5 Simple Ways to Save Big Money on a Cruise

It’s Wave Season, so if you’re hoping to take a cruise in 2012 or 2013, now is the best time to make your booking, particularly if you’re looking for nicer cabins, free onboard credit and better views. January through March is traditionally the time of year when the most vacation-minded people start thinking about cruises, so the cruise lines are generous with incentives to secure bookings.

Of course Wave Season will be impacted by the sinking of the Costa Concordia, but it will be in favor of cruisers. Cruise ship tragedies are rare, but some people will still decide against a cruise, leaving more cabins to fill, leading to deeper discounts. If a cruise is in your plans, take a look at these five ways to get the best savings on cruises:

1) Book Early, Book Now.

The most popular cruises can book up two or more years in advance, so if you want to lock in a specific cabin, do it now. I went on an Alaskan cruise a few years ago and for the best views, you want to be on the starboard (right) side of the boat, so you have to book early. The more cabins that get booked, the fewer discounts you’ll see. Onboard credit, free upgrades, 2-for-1 fares and coupon booklets are abundant right now during Wave Season, so keep your eyes peeled.

2) Look at Off-Peak Dates.

For Caribbean or Alaskan cruises, book your cruise in May or September. If you want to cruise in New England, it’s cheapest to go in July or August. However, it may still be pricey to cruise on the most popular ships any time of year, so look to alternatives if you can.

3) Book a Repositioning Cruise.

If you really just like to cruise and don’t mind extra days at sea, think about a repositioning cruise. These cruises are available when the cruise line is getting ready to move a ship from one popular cruising area to another, like from Mexico to Alaska. They’re not for everyone, but prices can be incredibly low.

4) Opt for Less Popular Routes.

Everyone loves the Caribbean, but today’s cruisers seem to prefer the Eastern route (U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, St. Lucia), possibly because there’s a shorter distance between islands, over the Western route (Puerto Rico, Aruba, Jamaica). So this can lead to discounted Caribbean cruises simply based on supply and demand.

5) Book Late.

If you’re not particular about your cabin or the cruise route look to sites like Travelzoo and here at Fat Wallet for deeply discounted last-minute deals. Cruise lines don’t want to leave the home port with empty cabins, so the closer to the sail date, the lower the prices can go.

If you book your cruise, and then a short time later, the price drops, contact your travel agent. Depending on the cruise line, you may be entitled to a price reduction, particularly if you’ve yet to make your final payment, though it may be in the form of onboard credit. You may also be able to get an upgrade, so keep your eyes open for price drops.

Do you have any great tips and advice for scoring a deal on a cruise vacation? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear some of your own tips and tricks.

Erin Gifford is a mother of four who looks up and down for ways to save money on travel for her family. She has a family travel blog, Kidventurous, which was recently chosen as the Best Family Travel blog by Parents magazine. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter for family travel advice and deals.

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