To the first time (or even the experienced) cruise shopper, the sales techniques and marketing tactics used by cruise travel professionals can be overwhelming. Below is some helpful advice that will help you see beyond the noise and help you save money when buying a cruise.
Save Up To 70%" Advertisements Usually Fall Short
How many cruise web sites blast the message "save up to 70%", but, when you start searching their sites, maybe only a half-dozen cruises (out of a couple thousand) are at anything close to being 70% off. In many cases, the sailings with the 70% pricing are on older ships, or, in the less desirable stateroom, and, at low season.
Early bookers typically save 20-35% off the "brochure price" and choose the best cabins first. Once the early booking offers have expired, there are savings via promotions like cabin category upgrades, bonus shipboard credit, resident rates and senior rates. But, outright savings of up to 70% of definitely the exception -- not the rule.
Savings Off The "Brochure Price" Should be Taken With a Grain of Salt
Cruise lines have a "brochure price" – a full price with no discounts. Brochure prices are very inflated so, when used as a reference point to any savings program (early booking discount, resident rate, senior rate, etc.), the savings appear to be impressive. Cruise prices are like car prices -- it is a rarity when someone pays the full "sticker" price.
Cruise Lines Set the Cruise Price – Not The Travel Agency
Many travel agencies would have you believe that they have a price that nobody else can offer. Discounting the cruise-line established price is a practice which is frowned upon by cruise lines. Cruise lines set the price of the cruise – not the travel agency. Some travel agency might offer a "freebie" (bonus onboard spending credits, paid gratuities / tips or a complementary shore excursion) out of their commission. This is a generally accepted practice, and, it is not uncommon for travel agencies to give up to 3-4% of the price of the cruise in the form of some sort of bonus back to the customer.
Submitting Your E-Mail Address to See the Cruise Best Price
There are instances in which a web site may claim that they are unable to show you the lowest cruise price unless you give them your e-mail. Generally speaking, there are very, very few cruise fares available that would have this requirement. This tactic aims to get your e-mail address so the web site can start marketing to you. It rarely leads to a great deal that can't be found elsewhere.
Shipboard Credit from your Travel Agency is a Good Deal
On your cruise you will spend money on the ship (spa treatments, tips, shore excursions, drinks, etc.) – shipboard credit goes to reduce the bill you get for these expenses at the end of the cruise.
Cabin Category Upgrades -- Good or Bad?
There are promotions touting "up to 8 category upgrade" -- you book one cabin in a lower category, but, can select a cabin that is 8 categories higher. Generally, these promotions are full of fine-print that often mean they don't live-up to the hype. The majority of the transactions in cabin-upgrade promotions end up with a 1-3 category upgrade rather than the 8 category upgrade. Also, the number of categories in an upgrade is not a relevant as the net effect of the upgrade offer -- does it move you from an inside cabin to an outside cabin, or a picture window cabin to a balcony cabin, or let's you select a cabin that is not under the disco or some other loud area.
Don't Pay a Booking Fee
There are several national cruise retailers you charge $20-$25 to book a cruise -- often they try and hide the charge. Look around -- there are plenty of cruise retailers who do not charge a booking / service fee. However, there are some cases in which a service fee is appropriate. If you work with a travel agent for 2-3 hours and end-up purchasing a cruise for $300, the agent is probably losing money on that transaction. If they were upfront about their service fee policy, you should not feel like you are being taken-advantage of if they charge a service fee.
Best Price Guarantees -- Be Realistic
Best price guarantees, while well intentioned, do have fine-print. The qualifications to qualify for a best price guarantee are usually fairly stringent qualifications. If a cruise line has a large amount of unsold inventory on a ship that will depart soon, they target their promotions so they will not trigger hundreds of best price guarantee claims. Best price guarantees help ensure that you got a good price, but, more often than not, there is someone onboard the ship who got a better deal than yourself. The best way to save on a cruise is with the early booking discounts where you lock-in a low price and get the best cabin selection for booking well in advance of your sailing date.
Photo Credit: Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line