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Best place to book cruises?

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What are some great ways to book for cruises?  It seems all the major travel sites have the same prices and bonuses.  Even Costco travel is offering the same.  Am I missing other ways to get a better deal or better bonuses?

Thank you.

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I use Vacationstogo.com because it's easy to see all the cruises going around, but where you pay for it? I think others have better spots.

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Some lines have fixed prices (Disney Cruise Line for example). The price you will see will be exactly the same, no matter where you book. What differs is the promotion offers they can add, like on board credit, or gift cards (Costco gives you a Costco cash card).

Some discounters will make you pay them directly, while others will simply pass the credit card info to the line, so you would be bound by their cancellation terms instead of the travel agency.

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As someone who has been on nearly 50 cruises, I have some experience in finding the best deals.

First I should say that for anyone that has never been on a cruise before, you should deal with a brick and mortar travel agent to help find the best line, ship, and itinerary for you. This is essential. If you get on a cruise that isn't right for your demographic and vacation goals, you will be miserable.

As long as you need hand holding, stay with a travel agent that you can talk to in person. However, once you get a cruise, or two or three behind you, eschew the travel agent overhead and look for the best bargain. As rsuaver said, some lines (such as Royal Caribbean, which also owns Celebrity) fix prices and there is no negotiation. However, travel agencies are allowed to offer perqs/amenities such as pre-paid gratuities, drinks package/internet package/specialty restaurants/etc. Also OBC (onboard credit). Some promo OBC is non-refundable, which means you have to spend it on the ship. But some is actually refundable, which means there will be a credit given at the end of the cruise.

I've had good luck with http://crucon.com . http://cruisequick.com , and once or twice with http://cruisecompete.com . http://vacationstogo.com should be good too but I've never used them.

Sometimes the best deal can be had by booking on board for your next cruise, and then allowing Internet cruise agencies to make you an offer to transfer the booking to them.

The key to getting a good deal is cruising when no one in their right mind would cruise (e.g. while school is in session, the height of hurricane season, the 2-3 weeks *before* Christmas). Oddly, the cheapest weeks of the year to cruise are early December. The most expensive weeks of the year to cruise are Christmas/New Year.

I cruise Royal Caribbean/Celebrity, and watch their "Tuesday sale" each week. These are cruises that are within final payment period that they are trying to fill. Refer to http://www.creative.rccl.com/Sales/Exciting_Deals/XcitingDeals_c... and http://www.creative.rccl.com/Sales/Royal/Multi_Dest/Special_Offe... each week around Thursday evening for the next week's sale).

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publicpersona said:   As someone who has been on nearly 50 cruises, I have some experience in finding the best deals.

...

Nice post.
What can you tell us about working with some agents whom a cruise line considers "preferred," meaning that those agents will have better deals for that particular cruise line [I think Holland America is one line that does this]?

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If you don't need hand holding, I find cruisecompete.com to be the best price every time.  You enter the exact cruise you want and category and travel agents come to with offers.  Very easy and no obligation.  The last few times I picked a place that is local to me called Crown Cruise Vacations.  It was started several years ago when another big cruise place (Cruise Value Center) sold to another site and most employees left to start this one.  I have had very good experiences with them.  I booked a cruise a few months ago that was non-cancellable (good price) but ended up not being able to for medical reasons and called them on Easter Sunday and got a nice guy on the line.  Without me asking (since I had travel insurance) he went ahead and moved me to another fare class that could cancel and cancelled the cruise for me and I got all the money back.  The have and will continue to be my #1 trusted agents.

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Unlike air travel- cruises are frequently discounted at the last minute.

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Ebates can sometimes have big cashback. Check multiple sites. The other day they had 15% back through Travelocity, and yes, it applied to cruises. You got all of the same deals that were being offered before, and a big rebate.

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bogalusa said:   
publicpersona said:   As someone who has been on nearly 50 cruises, I have some experience in finding the best deals.

...

Nice post.
What can you tell us about working with some agents whom a cruise line considers "preferred," meaning that those agents will have better deals for that particular cruise line [I think Holland America is one line that does this]?

  
Sorry I missed this. I am not familiar with Holland America cruises, so I can't say. If I were a travel agent, I'd tell people I was "preferred" too. If the agent advertises cruises heavily, they may in fact be (assuming we are talking brick and mortar agents).

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TravelerMSY said:   Unlike air travel- cruises are frequently discounted at the last minute.
  
If by last minute, you mean about six weeks out (typically when final payments for a cruise are due, and there are many cancellations), yes. But gone are the days when you could book a really cheap cruise in the last couple days before sailing. Two reasons for that. First of all, they can't clear you to sail in less than three days .. border control security, you know. But also, the hospitality industry including cruise lines make heavy use of revenue optimization data analytics. They know exactly how much to charge for a cruise to make demand equal to supply, and the pricing may change day to day to achieve that. But you're not going to see prices drop in the last 2-3 weeks .. just the week or so after final payment.

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