Savvy consumers can save significant amounts of money when taking cruises, by simply creating a budget and then identifying key expenses to cut. Because that starts even before you set sail, planning ahead with knowledge of where to trim inflated costs can help slash the cost of a cruise in substantial ways.
Credit Cards That Pay You Back
Before spending a dime on a cruise, strategize possible ways to be rewarded for your expenses. There are many credit cards that pay rather generous cash back, and there are rewards programs that let you earn points redeemable for future travel – including cruises. Many also give offer promotional bonuses to new cardholders who spend a certain amount on the card within the first 90 days of card membership.
These perks are basically free money that you can easily take advantage of to save cash or earn valuable benefits. One example is the Capital One Venture Rewards Card. The annual fee of $59 is waived for the first year of card membership. Accrued rewards don’t expire, and you can use your miles for any flight or hotel stay, as well as car rentals and cruises. You earn two miles for every purchase plus 40,000 bonus miles (worth $400) as a sign-up incentive. There are also no foreign transaction fee.
Avoid Foreign Exchange Fees
If you are not familiar with foreign transaction fees, you aren’t alone. They are unknown to many consumers, but can be really important for cruise vacationers. Many credit cards charge a hefty surcharge – usually around 3% to 5% per transaction – every time you pay for something in a foreign destination. Carrying that kind of plastic on a cruise can mean you wind up paying a great deal of money that you would not have to pay if you instead used a card that does not charge foreign transaction fees.
The good news is that there are lots of cards that offer attractive features and rewards programs with no foreign transaction fee. How do you know which cards charge foreign transaction fees? Check the Terms and Conditions section of the card’s fine print or ask customer service about their foreign transaction fee policy.
Saving on Cruise Bookings
Of course the best way to save on a cruise is to simply pay less for it. And the best way to do this is to get quotes from numerous travel agents and pic the best deal. Sites like CruiseCompete make the process simple.
The slow season for the cruise industry is the first quarter of the year, and that is when you will find the lowest prices on most cruises, as well as cheaper costs to upgrade to a fancier cabin.
Individual cruise lines may also have loyalty programs for those who are frequent customers. So if you cruise often it pays to enroll. Princess Cruise lines, for instance, offers Elite Status to members who take 15 cruises or more. That makes you eligible for perks like free laundry and dry cleaning which can save you lots of time and money.
One big way to save money on a cruise is by saving on shore excursions. By booking your own cruise excursions and not using the excursions offered by the cruise ship you can save a lot. A great place to find excursion providers at various ports of call is on the Ports of Call section on Cruise Critic. People post their experiences with private companies. Do some research on your ports. Don’t worry about your tour getting back too late. Tour operators will do everything in their power to get you back to the ship on time. Their reputation depends on it.
If you drive to the port and leave your car, you may wind up having to pay a stiff parking fee, just as you do when you park at an airport. In the ports at Charleston, SC and New Orleans, LA, for example, the cost is around $17-$18 per day. You may save by having a friend drive you to port or taking public transportation to and from your home.
Another great way to save is to shop for hotels in the port city that offer what they call a “snooze and cruise package.” These hotels will let their guests leave a vehicle in the hotel parking lot for free during the cruise, and they offer shuttle service back and forth to ships. If you’re leaving on a 10-day cruise that perk alone could be worth $175 or more.
Avoid Price-Inflated Tourist Shops
Retailers located close to where cruise ships disembark often sell merchandise – such as local crafts and souvenirs – at a premium. If you want to go on a shopping spree you may find the same quality goods at a discounted price by simply venturing a little farther from the touristy sections of town.
The same goes for shopping on board your ship, where retailers know that you are a captive audience. Anything you purchase on board will automatically carry a built-in cost to cover the convenience of shopping while out in the ocean. To save money, wait until you are in port and then buy your necessities. You will likely save about 25% just by shopping on land.
The same goes for Internet service to check and send. If you can wait until you are in port and go to an Internet cafe, you’ll save a significant amount. You can find lists of Internet cafés online before you leave home using one of several cybercafé search sites.
Many ships also have self-service laundry facilities on board, and doing your own laundry is much cheaper than sending it out to be cleaned by the cruise line’s personnel. In those DIY laundry facilities you can typically pay for an entire washer load of clothes for the same price it would cost to have the cruise ship launder just one pair of jeans.
Betting Against Your Budget
A great way to save is to steer clear of the casino games cruise ships offer to travelers. Gambling can be exciting, but rarely do the customers beat the house. The cruise lines are betting that you’ll buy a few umbrella drinks and then enjoy a giddy round of gambling, which is usually a huge money-maker for the cruise company. But if you really want to cut down on your cruise vacation costs, find something else to entertain yourself with while out to sea besides gambling.
Dining and Drinking
Eating in “alternative dining” establishments aboard cruise ships is costly – although the food is often fantastic. To save money you can always try to fill up on the free fare and save the special dining experiences for special occasions. All beverages are sold at a premium on cruise ships. Drinking more top-shelf liquors – versus the generic brands – will also add substantially to that already-inflated tab. So if you really want to save money, cut back on the alcohol consumption – which can be one of the bigger expenses on a cruise for those who don’t limit their intake.
Most cruises do let you bring small amounts of wine aboard on boarding day, however, so take full advantage of that opportunity. Don’t try to sneak alcohol on board, though, because if you are caught with prohibited amounts they’ll be confiscated and you’ll lose all of it. Meanwhile, if you shop for alcohol in ports-of-call, don’t expect to consume it on board. Cruises usually store it for you and return it when you are ready to disembark at the end of the cruise. There are a few ways to get free drinks on board if you know how.