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14 Ways to Score a Super Affordable Cruise

Updated: Oct 27, 2019

Learn how to beat the cruise ship money-making system by taking smart actions that result in huge savings.

Pinterest photo of 14 Ways to Score a Super Affordable Cruise

Hopping on a floating resort and cruising off to a corner of the world can be an excellent way to travel with the family. However, that cruise liner ad making you think a certain voyage will be a total steal can be misleading if you don’t know how to work the system - a system that's a pro at getting cruise-goers to spend money.

We used to steer clear of cruises, thinking they were not-worth-it money traps. But after navigating monetary hiccups and confusions during our first few cruises, we were able to work out how to go on a cruise that was less than $800 per person, and included a final on-board bill of $0.

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Before you book your next cruise…

1. Find a ship that leaves from a port near you.

Cruise ship in a port at sunset

The big save here is that if you live close enough to this port you won’t have to pay for airfare, and a hotel the night before or after the cruise.

Major cruise ship ports in the United States are located in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Tampa, Honolulu, New Orleans, Boston, New York, Charleston, Norfolk and Galveston.

2. Set up a new email purely for travel deal notifications, and sign up for special-deals-emails from the cruise companies you’re interested in.

Woman on laptop looking up travel deals from cruise lines

Most cruise lines are constantly offering an assortment of deals. However, the type of deal you need when you happen to look might not come up. For example, maybe you have young kids and are looking for a deal that allows kids to cruise for half off.

To ensure you’re able to catch the right deal at the right time, set up an email address used specifically for savings-alerts from the cruise lines you’re interested in traveling with. This way, your main inbox won’t be inundated with emails from cruise lines, and you can choose when you want to dive in to deal research. Make sure you don’t miss out on the deal you’re looking for by going through these emails about once a week.

3. Book last minute.

If you have the flexibility to travel on a whim, you can often find amazing last minute deals for cruise lines eager to fill their remaining rooms. For those dead set on a certain cruise line, particular ship, select destinations, or date range, this likely won’t be a good fit.

4. Reserve an interior room.

If you’re someone planning to spend ample time in your room, skip this suggestion and opt for a window or balcony room. But if your jam is getting up and at em’ and utilizing the ship’s numerous amenities, you’ll likely only be using your room for sleeping, in which case a room without a window will provide wonderful sleeping conditions and a big savings.

5. Buy your next cruise while you’re on a cruise.

Cruise ship deck and the ripples in the water from the movement of the ship

Cruise lines have cleverly discovered that it’s much easier to get people to sign up for another cruise while they’re immersed in the goodness of the current one. To make this buy even more desirable, they often offer mega-deals for subsequent cruises. They’re banking on the whole “too good to refuse” philosophy, but it’s a win-win situation.

6. Skip the newer ships.

The newer and fancier a ship, the more likely it is to have a high price tag. If you’re purely cruising to enjoy the latest-and-greatest amenities, it might be worth it to you to spend the extra dough to get a room on say, Royal Caribbean‘s Symphony of the Seas. But if you’re primarily interested in the various destinations cruise ships take you, you might as well score a cost cut by booking on one of the older ships visiting the locales you’re into.

7. Request the removal of automatic gratuity.

A tip jar with money inside it, representing the automatic tips cruise ships charge

Many cruise ships automatically add pretty hefty gratuities on your bill for the various on-board services you receive. For example, on a cruise to Cuba with Royal Caribbean we discovered that $100 dollars in gratuities had been added to our family’s bill for each day of our cruise – that’s $800. The service was good, but not that good. Most people just pay this, thinking they don’t have a choice. But if you simply ask the cruise ship to remove these charges before you close out your bill, they will. Then you have the freedom to tip the amounts you feel are fair.

8. Utilize the free dining options.

Free dining room on a cruise ship

Cruise ships offer numerous free culinary choices, such as the infamous buffets, pizza or hot dog eateries, and the main dining rooms where you can eat a white-tablecloth breakfast and dinner. We’ve found this free food is just as good (at least most of the time) as the “additional cost” onboard restaurants. The same goes for the dessert and candy shops - skip these costs by getting your sugar fix at one of the complementary soft serve ice cream stations (!), or at a buffet offering a menagerie of sugar. In addition, you’re welcome to order as many desserts as you want during dinner in the primary dining rooms.