So, the cruise companies got your attention with those tiered fares you read about in the previous chapter, did they? You've got it right—you can often enjoy exactly the same cruise as the family in the cabin next door for a fraction of the cost, whether your vacation is worth $1,000 or $10,000. You just need to learn a few tricks.
Cruise-ship cabins are sort of like airplane seats when it comes to pricing. The lowest, greatest, most super-duper-saver fare is advertised to get you to pick up the phone and ask about booking a trip, but usually only a limited number of cabins are available at that special rate. After those are gone, you're going to be lumped in with everybody else trying to get aboard unless you book extremely early or take advantage of some special pricing promotions that some of the cruise lines offer. Here's a look at a few of your best options if you want to save money on your cruise.
If you have your heart set on a specific cruise during specific dates, and you can't or don't want to be flexible about your destination or the months when you will go, your best bet for saving serious dollars is to book early. And by early, the cruise companies mean very early—sometimes as much as a year in advance.
Princess, for instance, offers special rates on its cabins until about a month before each ship sets sail. However, these discounts become available as soon as an itinerary is announced, sometimes a year before your embarkation date, and as people book cabins and the ship gets fuller, fewer and fewer discounts are offered. If you are one of the last people to book a cabin, you are probably going to pay the highest price—and you may not get the kind of cabin you want. In this system, you're not in a race to meet an early-booking deadline with Princess itself as much as you are in a race to book before other passengers who want to take the same cruise.
Another early-booking system is the kind used by Swan Hellenic. In this case, you can save as much as 45 percent off published rates if you are willing to book your trip eight months to a year in advance—by a date the company specifies in its brochure. However, the 45-percent discount applies only to certain cruising itineraries. Other itineraries are subject to smaller discounts, some as low as 20 percent. No matter what the discounted rate, only a certain number of cabins are reserved at the lower fares. Once those are gone, you will likely have to pay full price. In this type of system, then, you're in a race to meet the company's early-booking deadline and to do so before other passengers who want to take the same cruise.
Silversea's program is similar to Swan Hellenic's in that you can save as much as 35 percent off published fares. You must book and make your deposit by a certain date, and you must do so before all the cabins set aside for the special fares are gone. However, Silversea offers an additional 5-percent discount—which you can combine with the early-booking incentive—if you make your final payment by a date the company specifies. Again, the trick is to book as early as possible and, in this case, to pay at or around the same time. Crystal Cruises is the same way: If you pay in full six months or more before your sailing date, you save an extra 3.5 percent off your fare.
Most cruise companies offer some form of early-booking discounts, but their systems and deadlines are all different. Your safest bet is to book as early as possible. If you can book a full year before your sailing date, you will likely receive the best bargains no matter which cruise line you choose.
Radisson Seven Seas offers yet another kind of early-booking program. On some of its ships, if you book travel 120 days before departure, you will receive the discounted rate. However, that rate is often not as substantial a savings as Radisson's special two-for-one cruise deals, which are—you guessed it—a full 50 percent off. Be sure to ask if the two-for-one program is available for your itinerary (or for a similar one that you might choose instead) before you rush to meet the 120-day deadline in this case. Actually, that's good advice no matter which cruise line you choose. Always call early and ask whether you qualify for any other special savings programs.
Book Back-to-Back Itineraries
If your hope is to cruise for longer than just a few days, you can sometimes save serious dollars by booking a pair of shorter, back-to-back itineraries instead of booking one big ol’ mother lode trip.
Radisson Seven Seas is one of the cruise lines that promotes this concept heavily. For instance, the Seven Seas Voyager offers an eight-day, seven-night itinerary from Athens, Greece, to Monte Carlo, Monaco—a trip that ends at 7 A.M. on a Sunday. Just a half-day later, at 6:00 P.M. on that same Sunday, the Voyager sets sail again on a sixteen-day, fifteen-night itinerary from Monte Carlo to northwestern Africa and then on to its ending port of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Radisson wants to keep its boats full, so it offers a combination of the two itineraries at a price that is quite attractive.
If you booked the lowest-price Voyager stateroom for just the Monte Carlo to Fort Lauderdale itinerary, you'd pay at least $9,190 per person without any early-booking discounts. However, if you plan ahead, book early, and combine the trips, you end up with a twenty-three-day, twenty-two-night cruise from Athens, Greece, to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in the same level of stateroom for a total fare of $8,341. That's right—as long as you book early, you can do both itineraries back to back for less than you'd otherwise pay to do just one without any discounts. That's a heck of a deal.
Talk to your travel agent or cruise line about similar opportunities that involve itineraries scheduled immediately before or after yours aboard the same ship. You'll be surprised how eager the companies can be to entice you to stay aboard just a little longer.
If you're a “seasoned” citizen, or if you're bringing grandpa or grandma along on your family cruise vacation, you'll be happy to learn that senior citizen discounts are indeed available aboard some cruise ships. Norwegian Cruise Line, for instance, offers discounts for anyone fifty-five years or older on some itineraries. Royal Caribbean also has senior discounts for anyone who is fifty-five years or older, though as with NCL's boats, the Royal Caribbean rates are only good aboard several ships at specific times of the year. Costa Cruise Lines gives anyone who is sixty years or older as much as $200 off their ticket on any of the company's ships or itineraries. The discount is in addition to any savings you get if you purchase the ticket with an early-booking discount (called the Andiamo Rate aboard Costa's ships).
Other companies often have senior rates, as well. Ask your cruise line of choice or your travel agent for details.
At the other end of the age spectrum, there are a couple of different ways to save money when booking a trip with your children. For starters, some cruise lines offer kids’ discounts on a seasonal basis. Crystal Cruises promoted a Kids Sail Free program during the summer of 2005 aboard its ships in Alaska. The discount was good for any child age twelve or younger who shared a stateroom with two adults, and the special deal may be repeated in other parts of the world during 2006.
Other cruise lines offer permanent kids’ fares all year round. Costa Cruise Line has a program called the Friends and Family Fare, in which you can save as much as $200 per stateroom off the early-booking rates as long as you book at least two staterooms at the same time. You can also choose the Costa Loves Kids program, in which children seventeen and younger who share a cabin with you may cruise for just $199 per child.
If you are planning to share your cabin with your kids, ask whether your cruise ship offers special rates for third and fourth passengers. Even aboard cruise lines that don't offer special kids’ fares, the third and fourth passenger rates are sometimes identical to the kids’ rates aboard other cruise lines.
The latter of the Costa kids’ incentives is actually a program that you can find aboard other cruise lines under a different name, usually something as generic as “third and fourth guest.” If you are willing to share your cabin with your children, you can often get them deeply discounted fares. With Carnival, for example, a four-day Bahamas and Caribbean cruise costs at least $799 per person with the early-booking discount, but the third and fourth guest in a single cabin are eligible for fares as low as $199 with the early-booking discount.
Look for these kinds of savings without the name “kid” in the brochure for whatever cruise line you choose, and you're likely to find a good deal.
Web Site Specials
When the cruise-ship companies have trouble filling up their boats, they keep the discounts coming—sometimes right up until the day of embarkation. Last-minute deals were more prevalent in the past than they are today, mostly because demand for cabins has increased in recent years and the companies have no reason to lower their prices when every cabin is full. Still, if you're not set on a specific ship or a specific itinerary, you can save a ton by booking a last-minute deal on a cruise company's Web site.
Sometimes, the discounts even apply to cruises far enough in the future to allow you some planning time. For instance, in the middle of March 2005, Carnival was promoting an eight-day itinerary aboard the Carnival Legend in the southern Caribbean that went round-trip from Fort Lauderdale, Florida with ports of call in St. Maarten, Barbados, and Martinique. The brochure fare for an ocean-view cabin was $2,099, or $829 with the Super Saver early-booking discount. The special Web fare for the same exact cabin was $749—for dates as far in the future as December 2005 and December 2006. The upshot: You could have booked a cabin online for nearly $100 less than the Super Saver early-booking rate and still had at least nine months before you had to cruise.
Other Web discounts are good all year round, such as the Value Collection Sailing program that Crystal Cruises offers. Some of its ships have a limited number of cabins reserved at rates as much as 63 percent off the regular brochure fares—often aboard ships cruising during slower vacation times, such as the week before Christmas, the week before Spring Break, or the weeks before popular travel seasons officially begin in some destinations. These more-than-half-off rates remain published on the Crystal Cruises Web site until all the set-aside cabins are booked, so you can instantly find out whether you are still able to enjoy the savings on the itinerary of your choice. (You could also call, but that takes longer, and these cabins go quickly!)