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How to Get a Cheap Cruise: The Do's and Don'ts

Updated: Apr 5

The days are getting hotter as we approach Spring Break and Summer season, which begs the statement: I should go on a cruise! No better time to go on a cruise than Spring Break and Summer, right? Wrong! Well, that is if you are looking for cheap cruise deals. There are various things to avoid and many things to do when searching for the best deal on a cruise vacation - let’s talk about the Do’s and Don’ts when searching for a cheap cruise.

5 cruise ships docked at a port

DON’T book a cruise during the school system’s breaks


Cruise lines are aware of when the kids are on break, and they know that is when families can go on vacation, so they make sure to increase the price of their cabins at those times. If the goal is to find a cheap cruise, the best time is when school is in session. However, if it is the only time your family can go, you may have no other choice. But keep reading to learn about more tactics that can help you lower your cruise fare.

Speaking of kids… DO take advantage of “Kids Sail Free” promotions


Be on the lookout for any “Kids Sail Free” promotions - these tend to decrease the total price of your cruise by 1 or 2 people (except for taxes and port fees) when you already have two people staying in the cabin. This promotion could decrease your total cruise fare cost even during a school system break.

Don’t have any kids? Same. Look for “3rd and 4th Sailor Sail Free” promotions. It is the same concept as the one above but for any age!

DO book early


Screenshot of Virgin Voyages website showing the 10% pay in full now discount if the trip is further than 180 days

Booking in advance usually allows for the lowest price, and sometimes, they have an extra percentage off when you pay it in full months in advance. To illustrate, we purchased our Virgin Voyages cruise seven months in advance in full and saved an additional 10% off the room rates since we were over 180 days out.

DON’T wait for last-minute deals on High-Season Sailings


The summer months are high season and are most popular for Caribbean cruises. These are not good times to wait for a last-minute booking since the cabins sell out quickly.

DO wait for deals on last minute cruises during the Off Season


January and February are part of the shoulder season and a great time to go as everyone is recuperating from the holiday rush and not thinking of going on vacation. During this time, it is a good idea to wait for a last-minute booking as these cruise ships do not want to sail out half-empty and tend to lower their prices to get people to purchase.

DO book using Military, Senior, Returning Cruiser, or Florida Residency Deals (when applicable)


Screenshot of Carnival's filters showing the senior, military, Florida resident, and returning cruise discount check boxes

As you search for a cruise, look around the filter part of the search area for these categories for better rates, and make sure to click the one(s) that apply to you to help reduce your total cruise fare. Some of these can even save you hundreds!

Additionally, cruise lines typically offer a loyalty program to reward frequent cruisers with special discounted sailings, complimentary specialty meals, or welcome gifts. The beauty of these loyalty programs lies in their accessibility; there is no extra cost associated with joining them!

DON’T plan your cruise on pre-planned dates


To score a cheap cruise your best bet is to find a cruise that fits your wishes and budget and then ask for the time off once you have your dates. For instance, our anniversary lands around Memorial Day weekend, so that would be a good time for us to go to celebrate, but that is also one of the most expensive times to go on a cruise.

View of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic port from a restaurant in the back of the Virgin Voyages cruise ship with a Celebrity X Cruise Ship to the left and an industrial work ship to the right

DO search for cruises from September through December (except the Holidays)


In our search for a cruise, we found September through December to have great deals. September and October are usually a month or two after the kids start back at school, so families are less likely to go on vacation.

November and December are when people are gearing up for the holidays or planning on vacationing during the holidays, so the weeks around them are more likely to be at less capacity, so to fill up the cabins they will decrease the price.

2 cruise ships docked at a port

DO try to sail out of major cruise departure ports


Sailing out of a major cruise port like Miami, FL, is a good idea for getting a cheaper rate. The main reason is that there is a lot of competition in the larger ports, which typically decreases the price of the cabins.

DON’T shy away from repositioning cruises


A repositioning cruise means you will embark and disembark the same ship in different locations, and these ports are typically far from one another. Some examples are when it goes from Miami, Florida, to Los Angeles, California, or from New York, New York, to somewhere in Europe, etc.

These cruises tend to have a low cost per night and will take you to unique places you can not always go to when it is a closed loop. However, account for the additional cost of getting back home or to where you left your car. This last part may not make it the cheapest cruise at the end of the day, but it will be a nice long getaway!

Virgin Voyages cruise ship in the water at the dock in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

DO shop around


Having options is advantageous as they enable you to determine whether you are securing a good deal and acquiring the most affordable cruise. Another recommended approach is to shop around by comparing the cruise line's prices with those offered by third-party sellers or online travel agencies such as cruises.com or vacationstogo.com.

In doing so, you can take advantage of any promotions that one is doing over the other and book that one to get a better “bang for your buck.” However, my advice is that if the prices and promotions are about the same, then book directly through the cruise line’s website.

DO book your next cruise on your current cruise


Virgin Voyages promotion prior to disembarking

After you found your amazing deal, spent your vacation on the boat, and are waiting to disembark, take advantage of the cruise line promotions. For instance, at the end of our Virgin Voyages cruise in late 2022, they had a deal where we could put a $300 deposit down for a future booking that would give us an additional $300 off that booking and a $600 onboard credit for that next voyage. It was a great deal since we put $300 down to get $900 in savings/credits.

DON’T miss out on any holiday deals and promotions


Screenshot of MSC Cruises' Website for their Presidents' Day Sale

Around Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, etc., the cruise lines and even the 3rd party cruise sellers typically have a promotion. Sometimes this may be a percentage off, tips included, a night or two at the specialty restaurants, free unlimited drink packages, onboard credit, etc.

DO consider going on a smaller or older ship


Typically, the smaller and/or older ships are cheaper since most people want to go on the newer ships, like Royal Caribbean's new Icon of the Seas ship. However, this does not always hold true in smaller ports since it is the only type of ships that come in.

DO look into booking a Guaranteed Stateroom


Booking a Guarantee Cabin / Guaranteed Stateroom (GS) means you booked a cabin in a specific stateroom category but are not assigned a room until closer to boarding. The good thing about a GS is that you are guaranteed a cabin in the category selected or higher. The bad thing about a GS is that you may be on the lowest deck closest to all the gears, shafts, motors, etc.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship docked at Perfect Day at Coco Cay, their private island with a water park

DON’T sacrifice your wants for a cheaper cruise


Although you may get a better deal on an older ship, a smaller ship, or a Guaranteed Stateroom, it does not mean you should. Prioritize your wants and book a cruise with that in mind. It is your vacation - you want it to be a relaxing and luxurious time as it does not happen every day!

Search for the largest, newest, most luxurious cruise, sort it by "price low to high," and then book the first one. You will still be getting the cheapest deal (on that boat) and enjoying all the bells and whistles that come with it.

DO find a trusted cruise travel agent


Disney Wish from Snorkeling Lagoon in Castaway Cay

If all these do's and don'ts seem too daunting for you, consider enlisting the help of a travel agent. They can assist you in finding the best cruise deals on all the major cruise lines! Most travel agents are free to use, and some even throw in extra onboard credit to your particular sailing (from their commission) as a thank you.

A travel agent will not only help you find the best rate, but they will also help you understand shore excursions, schedule your time in the main dining room, and share their top tips for cruising!

Travel agents are a valuable resource when you do not want to worry about planning out the details, even if they do not offer any other incentives besides their knowledge base. (Dale, Let's Travel! LLC is not a travel agent.)

Ahoy, Sailors!


NCL cruise ship in the water approaching a city

Whether you are sailing on a Royal Caribbean Cruise, Carnival Cruise Line, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, or Princess Cruises, keep these do's and don'ts in mind when searching for your next sailing! Moreover, while there is no definitive formula for booking a cheap cruise, this information will better prepare you to search for a cruise that fits your budget and preferences!

Which tip did you find the most helpful? Do you have any tips you want to share with the Dale community? Use the comments below to share your thoughts! Share this article with the person or people you want to go on your next adventure with! Also, be sure to SUBSCRIBE below to learn about other places you should add to your "To Visit" List! Ready? Okay, vamos. Time to have fun!


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*This article is not sponsored by any cruise line, 3rd party seller, travel agency, or their affiliates.***Reperforming the above steps does not guarantee you will find the cheapest cruise out there, but it will assist you in understanding some of the different components that go into price adjustments.**
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