When you think about travel, you might immediately envision spending huge wads of cash, but money expert Clark Howard is a firm believer that you can travel for less. For example, when Clark books a cruise, he always gets a deal.
His ability to save on cruises isn’t because he’s an avid traveler or because he used to own his own travel agency (although those experiences help). It’s because Clark has a strategy in place to find and take advantage of cheap cruise deals.
Want To Book a Cruise for Less? Read This
“You have to adjust to today’s reality and adjust how you book with the flexibility of the ship you go on, and particularly when you sail to get the best deal,” he says.
In this article, we’ll go over some awesome tips from Clark on how to save money on your next cruise.
1. Book at the Right Time
Clark says you should always let the calendar save you money when it comes to planning a trip. Just as Clark advises booking air travel by letting the deal determine the destination, he follows a similar course when it comes to cruises.
“There are certain cycles through the year when cruise lines have trouble filling all their cabins, and that’s when you steal the great deals,” he says.
When Is the Best Time To Book a Cruise?
- September: When the kids go back to school, it signals that travel season is all but over and prices will ease.
- January: After the end-of-year holidays, cruise lines will look to entice travelers with low prices.
You can also find some pockets in between those times mentioned above, which may work out better for you.
“After Thanksgiving but before Christmas kicks off is a bargain time for any kind of travel — and cruises are right in the midst of that,” Clark says. “Europe? Early in the season and late in the season, you get cheaper rates. Alaska, early in the season and late in the season.”
2. Forget About Brand Loyalty
Some people are steadfastly loyal to certain cruise line brands. But instead of giving you more options, that can absolutely kill your budget.
Clark’s advice is when planning your voyage, venture away from the cruise lines you know well and explore some others to find out what they’re about. “Look at things like experimenting with cruise lines you’re not that familiar with,” he says.
Our best cruise lines for the money will show you the top companies with affordable fares, but Clark says you should cross-reference any low pricing you find with actionable information you know about the particular cruise line.
“Never book a deal on a cruise just because it’s a deal. You need to really be comfortable that that ship is going to fit your lifestyle, the things that you’re interested in.”
Do some research on cruise lines to find those that align with your interests. Some cruise liners offer all-night parties and bar scenes. Others cater to couples and have more romantic activities. Still others are kid-oriented. The price won’t matter as much if you find yourself on a cruise ship that doesn’t mesh with your expectations.
3. Ask Around for Passenger Feedback
Clark suggests that you get feedback from people who have been on a particular cruise you’re interested in. There are several ways to do that:
“I would ask people at work, friends, colleagues. If you know they talk about going on this cruise or that cruise. Or you see them post on social media,” Clark says. “Ask them who they use. And many people who cruise regularly will have tried several cruise discounters and they’ll have their favorite.”
What asking around won’t do is get you any closer to any last-minute cruise deals. Back in the days, Clark says it used to be easy to find last-minute cruises, “but it’s not the normal way to get a good deal anymore.”
Read Cruise Review Sites
If you just listen to the promotional script that these cruise lines tell you, you’re likely to believe these companies offer a piece of heaven in the sea. Instead, you should seek a balanced (truthful) view of the cruise ship, which you can find online on cruise review sites.
What Are Some Top Cruise Line Websites?
Some of Team Clark’s favorite sites for cruise deals and reviews are:
- Vacations To Go, which allows you to compare prices from multiple travel agencies. It also has cruise ratings. Read how to save on a cruise with Vacations To Go.
- CruiseCompete.com is a good site that shows you deals compiled by travel agents. There are also reviews.
- CruiseCritic.com lets you take a deep dive into cruise ship specs as well as get the heads up on deals and booking tips and reviews from community members.
“I’d love for you to spend time on CruiseCritic.com, reading about a ship before you book on that ship,” Clark says. “Additionally, you can look closely at the various individual cabins to make sure you don’t get in a cabin that’s going to be a problem because it’s in a noisy area of the ship, for example.”
4. Take Advantage of Discounts
Do you qualify for any discounts that could reduce your travel costs? If so, Clark wants you to cash in.
For example, if you’re a veteran or active member of the U.S. military, Norwegian Cruise Line offers 10% off all cruise fares and other perks. You can also combine that deal with Norwegian’s Free At Sea promotion, which means you can also enjoy free specialty beverages, shore excursion credits, specialty dining, and more.
If you’re an AAA member, booking with Carnival can get you a two-category upgrade and a $75 onboard credit, according to the AAA website. Not an AAA member? Read our AAA guide to see if signing up is worth it.
Also, the AARP has also partnered with several cruise lines to offer exclusive deals to seniors, including up to $200 in onboard credits and more.
How Does Clark Save on Cruises?
As for Clark, he cruises for less by using discounts from Costco Travel.
“Even though the service is rather minimal, Costco rebates most of the commission that they earn back to the Costco member as a cash card,” Clark says. “And so you get a meaningful discount on the cruise.”
5. Pay the Right Way
When it comes to the best way to pay for a cruise, Clark wants you to steer clear of an e-check, an electronic payment that pulls funds from your checking account. While cruise lines may promote e-check payments as a service to you, Clark says they can end up being the opposite.
“I always want you to pay for a cruise with a credit card, never with a debit card,” Clark says.
As you know, Clark is not a fan of debit cards because they don’t offer the same protections as credit cards.
Another reason Clark says paying via credit can save you down the road is because the cruise industry has been under enormous financial strain over the past few years. If your cruise line goes belly-up, it may be impossible to get your money back if you’ve paid with an e-check.
The main thing Clark wants you to remember when trying to book a cruise is to “be flexible, flexible, flexible,” he says. Not only will you be able to educate yourself on the sale patterns of certain cruise lines, but you’ll learn when to book, “and that’s how you’ll save,” Clark says.