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How to get cheap cruise deals

10 Sep 2018
Matt Hochberg

If you are trying to find a cheap Royal Caribbean cruise deal, there a few good strategies that you can employ to narrow your search down and lock in on a great rate.  Royal Caribbean offers a tremendous value across its sailings, and sometimes you can snag an even better deal on select sailings.

Competition in the cruise industry to outdo each other and offer new cruisers greater incentives to try a cruise vacation means there can be significant savings to reap, thanks to various sales promotions and offers.  

It is important to realize that what constitutes a good deal is in the eye of the beholder, as value is a relative proposition. This means that finding a cheap cruise deal is more about finding a price that works for your budget, rather than scouring the internet for a bargain basement price.  With cruising as popular as ever, finding ridiculously low rates is not that realistic.  With that being said, there are definitely deals to be found and here is our strategies for finding the best ones!

Book early

The best strategy for getting the lowest price on a Royal Caribbean cruise is to book your cruise as early as you can.  Royal Caribbean's prices tend to go up over time, as more and more guests book up rooms.  As a result, we find the lowest prices tend to be offered early, especially for shorter sailings.

If you can book at least six months in advance, you will likely lock in a much lower price.  If you can get in on new sailings when they are announced, you will find often the lowest prices that are regularly offered by the cruise line.  Pricing for staterooms is not an exact science, but in general, the more rooms that are booked up, the less inventory left and thus, higher prices.  By booking early, you will avoid the peak prices that will be offered later.

Booking early is especially important for high-demand sailings, such as the summer, holiday weeks (Christmas, New Years, Spring Break, et al).  These sailings will always command higher prices, so the key for getting the lowest price on these cruises is to book early.

Short sailings (less than five nights) tend to be booked much closer to the sail date than longer sailings, so we find that if you can book nine to twelve months in advance (or earlier), significant savings can be found.

Check for price drops

If you live in a country where you can adjust the price of your cruise prior to final payment date (United States, Canada, Australia....sorry, not the United Kingdom), then a really good strategy is to check regularly for price drops.

The basic premise of this strategy is to re-price your booked sailing and see if the price has changed.  If the price has gone down on the category stateroom you booked and you are before final payment date, you can contact your travel agent to adjust the price.

In terms of how often to check for price drops, the most practical strategy is to check when a new sales promotion is announced.  Some folks will check daily, but that may be a bit aggressive for our taste.  You will want to check periodically, although if you employed our first tip and booked your cruise early, you may find the price you locked in is already a great rate.

Skip the newest ships

Royal Caribbean places a premium on its newest cruise ships, since they are the "latest and greatest" cruise ships available and have the highest demand.  While we love the amazing innovations these new ships offer, if you are looking for a cheap cruise deal, they are found in the established ships in the fleet.

As new ships enter the fleet, their net effect is pricing for older ships in the fleet tends to go down. Think of it in broad terms like new cars.  New car models are priced higher than last year's model.  

Royal Caribbean's Freedom, Voyager, Radiance and Vision class ships are priced extremely well, and price savvy consumers will often find terrific bargains on these ships.

If you are concerned that an older ship will mean a boring or less-exciting time, fear not. Royal Caribbean spends millions of dollars in ship revitalizations that have added new activities, features and amenities that almost make them feel like new ships.

Use a travel agent

One of the best resources for finding a great deal is a good travel agent.  It is their job to stay informed of promotions, price drops, special sailings and more.  

Travel agents work directly with the cruise lines and they have additional information at their disposal to get you a lower price.  There are special group bookings, internal agency promotions and even special discounts for select travel agents that no internet search will return.  Moreover, a good travel agent will work with you to get the best price not just at the time of booking, but all the way until your final payment date. 

A good strategy for picking a travel agency is to contact them for a quote and to ask the agent a few other questions about prices, the cruise or any other concern you may have.  The point of this is to get a sense of their level of responsiveness and service.  Finding a good partner in a travel agent can make your life so much easier, and I think that is far more important than someone else offering you an extra $20 discount.

Be sure to ask your travel agent about something called the "Going, Going, Gone" rates.  These are weekly deals offered by Royal Caribbean on select last-minute sailings that the cruise line wants to fill up.  

Guarantee cabins

If you are not picky about where your stateroom is located, booking a guarantee stateroom can save you a lot of money.

Guarantee staterooms are a tool that Royal Caribbean uses to help fill in empty staterooms. Basically, the cruise line offers a discounted rate for a guarantee room, which means if you book this rate, the cruise line will assign a room of at least the category you chose for less than someone who picks their stateroom number.

The "catch" to a guarantee room is that Royal Caribbean will assign your room number at some point between when you book the stateroom and your sail date.  You are essentially trading the ability to pick your stateroom location for a lower cruise fare.

Non-refundable rates

The lowest cruise fares these days tend to be for non-refundable cruise fares.  Like the airline and car rental industries, Royal Caribbean will offer you a lower price on a cruise if you commit to a particular ship and sail date rather than booking a fare that allows for a full refund.

Most staterooms will offer a refundable and non-refundable rate.  The non-refundable rate will be lower than the standard fare during brand promotions.  The "catch" is if you want to cancel the booking, or change the sail date and/or ship, you will incur a $100 per guest change fee for each qualifying change made to the reservation. There is no limit on the number of change fees that can be incurred.

If you are certain of the sailing you want to go on, then there is little risk with booking a non-refundable rate.  It is important to understand the consequences of having to change your booking later prior to committing to this option.

Cruise in shoulder seasons

If you can go on a cruise in the slower times of the year, referred to as the shoulder season, you can net some deeply discounted cruise prices.  These are times of the year when most guests are unable or unwilling to go on a cruise.  Typically this is when school is still in session and/or immediately before or after a common time for vacations.

If you want to target these slower times of the year, consider cruises during:

  • January (minus New Years)
  • First two weeks of February
  • Early May
  • September
  • October
  • Early November (minus the weeks of Veterans Day and/or Thanksgiving)
  • First two weeks of December

As you can tell from the time of the year listed, you are trying to avoid holidays when families look to go on vacation.  Those times of the year are when there are built-in days off of school or work, and as a result, there is higher demand for cruises.

Look for special rates

Royal Caribbean offers special residency and occupational rates that can net even greater savings on a cruise fare.  Royal Caribbean offers regularly special rates on select sailings to members of the U.S. and Canadian military, senior citizens, first responders, interline personnel, and even residents of certain states or countries.

The exact discount and eligibility rules will vary, so your best bet is to inform your travel agent of any of these you may qualify for. Certainly a good travel agent may ask you in advance if you are a veteran or what your occupation is, but it is important to be aware of these types of discounts.

Residency discounts are especially good to key in on, such as residents of Florida, where you may find cheaper deals on select sailings.  During the booking, be sure to mention your home city and state to see if there are any special rates available.

Repositioning cruises

One of the best values in cruising are repositioning cruises, where the cruise begins in one port and concludes the cruise in a different port.  These types of sailings often feature very low prices per night, along with longer sailings.

One-way repositioning cruises, such as transatlantic or open-jaw sailings, are priced lower because airfare prices tend to drive up the total cost of the vacation and thus, less guests are interested in booking them. 

Many veteran cruisers will tell you repositioning cruises are some of the cheapest cruises around, in addition to being a quite enjoyable cruise experience.

Matt started Royal Caribbean Blog in 2010 as a place to share his passion for all things Royal Caribbean with readers. He oversees all the writers at Royal Caribbean Blog, and writes a great deal of content on a daily basis.  He has become one of the foremost expert on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Over the years, he has reached Pinnacle Club status with Royal Caribbean's customer loyalty program.

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