Cruises can be expensive, costing thousands of pounds for ocean and river cruises. Yet smart passengers can save as much as 50% off the price by finding cheap cruises. If you’re looking for cheap cruises for 2019, a few tricks can help you find the best cheap cruises, save a fortune and get additional perks such as cabin upgrades, extra onboard credit and access to VIP lounges.
Finding cheap cruises can be a challenge. Most cruise lines limit the number of discounts that cruise agents can offer, making it harder to shop around for a cheap cruise. However, if you’re flexible and not fussy about the type of cabin or even type of cruise you’d like to sail on, it’s possible to find discounted cruises that mean you pay less than other passengers.
Tips for booking a cheap cruise
Most cruise lines and travel agents selling cruises rely on direct marketing to sell cabins. Cruise lines send an avalanche of cruise brochures, cruise mailings and incentives – and the best way to get them is to sign up to email newsletters from cruise lines. A good idea is to get a free email address from Google or Microsoft specifically for email newsletters, then visit all the major cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Cunard and P&O and sign up for their promotional email newsletters.
Most cruise companies send emails with last-minute offers as they try to shift late cabins just before sailing or early booking offers. You can also sign up to specialist cruise email newsletters from a website such as cruisecritic.co.uk – its Cruise Sails email newsletters include the latest deals and offers for last-minute cruising.
Follow cruise line social media accounts for cheap cruises 2019
A great way to get cheap cruises and discounts is to follow Twitter and Facebook accounts of cruise lines and cruise agents. Watch for flash sales – limited-time discounts – and last-minute cheap cruises a few weeks before sailing. Early bird booking offers for new cruises when new cruise itineraries are released often get posted on social media first.
Cruise social media accounts to follow on Twitter are:
P&O – https://twitter.com/pandocruises
Royal Caribbean – https://twitter.com/MyRoyalUK
Celebrity Cruises – https://twitter.com/CelebrityUK
Cunard – https://twitter.com/cunardline
Viking – https://twitter.com/VikingCruisesUK
Fred. Olsen – https://twitter.com/FredOlsenCruise
Book early for cheap cruises
Cruise lines work in a similar way to airlines. The best discounts are usually reserved for early bookings, and prices increase shortly after going on sale. To get a cheap cruise, you really need to plan ahead, with the best cruise prices typically available between 18 and 24 months before sailing. By booking your cruise this far in advance, you can save around 50% on the regular price – equal to thousands of pounds.
Look out for other early booking incentives, too. Most cruise lines will throw in some additional bonuses, such as extra onboard credit or a free cabin upgrade. These can quickly add up to hundreds of pounds in savings. Booking early is especially true for luxury cruises, which can see prices double after a short early bird period.
Think about when you want to sail too. Cruises that take place in December and over the summer holidays during July and August are typically the most expensive. According to research, September is the best month for a cheap cruise.
Get the best from single cruises with our 10 tips for cruising solo guide.
Alternatively, book last-minute cruises
If you can’t book early, then last-minute booking when empty cabins need shifting is a good tactic. Last-minute means less than 90 days before sailing – when passengers pay their final fares and cruise lines have a clear idea of spare cabin inventory. The best time is between 60 and 90 days before sailing – cruise lines are desperate then to shift empty cabins. Hang on for cruises that are not selling well, such as offseason cruises. Book just outside of peak seasons (for example October in the Caribbean) for fewer crowds, more choice and lower prices.
Repositioning cruises – the little-known secret for cheap cruises
Cruise ships often need to be moved from one sea to another, such as from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean. This may be for seasonal reasons or when a new itinerary for the cruise ship is about to start. These sailings are known as repositioning cruises and they offer a great opportunity for a cheap cruise.
Some repositioning cruises are a fraction of the cost of a regular cruise – with savings often in excess of 50% off a normal cruising price.
There are downsides to repositioning cruises. Be prepared to spend a long time at sea (it can take around seven days to cross the Atlantic Ocean), which also means fewer stops at ports and therefore fewer shore excursions. Activities are often pared back, and as it’s a one-way cruise it can be expensive to fly back from the destination port. However, if you book a repositioning cruise on a large, modern cruise ship, then there are usually plenty of facilities to immerse yourself in. If you can book a cheap flight back, then repositioning cruises offer the cheapest bargain cruises you can book.
Loyalty matters for cheap cruises
The more you spend with one cruise line, the more loyal a customer you become – and that can open the door to secret loyalty discounts and cheap cruises. Most cruise lines offer loyalty programmes and all offer extras such as additional onboard credit, access to cabin upgrades and even special VIP treatment such as member-only lounges and free dinners.
For very loyal customers – those that cruise yearly with the same cruise line over many years – discounts off cruises and even free ‘thank you’ cruises may be offered. It’s a big, long-term investment but being a loyal cruise customer can pay off.
Access unpublished cruise offers
Cruise agents – travel agents specialising in cruises – are limited to how they publicly show cruise prices. Shopping around for a cheap cruise can be frustrating, with every cruise website and cruise agent listing the same price.
However, there are two ways to bag a cheap cruise. The first is to keep an eye on any last-minute discounts that appear on cruise agents websites. Sign up to their email newsletters or follow them on social media. The second is to speak to the cruise agent in person, either on the phone or by visiting the cruise agent’s shop. The best cruise agents are often rewarded by cruise lines with the ability to offer in-person, on-the-spot discounts – as long as they don’t publicise the offers. It’s worth talking to an agent before booking, even if you’re booking through the cruise agent’s website.
Make sure you claim money back on your cruise
Many cruise lines offer the ability to get a refund if the cruise line subsequently reduces its prices on your cruise. You’ll need to read the fine print when booking but look for price guarantee promises that refund the difference in the price you paid and any lower price that is later offered. You’ll need to put in a call to the cruise line or cruise agent to claim money back, though some lines will refund any price differences automatically. Keep an eye out for price reductions on any cruise you’ve booked and make sure you claim.
Interested in a European river cruise? Read our guide to river cruises Europe to discover luxury and cheap river cruises in Europe with itineraries to help you choose the best river cruise for you.
Don’t be a fussy cruise passenger
Not fussed where you sleep on a cruise ship? Avoid paying for premium rooms, especially if you plan on making the most of cruise facilities and will rarely be in your room. Outside cabins, cabins with a balcony and higher cabins command a price premium. Opt for an inside room or a lower room to make major savings.
This is less useful if you have trouble sleeping. Inside rooms can be noisy, and a little claustrophobic but if you’re not fussed then you can bank the savings and get a cheaper cruise in 2019.