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TravelCruise deals can't be trusted: Here's how to get the best value

Cruise deals can’t be trusted: Here’s how to get the best value

“Yeah, right,” I muttered while staring at a deal on Royal Caribbean’s homepage last week. A countdown clock just below the promotion told me that I only had seven hours, 40 minutes and 28 seconds left to pounce on the offer before it would magically disappear.

I knew it wasn’t true. That deal would be back the next day.

I’ve been tracking the big promotions from the major cruise lines since November. Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Line and a handful of other brands have been running the same standard bargains on their websites for months, each one claiming to have limited-time status.

What began as Black Friday promotions were repurposed and rebranded for wave season — the period during the first quarter of each year when cruise lines offer some of their best deals. Some have been extended as far out as the end of June.


At first, I was thrilled that travelers had additional time to take advantage of the deals. On second thought, I realized that if a deal is set to run for more than half the year, it’s no longer a true deal. It becomes the standard baseline for fares and inclusions. All the pressure to book right this second is being manufactured by the cruise lines.

Want to get the best bang for your buck when you book? Don’t take a cruise line’s deals at face value when it’s offering dollars off or percentage discounts off the so-called regular rate.

Here’s why those offers you’re eyeing right now aren’t anything new or special and what you should be looking for instead.

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The truth about cruise deals


Cruises are selling so well in 2024 that cruise lines don’t need to offer deep discounts or extra perks that will make passengers salivate. In fact, inventory is already limited for the summer and into the fall for many lines. When there’s enough demand, the deals don’t have to be as good — and right now, they aren’t. Sure, that high-percentage discount might catch your eye, but with cruise fares at all-time highs, you might not be saving as much as you think.

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Plus, instead of offering extra perks (such as free drinks or Wi-Fi) as part of a limited-time promotion, cruise lines are either making them part of extra-fee packages or making them standard inclusions and pricing sailings accordingly.

Holland America, Celebrity Cruises and Princess Cruises will sell you “all-inclusive” package add-ons. Additionally, NCL continues to give passengers the same Free at Sea add-ons it’s offered for years. Don’t think you’re getting something for nothing when the line gives you booking perks, such as free basic Wi-Fi and alcohol packages, shore excursion credits, complimentary dining in specialty restaurants, and free third and fourth passengers when sharing a cabin.

With that in mind, don’t let those countdown clocks or “Ends today!” banners fool you. Cruise lines are notorious for pressuring passengers to book by making it seem as though their deals will expire in a matter of hours or days. When that timer runs out, the offers are almost always extended.

How you can actually save on your next cruise


So, if cruise deals don’t always offer the value they appear to on first blush, what’s a traveler to do to ensure they’re not overpaying? Here are some ways to save on your next booking.

Crunch the numbers

You can’t trust exclamations of “2-for-1 fares” or “60% off” to indicate low prices. You need to know what the cruise you’re eyeing usually costs to know when a better-than-average fare is on offer. Track cruise fares for your sailing, and it will be easier to determine whether you’re scoring a deal when a cruise line offers you a discount. Fifty percent off a sailing isn’t necessarily a bargain if the rates have increased first.

Set price-drop alerts

If you don’t have time to look up cruise fares across several sellers every week, you can easily outsource that task. Use a website such as Cruiseline.com or Cruisewatch to set up price alerts for the ships and itineraries that interest you. If fares drop, you’ll receive a notification that it might be time to book.

Use a travel agent

Do you know who already knows what cruises should cost and are experts at identifying great deals? Travel agents. Work with a trusted, cruise-knowledgeable adviser who can find you the absolute best fares and, perhaps, throw in a few extra complimentary add-ons. Plus, if something goes wrong during your voyage, you have a point of contact to make necessary arrangements on your behalf, which can also save you time and costly mistakes.

Be strategic about when you cruise

You will pay more or less for your cruise based on when it sails. So what’s the best time to cruise? If you’re looking to save, try booking a sailing that departs during shoulder season or hurricane season (June through October), when prices tend to be lower. You might also want to avoid busy holiday and school break periods, when sailings are in the highest demand.

Be strategic about when you book

The timing of your booking relative to the sailing date is also a factor. It used to be that passengers could reel in lower prices for booking both well in advance of their cruises and also at the last minute. These days, with cruises soaring in popularity, last-minute deals are more difficult to come by than they used to be.

The best time to book is actually as early as possible. Plan to book months, if not years, in advance for the best pricing, as well as the best availability for the type of cabin you prefer.

Consider cabin type

This might seem obvious, but I’ll remind you anyway: You’ll almost always pay less for a windowless inside cabin than you will for any other type of accommodation on a ship. If all you plan to do in your room is sleep and shower, this could be a solid option if you want to save some cash.

You might also want to consider booking a guarantee cabin, which is another way to enjoy discounted rates. You’ll be assigned a cabin in your chosen category, but you won’t be able to choose which specific one it is. (Be warned that this could mean you’re stuck in a room with an obstructed view or one that’s near a noisy elevator or underneath the pool deck or kids club.)

Look to older ships

If you don’t want an inside cabin and don’t want to leave your fate in the hands of the guarantee gods, try pricing out a voyage on an older vessel. As a general rule, the older the hardware, the less expensive it tends to be to sail on it. The rule mostly applies on popular routes, such as in the Caribbean or Alaska, where you have a choice of ships. If the older ship is the only one on a far-flung, exotic route, the prices might not be as low.

Leverage points, miles and credit card offers

If you’ve racked up tons of points or miles, and you’re looking to take a cruise, you can sail for less — or even for free — if you book through a portal like United Cruises, American Airlines Cruises or the American Express Cruise Privileges program, and apply your points or miles toward the cost. It’s not always the best redemption value, but it will save you money versus paying outright for the entirety of your voyage.

Additionally, if you have a credit card that’s offering extra points on gift card purchases, buy gift cards for your favorite cruise line, and use them to pay for part or all of your sailing.

Bottom line

Only you can decide whether a particular cruise offer is a good deal for you when you weigh your vacation budget against the fares you’re paying and any extras your cruise line might include in the cost. Just because a cruise line is telling you something is a deal or a special limited-time offer doesn’t mean you’re getting especially good value for your money. When the same promotion runs for months on end, you need to dive deeper to find discounts — and not just depend on the cruise line to alert you to them.

Want to score an actual bargain on your next cruise? Find out how:


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