10 ways to cruise on a budget: how to get the best deal on a cruise

04.18.24 by Travelex Insurance
Image credit: Getty Images
Want to go on a cruise vacation but need to stick to a budget? From the best times to book a cruise to which cabin to choose, here are our tips for how to save money on a cruise.

If you’re thinking about a cruise for your next vacation, you’ve made a great choice! Cruises are loved by many travelers thanks to their mix of relaxation and adventure — plus the chance to wake up in a new destination each day.

But how expensive are cruises? And can you go on one if you’re sticking to your budget? Given cruise vacations can typically cost hundreds to thousands of dollars per passenger, these are questions many travelers have.

So, whenever you’re ready to start planning a getaway at sea, it’s helpful to learn all the potential ways to save money on a cruise. This means you’ll be able to focus more on having fun and less on how much you’re spending.

From timing your travel dates to maximizing the value of on-board amenities, read on to learn some ways you can set sail on a vacation that's as economical as it is memorable.

Dive into these ideas on how to save money on a cruise:

1. Consider using a travel agent.

2. Book early or last minute.

3. Travel during off-peak seasons.

4. Book an inside cabin.

5. Join a cruise loyalty program.

6. Be careful with onboard credit and skip the extras.

7. Bring your own beverages or consider buying a drink package.

8. Book a cruise on an older ship.

9. Plan cruise excursions wisely.

10. Get travel insurance for your cruise.

1. Consider using a travel agent

Yes, you can scour the internet and spend weeks comparing prices, cruise lines, and destinations — and you may find a great deal. But professional travel agents have in-depth knowledge of the cruising industry and access to exclusive deals and discounts not readily available to the public.

A seasoned travel agent can guide you towards the best-value bookings, advise on the best times to book a cruise, and maybe even snag you some complimentary upgrades or onboard credits. Their cruise planning expertise lets them tailor your vacation to match both your budget and your dreams, ensuring you get the most bang for your buck.

So, if you want to take the pressure off of figuring out how to get the best deal on a cruise, consider booking through a travel agent. Their knowledge and access to information that you may not find on your own can help you cruise on a budget. Plus, they do all the planning for you!

2. Book early or last minute

Want to know the best times to book a cruise? If you’re prepared to book your trip in advance or take a spontaneous last-minute cruise, you could have substantial savings.

Cruise lines often offer the best prices and incentives to those booking several months in advance. Or they offer discounts to fill unsold cabins as the departure date approaches. Either way, booking early or last minute is the answer to how to get the best deal on a cruise — making the idea that trips at sea are too expensive just a cruise myth.

“Early bookings usually get you the best price because cruise lines want to start filling up cabins, while late bookings — like the month before the cruise sets sail — can be heavily discounted because the cruise lines don’t want to sail with empty cabins.

“Plus, if you book your next cruise while you’re on a cruise, you can get some great deals like cabin upgrades and credits — sometimes up to a couple hundred dollars per cabin to spend on the ship.”

Michelle C., Travelex employee

3. Travel during off-peak seasons

If you’re planning a cruise on a budget, you may be asking yourself, “What’s the cheapest month to go on a cruise?”. The best times to book a cruise are during the shoulder or off-peak travel seasons, such as January, May, and early fall. Not only are the prices more affordable, but you'll also enjoy fewer crowds and potentially better service.

Generally, peak seasons for cruises fall during holidays and school breaks — meaning it’s likely more expensive during the summer. The cheapest month to go on a cruise during shoulder seasons may vary depending on where you want to cruise. For example, cruising in Alaska in April will differ from cruising in the Caribbean in October. So, do your research so you can find the best times to book a cruise for your destination.

4. Book an inside cabin

With hotels on land, it’s usually more affordable to book a smaller guest room compared to a larger suite. Similarly, on a cruise you have a few options for room types, from inside cabins and rooms with a view to balcony cabins and suites.

If having direct access to the fresh air or more space isn’t essential for you, consider booking an inside cabin. With all the exciting activities and amenities on your cruise ship, you may find that you’re hardly in the room anyway. So, if you’re contemplating how to get the best deal on your cruise, start by booking the most affordable cabin.

5. Join a cruise loyalty program

If you're a frequent cruiser, joining a loyalty program can give you perks like cabin upgrades, onboard credit and exclusive events, and discounts on future bookings — translating to considerable savings over time. And if you’re a bit worried about the cost of the program, you’ll be happy to know that some customer loyalty programs pay off after just one cruise — so it may be worth joining.

“Loyalty definitely pays off with cruise lines. As a repeat traveler, I enjoy member discounts, free laundry, and generous on-board credits. If I book my next cruise on board, I also get an extra 20% off.”

Lisa C., Travelex employee

6. Be careful with onboard credit and skip the extras

If you’re new to cruising, keep in mind that there are additional costs to consider even after you book your ticket. Gratuities, beverages, excursions, and specialty restaurants can all add up quickly. If you score onboard credit, think about putting it towards gratuities first so you don’t have to worry about it later. Everything else is optional, so if needed, you could choose to opt out of some things and not be blindsided by a huge bill when you get home.

Are you happy to only enjoy the activities and amenities included in your cruise cost? If so, here’s how to get the best deal on your cruise: Skip extra services like spa treatments, specialty dining, and shore excursions. Adding on additional costs can quickly inflate your bill, so make sure you know what’s included in your cost before departing. Then you can enjoy the included amenities and consider independently exploring destinations to cruise on a budget.

7. Bring your own beverages or consider buying a drink package

Looking forward to sipping a glass of wine on your cabin verandah or enjoying your usual protein shake by the pool? One of the best tips for how to save money on a cruise is to bring your own drinks if the cruise line permits. After checking your cruise line’s policy for bringing beverages on board, you may want to pack your own wine, beer, soft drinks, or bottled water, which can save a substantial amount. It’s important to remember that even if your cruise line allows you to bring drinks on board, they may only allow a specific amount per passenger.

If you can’t bring your own drinks on board, it’s important to plan ahead so you know how to get the best deal on cruise beverages — because drink costs can add up quickly. Specific drink charges and packages vary depending on the cruise line, so know before you go.

Here are some helpful things to know about drinks on cruise ships:

  • Many cruise lines offer complimentary tap water, coffee, basic juices, and tea throughout the ship.
  • On most cruises, you can purchase an unlimited soda package and/or a classic non-alcoholic package that includes bottled water and coffee drinks.
  • If you think a package may be right for you, figure out the cost of your favorites and how many you may drink per day. Then do the math to see if the package is worth the money.

Extra tips for how to save money on cruise beverages:

  • Packages are available anytime during your cruise, so you don’t have to buy on day one. Consider waiting to see how much you drink a la carte on the first day or two to estimate if a package is worth the money.
  • On days in port, get your drinks on land to save money. Check to see if you can bring beverages back to the boat and if so, how much you’re allowed to carry on board.

“If you book a drink package before you travel, they’re typically discounted and could potentially save you a lot of money — depending on how many beverages you expect to have.”

Cherie H., Travelex employee

Important: Just like at home, it’s important to know your limits when it comes to consuming alcohol. Lots of us like to have a drink or two while on vacation, but it’s important to stay within your limits and act responsibly. If you have travel insurance for your cruise, be sure to check the policy wording to understand if you’re covered while under the influence of alcohol.

8. Book a cruise on an older ship

Modern cruise ships are spectacular floating entertainment centers, with multiple pools, restaurants, and more on board. But newer ships with the latest amenities and attractions often come with a higher price tag. So, if you’re booking a cruise on a budget, choosing to sail on an older ship can offer a similar experience at a fraction of the cost.

9. Plan cruise excursions wisely

Your vacation won’t only be at sea; you should also consider how to get the best deal on cruise excursions while planning your trip. Why? It’s easy to spend a small fortune on excursions if you’re not careful.

So, here are some tips for how to save money on cruise excursions:

  • Find out what excursions are available for your specific cruise, then search your scheduled ports. Check the descriptions carefully to see if any are the same. Compare prices and read reviews.
  • After you find this information, compare the price of booking excursions through the cruise line verses doing it yourself directly with the excursion company. (Just make sure you allow plenty of time to get back to the ship before it departs, or you risk being left behind!)
  • Talk with your travel agent about the excursions you’d like to take, what deals they may be able to get, and get their input on how you could save money.
  • Book excursions that include food and/or drinks.

“Look for cruises that have included excursions, so you don’t have to pay extra at each port. It can seem cheaper to book your own excursions, but that's not necessarily true. Plus, if something goes wrong and you’re late getting back to the ship, they won’t wait for you. If you’re on a ship-sponsored excursion, the ship won’t leave without you.”

Lisa C., Travelex employee

10. Get travel insurance for your cruise

Something unexpected can always happen during a vacation — including at sea. Before you depart on your cruise, secure travel insurance for your trip to help cover the costs of unforeseen expenses from things like slipping and breaking your arm on the pool deck or a trip to onboard medical facilities for a stomach bug.

When you cruise with our Travelex team by your side, you can cruise on a budget without the fear of having to pay for some unexpected costs covered by our plans.

Remember how to get the best deal on a cruise with these tips

Now that you have a better idea of how to save money on a cruise, it’s time to do your research and plan your getaway! Booking a cruise on a budget is possible and will help put your mind at ease — so you can focus on soaking up your vacation.

Ready to protect your cruise from the unexpected?

Travel with our team by your side and check out our travel insurance plans. Get a quote online now.


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