8 Must-Know Cruise Sale ‘Secrets’ to Know Before You Buy

Who doesn’t love a good sale? The idea of getting something for less — especially when it comes to your vacation — is enough to put a smile on anyone’s face.

And as an incentive to get you to buy that trip, the cruise lines use discounts and sales as a tool. Just like a good sale at a grocery store can get you to make a purchase you might be on the fence about, a cruise sale can get people to go ahead and book that vacation.

But before you jump at the next offer you see, there are some important things to know. These “secrets” are things you should definitely know before you buy…

Sales Run Constantly

This is just a small sample of the regular offers from one cruise line. Cruise line sales are always going.

Let’s begin with the first thing you should know whenever you see a sale offer from a cruise line. Visit any cruise line website right now and you’ll see that they are having a sale. It doesn’t matter if you want to sail Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, or anyone else, there is a sale right now.

That’s because cruise line sales run constantly. There are sales for wave season, Black Friday, summer deals, and seemingly just a sale because it is a random Tuesday. Just how some stores seem to always have big discounts, cruise lines follow a similar path.

In other words, when you get that email or you visit a cruise line website and see the headlines about a huge sale, don’t automatically think that it is something special that you won’t get any other time of the year.

But it’s also nice to know that whenever you decide to book, there will be some sort of offer for you.

Many Sales Are Similar

What’s the difference between buy one, get one free and getting 50% off? They come out to the same price. In our experience, a similar thing happens with cruise fares.

It’s not always the case, but often you’ll find that while two sales from a cruise line offer up different deals, they come out to the same price. For instance, you might see a cruise line offer 30% off of all cruise fares. A few weeks later you might see 60% off the fare for a second guest. Since cruise fare is priced based on two passengers, the price comes out the same.

That’s not to say there won’t be some differences here and there. Instead, if you’re thinking that you sail for hundreds of dollars cheaper if you only wait for the right sale, that’s probably not going to be the case.

Best Deal? Look at the “Sail” Date… not the “Sale” Date

What you pay for a cruise will depend much more on the time of year you sail versus any sale offers.

You might think that what you pay is going to be heavily influenced by the cruise line’s sale offer. Odds are that’s not the case.

As mentioned, in most cases you’ll see similar prices from cruise sales. A trip is unlikely to be hundreds cheaper from one day to the next simply because of a sale, although it doesn’t hurt to check.

Instead, your sail date will have the biggest impact on what you pay. Trips sailing during lower demand months like February or October are priced less than the same trips sailing during high-demand months like June or during Spring Break.

In other words, a sale is always nice, but being flexible is going to end up saving you the most money in the long run.

You May Find Cheaper Fares Without the Sale

When is a sale not a good deal? When it ends up costing you more money than you’d otherwise spend. How is that even possible?

A number of cruise lines have offers with perks included in the fare. So normally you buy cruise fare and then have things like gratuities, drink packages, and Wi-Fi as extra charges. These sales give you perks like these included in the cruise fare.

Here’s the deal, the sale price with the perks included will be higher than the fare without the perks. So you might see a price of $1,000 for the bare-bones fare but $1,200 for the sale fare with the extras.

If you will buy these perks anyway, then you’re getting a deal as the price is less than buying them all separately. However, if not, then you’ll actually pay less without the offer. You’ll want to run the numbers with and without the perks to see what’s the better deal for you.

“Free” Perks Might Not Be Free

Another thing to keep in mind with those “free perk” offers is that some of them might not be so free. Specifically, we’re talking about Norwegian’s Free at Sea offer.

This deal has been around for years with small tweaks occasionally and it is highly popular. Normally, depending on the room you select, you can get a number of freebies included in your fare. This includes everything from drink packages to specialty dining, excursions, Wi-Fi and more.

But one piece of fine print is that gratuities aren’t included on the free deals. So if you get the drink package included, which normally costs $99 per person, per day, you’ll still have to pay the 20% gratuity on the normal price. That comes out to roughly $20 each day of the cruise.

NCL.com shows that if you get the drink package as a perk, you still need to pay the gratuities on the headline price.

The same goes for the gratuities on the specialty dining.

You can opt out of these deals if you want, but just know that the free package would still have some cost attached.

Don’t Fall for Countdown Tickers

One tactic you might see when you visit a cruise line’s website is the sale being advertised with a countdown ticker. This ticker counts down second by second, putting an added sense of pressure that you need to book quickly or that sale will be gone forever.

We’ve already mentioned that cruise lines run sales constantly. So even if the sale ended when the timer hit zero, then another one is likely to take its place.

But in reality, sales are often extended or sometimes they are only slightly tweaked and a new countdown appears

In other words, if you’re thinking that you absolutely have to book before that timer hits zero, that’s likely not the case.

See a Lower Sale Price? Call the Cruise Line

You booked your ticket on a sunny cruise and the price drops. Try calling the cruise line to get the difference refunded or applied as onboard credit.

So say find a cruise you want to take and pull the trigger on booking the deal. You got a deal, and you’re happy with the price you paid.

Then just a few days later there’s a huge sale. Instead of just extending the previous sale or offering a slight tweak, the difference is much bigger, and it means that the same cruise you just booked is much less.

You’re out of luck, right? Not so fast. If this does happen to you, then you want to give the cruise line — or your travel agent — a call.

Often, cruise lines will work with you on price fare differences. So if you booked and the price drops, then you can many times get the difference refunded or given as onboard credit.

It doesn’t always work, but considering that it only takes 5-10 minutes of your time, it’s worth it to try.

Last-Minute Cruise Sales? Here’s the Lowdown…

Perhaps nothing is more enticing than the thought of snagging a last-minute cruise deal. If a ship is going to sail with a cabin empty, then it would make sense that the fare on that room would be cut to get someone to sail.

In reality, that’s usually not the case. At least before the pandemic, ships sailed more than full. Occupancy rates were typically above 100%, meaning that some cabins even had more than two people in them.

As well, cruise lines don’t want to “train” passengers to wait to book until the last minute. If every trip was discounted just weeks before it sailed, then passengers would wait to book, leading to a mad rush as the sail date approached. That would make planning for a trip much more difficult for the cruise line and reduce the cruise line’s pricing power.

So in normal times booking last minute usually doesn’t offer a huge deal and means having fewer cabin options.

Now, that’s not to say you have to book years in advance, but don’t expect that you’ll find many sailings departing soon for just pennies on the dollar.

Bottom Line on Cruise Sales

Ok, so what’s the bottom line here?

When it comes to cruise lines and the sales they run, our experience is that they don’t make as big a difference as you might think.

If you’re thinking about a chart showing the price of the cruise over time, you might picture a line with the price spiking up and down dramatically with different sales.

Instead it seems to be much smoother and more dependent on things like the time of year and the ship that you sail.

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