Fall and winter are usually the times when people are looking for ways to escape the cold and start planning their next vacation.
With cruises becoming America’s most popular way to vacation, here are some tips how Feds planning their first (or next) cruise can get the best deal.
Look for a cruise during low season
This can literally save you hundreds and even thousands of dollars.
For Caribbean cruises, go in January to early March and September – November. For Alaska, try May and early September and for Europe, go late in the season. There are some European cruises sailing as late as October and those usually have the most unique itineraries and best prices.
If you have school-aged kids, try to go the very first or last week of their summer vacation, even if they have to miss a day or two from school – the difference in price can be substantial, especially for families with several children.
Ask for a “guarantee” cabin
Guarantee cabins essentially mean that you are choosing the category of your cabin (Inside, Oceanview or Balcony) but you cannot choose your exact cabin number and location.
If you are on a budget, this can save you a ton of money vs getting an assigned cabin. Plus, in some cases you can end up being upgraded to a higher category cabin if the cruise is not very full.
Book early or wait for a last-minute offer
The best deals and most extras are typically offered for bookings made 6-12 months in advance. That’s when you can find lower prices and added perks like free drinks, pre-paid gratuities and onboard credit. Plus, you are guaranteed to find the type of cabin that you needs. This is especially important if you are looking to cruise during peak times like New Year’s or during school vacations.
Alternatively, wait until less than three months before the cruise for any unsold cabins to be offered at a discounted rate. If you are a retired Fed with a flexible schedule, travelling with just a spouse or a friend, you can snag a great offer this way. Keep in mind though that sometimes last-minute airfare to the port city can be quite expensive.
Look for a cruise from a port within driving distance
Caribbean cruises leave from multiple ports including New York, Baltimore, New Orleans, Charleston, Galveston and even Boston. Look for sailings from a port within driving distance from you – even if the price of the cruise is slightly higher, you will save a lot of money by not having to fly to Florida and stay in a hotel the night before.
Compare the price of one vs. two cabins
If you are a large family with kids (4-6 people), compare the price of booking one cabin vs two separate cabins.
Several cruise lines have ships that offer cabins for up to 6 people, but those cabins are very limited and usually command much higher prices than the regular double and triple cabins. In some cases, it is cheaper to get two cabins near or next to each other than one family-sized cabin. Plus, you will have a lot more space this way.
Another great idea for parents with older kids is to book a Balcony cabin for the parents and an Inside cabin across the hall for the kids.
Book a repositioning cruise
Several times a year cruise lines have to move their ships from one port to another. Unlike regular cruises, which sail from and return to the same port, these so called repositioning cruises leave from one city and end up in a different one, sometimes in a different continent altogether (i.e. from the US to Europe, Alaska to Asia, New York to the Caribbean).
Because these cruises are usually longer and spend many days at sea, they are not for everyone, and cruise lines offer some amazingly low prices on many of them.
Look for an older ship
While those ships do not offer the bells and whistles of some of their newer counterparts, they sometimes offer prices twice as low as those of the new ships. Yes, you may not have things like ice skating rinks, car racing and surf simulators, but most ships operated by US-based cruise lines are kept in very good condition and you can often spend a week of being wined and dined for around $500 pp on an older ship.
Don’t choose the cruise line based solely on price
Cruise lines often have big sales, where they offer multiple extras, which add a lot of value to your cruise. For example, a drinks package regularly priced at over $300 pp may be offered for free on a cruise priced just $100 more than one that comes with no extras.
Always look at all the extras included in the price and make sure to compare apples to apples.
Don’t believe large online cruise retailers offering thousands of dollars in credits and discounts
Many of those offers are valid only on the most expensive suites and most people will only get a fraction of the maximum onboard credit advertised. However, you may not find that out until after you book the cruise or when you are at the final stages of booking.
Use one of the agencies providing special rates for Feds and always ask for the exact extras you will be receiving for the type of cabin you want.
Don’t always book the lowest priced cabin on a sailing
Many cruise lines are offering extra discounts if you purchase a non-refundable fare. This means that if you cancel your cruise, you will lose your deposit, regardless of the reason for cancellation.
When you book months in advance, keep in mind that things happen, so either purchase travel insurance or look for a refundable fare if you think something may prevent you from being able to take the cruise.
Don’t fly to the cruise port on the same day as the cruise
Many people think that they can just catch an early flight and be on the ship by noon, but not everything goes as planned, especially in the winter time. Flight delays and cancellations have caused many people to miss their cruise and, once the ship has sailed, you are on your own trying to catch it at one of the next ports. Always arrive at the cruise port the day before the cruise.
If you are travelling with family or friends and will need several cabins, do not book directly through the cruise line
Contact a travel agency (preferably one that focuses on serving government employees) so they can help you get the best rates for your group. They can set up extra discounts if you book a certain number of cabins and ensure that you get cabins near each other and that your group will be dining together.
Companies Offering Cruise Discounts For Feds
- CruiseDealsForFeds.com – they offer hundreds of discounted cruises and extra perks exclusively for federal employees, retirees and contractors
- SATO Vacations – they provide travel and cruise planning advice for military and government personnel
- GovVacationRewards – sign up with your government or military ID to receive vacation credits, points towards free travel and discounts on hotels, cruises and attractions.