew exactly where it was without the worry of it getting lost. I might also venture to say that it helped us save money by being conservative with our souvenir purchases. If it didn’t fit, we didn’t buy it.
Now you may wonder how we were able to get along for 2 weeks with just a carry-on suitcase worth of clothes. Quite easily actually. Plan accordingly and mix and match and you’ll do just fine. We did take advantage of the on board laundry special and washed them (mostly underwear and socks) about half way through which only cost us about $20 – much cheaper than checking a larger bag on the plane. Plus we made sure to book AirBNB’s with washer and dryer to give us the option of washing. Turned out we didn’t need it, but we felt better in being prepared.
What I Wish I Knew BeforeHand
I’ll be honest, I have one regret about saving for our trip. I wish I had known and utilized our travel credit card well beforehand. Shortly after booking the cruise I learned about travel saving tips through a method called “travel hacking.” Essentially this is where you earn and maximize travel reward miles and points through the use of credit card spending. Now, I’ll admit, some of these people are extreme and get every single travel credit card out there. I totally don’t recommend doing that. And I really don’t recommend you just go out and apply for any travel credit cards unless you don’t have any problems with credit card debt or paying down your balance.
In any case, the prospect of “travel hacking” intrigued me and since we were looking for a new family spending credit card, we went for it and got a highly recommended travel credit card through Chase. Man, do I wish we had that when we booked our cruise and flight since we would have earned double travel points from it. Nevertheless, we used it to pay for the other expenditures during our trip and managed to earn a hefty amount of points from it. But bottom line, we will continue to earn travel points just through our every day purchases and normal spending. This will help us to book and save on future trips and in fact is how we got free plane tickets to New Orleans during Mardi Gras for next year (can I get a whoop! whoop!?). (See more about travel hacking in this post.)
If you have a travel credit card (this can include airline or hotel credit cards), I highly recommend utilizing them to maximize the value out of the cost of your trip and to earn more for future trips.