If you feel like a fish out of water looking for a cruise that doesn’t go overboard on pricing, don’t feel alone; in this economy most of us are in the same boat. That’s why I called Bob Levinstein, CEO of CruiseCompete.com, for advice. If anyone can shore up our knowledge about cruise bargains, Levinstein can as he has been in the business of finding consumers the best prices on cruises since 2003. Levinstein claims finding deals is smooth sailing once one knows the ropes and he offered the following tips to help cruisers become shipshape savvy about pricing.
HOW TO FIND CRUISE DEALS (according to Bob Levinstein)
CRUISE IN LOW-DEMAND TIMES Choose to cruise in non-peak times, such as when most children are in school. In particular, avoid cruising over holidays as these sailings are typically higher priced due to demand. Less demand equals a lower price.
Think about traveling at the beginning or end of a season (shoulder season) when prices are more competitive and also consider a repositioning cruise. Repositioning cruises are those where cruise lines sail from winter to summer homes or visa versa. As the purpose is to move the ship, these cruises tend to have more days at sea and fewer port stops, but are cheaper than regular cruises.
BOOK FAR IN ADVANCE OR AT THE LAST MINUTE Cruise ships offer discounts for both. If early, you have the added advantage of choice of rooms AND you can turn in a frequent flyer to cover airfare or take advantage of advance airfare specials.
Close to sailing time—three to six weeks out—cruise ships, eager to fill empty rooms, can drop prices significantly. Individual travel agents can also offer unadvertised discounts close to sailing time, so check out a few and compare prices.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT CABIN Cruise ships offer different price structures for different type cabins. Cabins on certain decks, and without certain amenities are cheaper to book than the premium cabins with all the bells and whistles. Right choice of cabin can drop costs dramatically.
Keep in mind that if you book a “category guarantee” you can reserve a category of cabin, but not a specific room—which will be assigned. You pay the lowest rate available and often end up being upgraded to a better category.
CONSIDER ALL DEALS When factoring costs, consider the value of onboard credits. An extra $100 in your onboard account is just as good as a $100 discount off of your cruise fare. This onboard credit can be used for tips and anything else on board.
Think about a specialty soft drink option. For example, on Princess Cruises, soda cards are approximately $9 per person, per day for all you can drink. Some cards included such items as hot chocolate, “mocktails,” and specialty ice creams in addition to soft drinks. Specialty coffee cards are also available.
Purchase your shore excursions directly rather than through the cruise line. A good site to research your options is AllThings Cruise.com.
SEARCH THE WEB Use the Internet to locate the sailings with the lowest demand. Find the cruise you want, the exact date and the type cabin, but don’t buy at the price advertised as cruise lines only let agencies promote retail prices. Get custom quotes directly from agents. You can contact multiple travel agencies yourself, or you can put a quote request into CruiseCompete.com and let the 1000 member agents come to you with their best offers.
Here’s how CruiseCompete.com works: You register on the site and then type in your cruise choice being specific about ship, sailing date and cabin type. Member travel agents will bid on your cruise. They will be competitive. You can communicate with agents by phone, E-mail or live chat to ask questions or to see if they can “sweeten the deal” with extra discounts or on-board credit. Compare prices, making sure that your price includes all charges and then you can book with the agent of your choice. There is no cost to you for this service and you will remain anonymous until you make your booking.