When it comes to booking cruises, there are ways to save. From repositioning cruises, to special discounts, to strategies for timing your purchase, we have tips to save you money.
I'm a big fan of repositioning cruises because they offer the same on-board amenities of a regular cruise, but for a lower price. These cruises are available when the cruise lines move their fleets for the next cruise season. There are more days at sea, with fewer ports of call, but you still get the great meals and entertainment.
One example of a repositioning cruise that I recommend sails from Los Angeles to Alaska this May, with rates starting as low as $509 per person. This seven-night cruise on Norwegian departs from Los Angeles, makes stops in Juneau and Ketchikan and ends in Vancouver. The cheapest rate in the summer is $240 higher, and it departs from Seattle. If you've ever wanted to upgrade, this is the time. A balcony on the May cruise costs $729 and a suite costs $799. In the summer, those same balconies are $1,449 and the suites are $1,649.
Some of the best cruise deals are for people who have served in the military. We usually see these offers two or three times per year. The next round probably will be in May. If you are active military, in the reserves or retired, you'll need to show proof of service.
As long as you were honorably discharged you can qualify for these deals, even if you served just one day. If you need a copy of your DD214 discharge document, visit www.vetrecs.archives.gov.
Often, you can book up to three rooms at the military rate, for friends and family.
Another discount to watch for is senior rates for those 55 and older. We also sometimes see free rates for kids sharing the same cabin with paying adults. It takes a bit of time to compare these discounts, but it can be worthwhile.
Lots of people will pay extra to go on excursions when the cruise ship is in port. Choose carefully and consider the price vs. the experience. Two extras I recommend are swimming with stingrays in Grand Cayman and swimming with dolphins at Chankanaab State Park in Cozumel (www.dolphindiscovery.com; reserve in advance). These activities weren't cheap, but they were thrilling.
When the cruise ship is docked, I often like to spend the day poolside at a nearby resort. Before the cruise, I look up hotels near where the ship will be docking. I phone and talk to the reservation clerk, explaining that I will be on a cruise and would like to spend the day at the hotel. I ask if it has a day rate. Some hotels don't and, instead, make up a day rate. Either way, I can get off the ship and lounge at a five-star hotel.
If you plan to cruise in late August, September or October, don't buy too early. Once the spring cruise season winds down, we usually see great deals for late-summer and fall cruises right after Memorial Day. We see extras added on, such as free upgrades and onboard credits, and prices often drop, too.
Tom Parsons is CEO of the website BestFares.com.