Cruises can be affordable, but that doesn't mean you won't have to pay a lot of money. It's easy to overspend on travel costs because you don't know all the best ways to save money. I've had to learn how to save money on a cruise because I don't have a lot of money for onboard purchases.

I've learned a lot from trial and error over the years. I'm happy to share the wealth so that you can stretch your travel budget and avoid money mistakes. There are many ways to save on a cruise.

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How to save money on your cruise booking


It's a good idea to book early. As ships sell out, most cruise lines raise prices. You can get the lowest prices and widest choice of cabin types and locations by booking early.

It's a good idea to book at the last moment. Sometimes cruise lines will drop prices or offer value-added promotions on cruises that have too many available cabins left a few months before its scheduled departure If you don't mind which cabin you get, you can find cheap deals on last-minute sailings.

Is it a good time to book a cruise?

It's a good time to book a sailing. Cruises are more expensive during the shoulder-season months of spring and fall. Pick a cruise at the beginning or end of the Alaska or Mediterranean season when the weather is better, and you will save a lot over the peak mid-season voyages. Sailings leaving after Thanksgiving are cheaper than before Christmas.

It's a good idea to book a cabin. If you want to spend less on your next sailing, choose one of the cheapest rooms on the ship. You will get access to the same pools, restaurants, shows and activities as the people in the balcony cabins, but you won't get a window or more floor space. Some people like to sleep in cabins because they are always on the ship and never in their room.

It's a good idea to be flexible on dates. One sailing is more expensive than the next because of many unpredictable factors. You can save money if you choose to sail on a cheaper week.

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It's a good idea to book an old ship. The newer ships with their one-of-a-kind attractions and up-to- date equipment can command the highest prices. If you want a better cruise deal, look out for older ships. You won't notice you're on a 20-year-old ship if the cruise lines give them massive makeovers to add the latest restaurants and attractions. The more affordable rates will leave you with less money in your pocket to spend on luxuries.

Sales and promotions are things to look for. If there isn't a deal on, you're wasting money by booking a cruise line sale. Free wi-fi or a complimentary beverage package are included in some promotions that are all about lower fares. If you look for sales that waive the solo supplement, you can save up to 50% of the cabin price. There are discounted third and fourth guest offers that should be watched out for by families.

Which perks are actually free.

Use your casino skills. The casino players spend money on the cruise lines. Once you've established yourself as a member of a cruise line's players club, you can receive cruise discounts and casino cruise offers. It's possible to save on a cruise when taxes and fees are included.

Don't be disloyal to any cruise line. If you sail with a cruise line, you can join its loyalty program. The most loyal members can access free cruises, even if they don't qualify for the cruise fare discounts.

You can choose a drive to port. Airport transfers, flights, and a pre-cruise hotel for a family of four are all more expensive than parking a car for a week. If you want to save money on your next cruise, choose a cruise that leaves from a port that is close to your home.

You can use a credit card to get perks. You can still get more value from your vacation dollars if you pay for it with a credit card. If you book with The Platinum Card by American Express, you will get double MembershipRewards points, onboard credit and cruise line specific perks. Maybe you can use your cruise final payment to make the minimum spending requirement on a new credit card and get a bunch of points or miles for a free trip down the road?

Do you need a cruise line credit card? This is a closer look.

If you want an upgrade, you need to bid. The option to bid for an upgraded cabin is offered by several cruise lines. If your bid is approved, you'll get upgraded to a nicer room at a discounted rate, if you bid less than the cabin cost.

You can use a travel agency. Most travel agents won't charge you to use their cruise-booking services, but they can help you find the best deal on the best sailing for you, and they may even throw in a free bottle of champagne or some onboard credit. The value of these knowledgeable advisers is that they can save you from making costly mistakes on the wrong cruise purchases.

You can book a cruise on the ship. If you put a deposit down on a future cruise while you're on the current one, you can be eligible for discounts such as onboard credit, which means free spending money for you.

There are many mistakes to avoid when booking a cruise.

How to save money on board


You can get first day discounts. It can be crazy on disembarkation day. Signing up for all the things, going to the main dining room for dinner, and meeting your waiter are all things you are familiar with. The spas and specialty restaurants are open that night. Specialty restaurants may throw in a free bottle of wine in order to lure passengers through their doors.

It's a good idea to book activities and packages early. Many cruise lines offer discounts for booking shore excursions online in advance of your cruise If you plan ahead, you will save money on your next cruise.

On port days, go to the spa. Passengers prefer to book spa treatments on sea days because they get off the ship when it's docked. On formal nights, the salon is particularly busy. In order to entice passengers to book treatments on port days, cruise ship spas will often run specials or discounts, saving you money on the expensive treatments.

Specialty restaurants are open for lunch. You can spend a lot of money at specialty restaurants on your cruise. Extra charges can be found at eateries that are open for lunch. The menu is smaller and the prices are reduced, but the food is still good.

You can look for drink specials. You can save money with your ship's daily newsletter. If you want to save money on drinks while on a Caribbean vacation, look for daily drink specials or happy hours. Ask your favorite onboard bar if they offer drink deals.

You can book a drinks package. You may be able to save money if you bundle your purchases. If you already plan to drink a lot each day, look for all-you-can-drink packages that will save you money if you already book multiple reservations in advance.

Cruises have drinks packages that are worth the price. Before buying, you should know what to look for.

The souvenir glass is a good choice to skip. On the first day of your cruise, you're likely to be approached by a waiter who will give you a drink in a souvenir glass. Do you really need a cup in the shape of a Carnival funnel for the cocktail? If you say yes to the drink and no to the souvenir glass, you will save a few dollars on the cost of the drink.

Free alcohol is something to seek out. You can get drinks for free if you pay attention. Sometimes the ship's shops will offer liquor tastings in an effort to convince you to buy a bottle, and many of the onboard art auctions pass out champagne or sparkling wine to attendees. If you're a loyalty member, you may be able to get free drink vouchers or happy hours.

You can shop for souvenirs. Many cruise line boutiques offer "everything for $10" hours on items like T-shirts, evening purses and sunglasses. You can find promotional events listed in your daily schedule if you want to buy souvenirs. If you want to spend a lot of money on expensive gifts, look for specials in those boutiques. You can get an extra bauble thrown in for free if you save a bit.

You can check out the seminars The spas and boutiques on your cruise ship will often host seminars. These events are designed to get you to sign up for a spa treatment or purchase jewelry. People are often persuaded to attend by giving away spa credit or jewelry. If you want to win something, you might show up on a sea day. You could get a free massage for a minute on a spa tour.

There are mid-cruise specials that you should look for. If restaurants are not full or if paid attractions need to be discounted, cruise ships will do it. You can save on specialty dining, arcade games, spa treatments and more if you keep your schedule flexible.

How to save money in port

Grand Turk cruise port, Turks and Caicos MIKOLAJN/GETTY IMAGES

You can book your own tour. Cruise lines mark shore excursions because they have to pay for them. Booking a tour directly with a provider can save you money. You will usually get more value out of a small group tour if you choose a private tour guide.

Don't go on the tour and explore on your own. You don't need to spend a lot of money for an organized tour. Walk or take a bus to the beach to keep costs down. You can do your own walking tour with a guide. Take a hike or visit a museum. You won't have to pay for a guide or cruise line if your tour is independent.

It's a good idea to look for less inclusive beach breaks. Sometimes a cruise line will offer several versions of the same resort day pass or beach break excursion, one that just covers your entrance and another that includes lunch and drinks. You can save money by booking the least expensive version of the tour and paying for the amenities you use a la carte.

There are excursions to avoid on cruise ships.

Local transportation is a good option. Taxi rides can cost a couple a lot. Less expensive forms of transportation can be used to explore a city. Local buses and subways give a glimpse into local life.

You can use the internet in the port. The cost of internet access on a cruise ship can be more expensive than at home. If you don't need to be connected at all times, look for free or cheap internet in the port. Many port terminals have free wi-fi, or you can grab a cup of coffee or a drink at an establishment in town with free wi-fi.

Negotiating prices is important. Negotiating a lower fee will save you money on your in-port purchases. In open-air markets, you can often barter over the price of goods or services. If the vendor doesn't accept your offer, be prepared to walk.

You should bring your own beach clothes. You can rent snorkel gear, umbrellas and beach floats on most beaches you visit on a cruise. Purchase and bring with you your own snorkel gear, beach shade, inflatable beach toys and floats. You can use the gear in multiple ports and on multiple cruises even if the upfront cost is higher. You should look for inflatables or collapsible gear that can fit in carry cases.

You should not eat lunch or dinner in the port. The local cuisine in port is a great way to experience a new culture and support the local economy. If you need to cut costs, skip the meals in port and head back to the ship for meals in the many included eateries. If nothing else, avoid the over-priced and often inauthentic waterside tourist restaurants and ask around for where locals eat on the cheap.

Bottom line

You don't have to use every tip to save money on your next sailing, but keep them in mind to make smart decisions as you plan your next vacation and once you're on board. You want to make sure you don't spend too much on your vacation. You get the biggest benefit from your vacation buck.

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