9 Clever Ways Cruise Lines Entice You to Spend Money

Think that once you’ve paid for your cruise, you’re done spending money?

That is definitely not the case. Cruising is a fantastic value compared to similar land-based vacations. But once on the ship, there is still plenty of opportunity to spend.

In fact, in normal years, about 30% of what cruise companies earn in revenue comes in the form of onboard spending. So for every $1,000 in cruise fare, the company can expect about $400-$450 in onboard revenue.

And over the decades, cruise lines have had plenty of time to tweak things on the ship in an effort to generate more revenue. It’s nothing illegal or sneaky, but from how the ship is laid out to how you pay for things while onboard, there are some very clever ways that you may end up spending more money than you planned…

Using a Card for Onboard Purchases

Ship keycard on top of cash money

Let’s start with the most basic part of spending on a cruise: How you actually make a purchase. These days, everything is done on your room keycard. Sure, it opens your cabin door, but it can also be used just like a credit card around the ship.

Want a drink? Make an order and then the bartender swipes the card (or post-COVID, just asks for your room number and dame). The charge then goes on your account, and you pay it off at the end of the cruise.

Not only does all spending being on a card make things easier than dealing with cash and making change, but studies have shown again and again that people tend to spend more when paying with a credit card than with cash. Exactly how much more varies based on the study, but the trend is undeniable.

So not only can the cards be more convenient around the ship, but they also potentially mean people could spend more while on their cruise.

Pricing in “Per Day” Terms

Which sounds better to you? Paying $60 per day for a drink package, or paying $420 for the package during the length of the cruise? Over the course of a week cruise, it comes out to the same amount.

Still, for many things you’ll see them priced in per-day terms. To be sure, that makes it easier to share pricing as different people take different length cruises. But psychologically, seeing the smaller amount is less of a hurdle for many people to overcome to spend the money compared to seeing the price in full right at the start.

Now, this isn’t some bait and switch as you’ll always know what you’ll pay in total for a package or an upgrade before you pay. But similar to seeing a monthly payment when you’re buying a car or buying a house, that smaller per-day price can be easier to stomach and seem more reasonable.

Sales & Discounts

Sale sign on a cruise

Who doesn’t love a good sale? For people on the fence about a purchase, sometimes a sale offer is enough to get them off the fence and open up the wallet.

Whether buying your cruise or on the ship, you’ll notice that sale prices are everywhere. Go to any cruise website and you’ll be greeted with a big banner showing a discount or special offer. When you’re on the ship, it’s much the same. Shops around the ship offer seemingly constant sales.

Want a service in the spa or to eat in a specialty restaurant? You’ll likely see some sort of discounted sale or offer during your vacation.

These sales are nice, but they are also a technique to get passengers to go ahead and make that purchase.

Advertising on the Ship

Advertising on a cruise

You can’t spend money on a product or a service if you don’t know it exists, or you don’t think about it when it’s time to buy. That’s why cruise lines love to advertise to passengers.

We’re not talking about are the flashy TV ads you might see or the direct mailers sent to your mailbox. Instead, we’re talking more about advertising at your stateroom.

When you cruise, you’ll often come back to your room with the daily planner next to the door, along with a stack of papers offering everything from spa treatments to art auctions to deals for booking your next cruise while still on the ship.

These ads are all designed to make sure you know — or are reminded about — what’s offered around the ship that is available for purchase.

Upgrades & Specialty Items

Sure you spend money on the cruise, but there’s always the chance to spend MORE money on the trip.

Let’s take upgrades for example. Maybe you purchase a bare-bones interior cabin. For a little more, you can upgrade to an oceanview room. Or even if you sail in a suite, there’s the chance to upgrade to an even nicer suite in a better location, with more space, or a bigger balcony. No matter what you spend, there’s always a chance to spend a little more for something better.

It’s similar with specialty items, including restaurants. Sure, you can eat for free the entire cruise with food that’s included in your trip. But there is always the opportunity to eat somewhere different — for a price.

It all adds up to the ability for passengers to spend more money if they want to have a better experience.

Packages For All Levels

Ever wonder why you have so many options when it comes to packages? Take the drink package. For many cruise lines there’s a regular drink package, but then there might also be a higher-end package and maybe even one that’s more basic and includes fewer options at a lower price.

It’s the same thing for Wi-Fi packages. There will be a top-tier package with streaming, but also slower, more basic access — such as simply being able to post to social media and check email — available for a lower cost.

Having these choices means it’s more likely that a person can find a package they like. Say you only had a choice between the top-tier Internet package for $25 per day, or nothing. You might skip buying anything if you only wanted to be able to check email. But if you have the option of a lower-tier plan for $12 per day, you could find it worth spending the money.

Bundles and “Fresh Wallets”

Are you the sort of person that hates buying the cruise, and then having to pay for a drink package, and then Wi-Fi, and then gratuities? You’re not alone. It can feel like you’re being nickeled-and-dimed.

That’s why cruise lines offer bundles. This is just an industry term of grouping things together when you buy. So instead of buying a cruise and a drink package separately, you buy them together when you purchase the cruise.

This bundling can lead you to spend more when you sail. Industry executives call it having a “fresh wallet.” Since you’ve already paid for the bundled package months ago, it means you are essentially starting over on the ship. So instead of dropping hundreds on a drink package when you board, you feel like you have more money to spend while on the ship.

Strategic Location of Shops & Casino

Table games and slot machines on a cruise

Have you ever been on a cruise ship and seen the casino tucked away on a bottom deck at one end of the ship? Absolutely not. The casino is always near the heart of the ship, usually with easy access from the main promenade. In fact, you often have to walk through it to get from one end of the ship to another.

And have you ever noticed that bars and shops are easy to find, with spots right near where people congregate, such as the pool or the main thoroughfare of the ship?

It’s just common sense that if you have a place that you want people to visit — and spend their money — then you put it front and center. The same principle that applies to a shop on Main Street also applies to a cruise ship.

Dynamic Pricing

Ever heard of dynamic pricing? Not every line uses it, but one major line that does: Royal Caribbean.

Dynamic pricing is just a fancy way of saying there aren’t set prices. Instead, the prices charged for many things on and off the ship change with the specific cruise.

For instance, you might find one price for a visit to the waterpark at CocoCay, only for someone on another cruise to see a completely different price. We personally took a cruise in 2019 where the admission price to the waterpark was $51. On the same cruise just a few months later, it was $84 per person.

And on drink packages, there’s not a set price. Instead, there’s a range on Royal Caribbean of $63 to $89 per day for current cruises.

In other words, the pricing for things can change similar to seeing different prices for different cruises.

Now this doesn’t necessarily mean you pay more. Prices can go down as well to entice you to buy. But it is another tool to entice passengers to spend.

How to Save on Your Next Cruise

To be sure, there’s nothing groundbreaking about advertising to passengers or putting the casino in a noticeable spot. Even so, if you’re a passenger on a budget, then it’s a good idea to be aware. 

The good news is that even with onboard spending, the value of cruising is still undeniable. As well, it is possible to sail without having to spend any money at all on the ship. Even so, if you want to save money on your next cruise, then we have some of our favorite money-saving techniques here.

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