Cruise Tip #5. Discounts and Other Credits

Other ways to save on cruise bookings and protect your investment.

There are several pricing strategies when it comes to saving money on cruises, but one way to get a nice onboard credit or automatic upgrade is to book your next cruise while you are on a cruise. Every cruise ship has an onboard booking department, and they will give you incentives to use it.

Now, you may be thinking "I don't want to spend time on my current cruise planning my next cruise." That is the best part - all you have to do is put down a deposit on a cruise and if you change your mind the deposit is fully transferrable to a different cruise for a few years. So, you can book any cruise date and decide on a real cruise date after you get back home. When you finally take that cruise you will get the incentives they offered to get you to book that cruise - in most cases it is shipboard credit and an upgrade in cabin category.

First, verify that the deposit is transferrable. That is how the cruise lines currently manage onboard bookings, especially on Princess Cruise Line, but things can change. And then apply your deposit to a cruise fairly far out, over a year, so you have plenty of time after your current cruise to think about the next cruise you really want to take.

You should also know that just because you booked the cruise onboard it does not mean you have to continue to work with the cruise line directly with that booking. As soon as you get off the ship you can transfer that booking to your regular travel agent, and that makes managing the cruise far easier. Say you decide to go to the Amazon instead of Alaska - just call your travel agent.

Cancellation Policies in Detail

One thing everyone booking a cruise needs to understand is payment policies from the cruise lines. When you book a cruise you put down a deposit. It may anything from $100 to a percentage of the final cruise cost. Depending on the length of your cruise payment in full is due a certain number of days before the cruise sails. Typically, full payment for a seven day cruise is due 60 to 90 days ahead of the sail date.

Canceling a Cruise

Before the due date you can cancel the cruise and receive your deposit back. Once you make full payment (on the day it is due) you can cancel or change the cruise but you will most likely be subject to a "penalty" depending on how close to the sail date you cancel. The penalty amount varies according to how close you are to the sail date, and each cruise line has a specific penalty schedule. On Carnival, for example, here is the penalty schedule for a seven-day cruise where final, full payment was due 75 days ahead of the sail date:

  • 76 days or more no penalty and you get your deposit back.
  • 56 days or more you lose your deposit only
  • 30 days or more you lose your deposit or 50% of the fare, whichever is greater.
  • 15 days or more you lose your deposit or 75% of the fare, whichever is greater
  • 14 days or less - no get no refund at all.

Keep in mind that there are no exceptions to this rule - including if you break a leg, miss your flight, have a death in the family, etc.

Other Discounts

Any other discounts or onboard credit you receive will be included in the sales contract. Most cruise lines hold regular sales events where they offer incentives to book. It is definitely worthwhile to wait for these sales to take advantage of these offers.

Most cruise lines will give a $100 shipboard credit to anyone who holds 100 shares of the cruise line stock. All you have to do is prove you own the stock when you make the booking, and then prove you still own it when you board the ship.

This is true for most Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruise lines (and their subsidiary cruise lines). Carnival Corp (symbol CCL: NYSE) owns: Carnival, Holland America, Costa, Princess, Seabourn and Cunard. Royal Caribbean (symbol RCL: NYSE) owns Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Azamara. The downside is that this is not combinable with any other discount offer, so if you are already getting shipboard credit they will probably not give you more credit - but it never hurts to ask.

You prove you own the shares when making the booking by including a photocopy of the part of your brokerage statement that shows your name, the date and ownership of the shares. You do not have reveal any more than that. You need to bring the same thing with you to the ship on the day you sail. Show it to the person booking you onto the ship - and mention that you applied for the credit when making the booking. They should then put the credit on your shipboard account.

Best Price Guarantee

Most cruise lines used to have a "best price guarantee" that said you would pay the lowest price for which that cruise was ever advertised, even if the price went down after you paid in full. No more! Almost all of the cruise lines took "best price guarantees" away in 2010, with the exception of Carnival's Early Savers program which is the last and only cruise line to give you price protection. You must specifically book into the Early Savers program to get this benefit with Carnival. There are detractors who say it is not a good deal because you cannot cancel or move the cruise date without losing your deposit, so make sure you are committed to the sail date before you book with "Early Savers."

But other cruise lines have changed their so-called "best price guarantee" to only cover you if the price goes down within 48 hours of you paying your final payment. Final payments are generally due 75 days before the sail date on a 7-day cruise, so guess what? They wait 49 hours before they lower the price after final payment is due.

Now, as we said in "timing your cruise purchase" - sometimes cruises get cheaper two days after final payment is due on the cruise - because there will always be people who put down deposits but can no longer afford or manage to cruise. In bad economic times more people do this all the time, so suddenly the cruise line has more availability on that ship and needs to lower prices to sell the newly available inventory. For this reason alone - checking prices about two days after final payment is due is always a good idea.

Many cruise lines have made it a policy to hold sales on Wednesdays and Thursday. Thursday is "sale day" at most cruise lines. Ask your travel agent or in our message boards about this.

Passenger Rights

What if the cruise line cancels the cruise?

If the cruise is canceled by the cruise line for any particular reason they will contact you and should give you a refund plus a financial incentive to book another cruise. But there is no specific cruise passenger bill of rights or set of laws regarding how a cruise line must compensate you for any reason. Everything is at their discretion but they must consider their reputation.

You should know that cruise passengers do not have any specific rights under the law when it comes to many aspects of the cruise. All you are promised is a certain number of days aboard the ship with meals provided. If the power goes out, or if you miss any ports of call because of weather, political turmoil or any other "Acts of God" beyond their control they do not have to compensate you.

However they do have an image and reputation to maintain, so they are usually very fair and sometimes surprisingly generous. But if a cruise is not canceled by the cruise line you cannot cancel for any reason - including news of recent outbreaks or norovirus on the same ship, for example.

Trip Insurance

Many people use trip insurance to protect the investment they make in a cruise. For about 5% of the cost of a cruise you can buy travel insurance that will pay you if you need to cancel a cruise due to personal health issues, a death in the family or other disruptions. Travel insurance will also cover flight delays that cause you to miss the ship, lost luggage and medical evacuation in an emergency. Just keep in mind the golden rule of travel insurance - a policy only covers "named perils". If you have a problem that is not specifically mentioned in the policy it will not cover it.

For example, "Acts of God" are not usually covered by travel insurance. If a cruise is canceled due to an earthquake they will not pay. If a cruise is canceled but the cruise line gives you compensation the insurance policy will not pay. The idea is to "make you whole," not to reward you when misfortune strikes.

Next Cruise Tip >> 6. Cruise Ship Stateroom Selection

Contents: 1. Selecting a Cruise Port 2. Related "Getting There" Costs 3. Picking Your First Cruise Ship 4. Timing Your Cruise Purchase to Save Money 5. Discounts and Other Credits 6. Cruise Ship Stateroom Selection 7. Saving Money During the Cruise 8. Shore Excursions and Tours 9. Seasickness and Health at Sea 10. Why Use a Cruise Travel Agent

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