When it comes to affordability, it’s hard to beat what you get with a cruise. Instead of booking transportation and hotels, then having to shell out more for entertainment, restaurants, and activities on a traditional trip, it’s all included in one price.
The result is a fantastic value for what you get. Even so, there are definitely some cruises that offer a lot better pricing and value than others. If you’re wanting to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a cruise, that’s possible. But it’s also possible to get by spending hundreds on the cheapest cruises… if you know where to look.
After years of searching for cruises — including taking trips that cost as little as $106 per person aboard one of the most popular cruise lines in America — here is exactly what we’ve learned about how to find the cheapest cruises, no matter where you want to sail.
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Start Your Cruise Search With An Aggregator Site
If you want to find the cheapest cruise, then it makes sense that you want to search across all the cruise lines. After all, going to a cruise line’s website first and searching there limits you to only their trips.
Instead, any number of sites like Orbitz or AvoyaTravel can search across every line, with the ability to narrow things down by destination, date, and number of nights. As well, you can sort by price to find the absolute lowest fares.
Personally, we like to start a search on these sites and then book directly through the cruise line. There’s nothing wrong with booking through a third-party, but it does add another layer to the process. If there is a cancellation or price change, we like knowing that we can contact the cruise line directly.
Shorter = Cheaper (But Not Necessarily The Best Value)
All things considered, the shorter a cruise’s length, then the less money it’s going to cost. That shouldn’t be a surprise. So if you want to sail on the overall least expensive cruises, then look for trips that are 3-5 days in length.
But don’t mistake a cheap price for the best value. Often you’ll find that longer cruises are actually cheaper on a per-day basis, offering a better value for what you are spending. On this basis, a $500 per person 7-day cruise is “cheaper” than a $300 3-day cruise.
You’ll need to decide if you’re looking for the least expensive cruise overall or the best value when you start your search.
Avoid Sailing In The Summer
If you’re like many people, then summer is the most convenient time to cruise. Maybe you have kids who are off of school, or simply want to have a summer vacation when things at work slow down with everyone else out of the office.
If you want a cheap cruise, however, avoid sailing in the summer. During this time cruise lines see higher demand as more people look to travel. The result is higher prices.
How much higher? It’s not unusual to see the same trip cost hundreds more in the summer than during the lulls in spring or fall.
Of course, if sailing to Alaska you can’t avoid having to sail during the summer season as these trips don’t go year-round.
Cheapest Cruise Months: January, February, September, October
If you have the most flexibility and are sailing from North America, check out cruises in January, February, September and October. Generally they seem to be the least expensive options.
This doesn’t mean you can’t find inexpensive cruises outside of these months. However, on whole, these months can be drastically cheaper. During these times there are no major holidays that lead to increased travel and they come after times like the winter holidays and summer school break so everyone is back to school and work.
For months like November and December times outside the holidays are pretty cheap, but prices spike for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Older Ships Mean Cheaper Fares
No, not every trip on an older ship will be less expensive compared to a cruise on a newer ship. But as a rule of thumb, the older a ship is, the less expensive you can expect its cruises to be.
New ships? These days they are nothing short of floating resorts, with Broadway shows, amusement parks, and fine dining added in for good measure.
Older ships still have plenty to offer and can be an amazing time, but they just aren’t quite on the same level. And since everyone wants to enjoy the latest and greatest, the newer ships are priced accordingly.
So when you do find some of the cheapest cruises, expect them to be on older ships in the fleet. The good news is that these ships are regularly updated, so it’s not like you’re going to be sailing a cruise on a ship that looks like it’s from the 1970s with shag carpet! They just might not have the space and amenities seen on larger, newer vessels.
Try Your Fare With And Without Your Loyalty Number
Every cruise line has a loyalty program. Sail more nights and over time you’ll earn more perks. This includes access to exclusive fares, benefits on the ship, and more.
Whenever you book your cruise online through the cruise line’s website, there is typically a place to put in your loyalty number. Then it will show you fares.
In some cases, we’ve noticed that the rates when your number is entered can actually come out higher than without it.
Just don’t automatically assume that your loyalty account gives you the best rates. Search both with and without the number entered.
Casino Players Can Get Discounted Fares
Head to Las Vegas and drop a boatload of cash and don’t be surprised if you get a comped room. It’s a similar situation with cruises.
Just about every ship has a casino, and your play is tracked just like if you went to Vegas. Play enough and cruise lines will offer you sharply discounted cruises, sometimes for seemingly pennies on the dollar.
Is it a good deal? Well cruise lines aren’t offering you casino rates because they just want to be nice. If you’re paying $200 for a cabin, but dropping $1,000 in the casino, that’s not much different than paying $1,200 for the vacation.
Even so, you should know that if you’re a big gambler there are some benefits to your play on the ship in the form of heavily discounted cruise fare.
Don’t Wait For A Cruise Line Sale… They Don’t Really Matter
Here’s a secret about cruise line sales — they run constantly. And while they do change here and there, most of the time it seems like they all end up at the same price.
Sure you might save a few bucks, but it’s not like one day the price will be 30% less when a new sale hits compared to the day before.
That’s not what you’d think at first glance, however. Cruise lines use tools like big countdown timers on their websites, talk about exclusive offers, or wording like “last chance.”
Are there some sale offers that actually are good and only around for a little while? Sure. But what we’ve seen is that the vast majority are ones that are only tweaked slightly and then presented as new.
The sales are a way to get your attention and excited to book, but they typically don’t seem to have a large impact on what you pay from one day to the next. When you “sail” will be a much bigger influence than when you “sale.”
See If You Can Pay With Credit Card Rewards
These days many of us have credit cards with reward points. So spend a dollar, get a point that can be put toward cash back, your statement, gift cards, travel, and more.
No matter what sort of card you have, if you have some earnings, then it’s a smart idea to cash them in to help pay for your trip.
Sure, it’s not necessarily a way to find a cruise for less money, but it is less money that comes out of your pocket for the vacation.
Costco Travel Is Great For Cruises (High Incentives)
If you’re a Costco member, then you are sitting on one of the best places to buy a cruise.
There are seemingly hundreds of websites where you can buy a cruise through. And what you’ll find is that they all seem to have the same price. So a cruise for $579 on the cruise line website is $579 on Orbitz.
Where they differ sometimes is that some places will offer things like onboard credit or rewards for booking through them. In our hunts, Costco seems to be the king in this department. If you’re a member, then you can book through Costco Travel. There, the fare will be what you see elsewhere, but they offer Costco Shop Cards as an incentive.
These cards are essentially gift cards to Costco that can be used like cash at the store. And in our experience the amounts can be substantial compared to the price of the cruise. We’ve seen rewards upwards of 10% of the cruise fare.
If you’re a member, don’t book without checking out Costco first for your trip. If you aren’t a member, then it might be worth joining up.
Repositioning Cruises Are Among The Cheapest You’ll Find
If you are flexible… and I mean really flexible… with how you sail, then look at repositioning cruises.
A normal cruise begins and ends in the same port. So you hop on the ship in Miami, sail around the Caribbean for a week, and come back to Miami. But sometimes a ship is being moved from port to port. So a ship may sail from Miami to Europe for the summer.
As you might expect, filling a ship that starts in one port and ends in another — especially on a lengthy trip like across the Atlantic — can be tougher. That leads to some ridiculously cheap cruise fares.
Royal Caribbean, for example, has a 12-night cruise from Barcelona to Barbados starting at just $421 per person for cruise fare. That comes out to just $35 per day. An 11-night cruise aboard Anthem of the Seas leaves New York for England, at just $655.
The only catch? You are on your own for getting back home.
Check Prices And Call The Cruise Line If You See A Cheaper Fare After Booking
If you want the cheapest cruise, then your work isn’t quite done even after you book. You’ll want to check in from time to time (once every week or two) to see what the price is now.
Like airfare (although not as drastic), cruise fares do fluctuate. There’s always a possibility that you may book a trip and then the price falls. In that case, don’t hesitate to call the cruise line or your travel agent.
Many times you can call and get some help with the lower fare in the form of a refund or onboard credit for the difference. It doesn’t always work, but for the little time it takes, it is definitely worth the effort.
Should I Wait To Buy A Cruise Until Last Minute?
Last-minute fares aren’t really a thing anymore. It makes sense that if a cruise is about to sail with an empty cabin that the cruise line would slash the fare to at least get somebody in the room.
In reality, that’s not the case. For one, in normal times ships sail above 100% occupancy. That means every cabin has at least two people in it and some have more. In other words, ships don’t normally sail with empty cabins.
Of course, with the health crisis that’s changed a bit, but cruise lines have largely made it a point to keep pricing steady as the sail date nears. After all, if a cruise always dropped prices right before the trip, then it would train passengers to wait to book for better deals.
Which Cruise Line Has The Cheapest Cruises?
You can find deals from any cruise line, but there are some that definitely seem to offer cheaper cruises overall.
Among the major cruise lines, we find that Carnival and MSC tend to be less expensive on average than what you’ll find elsewhere.
That said, don’t let that keep you from searching across all lines. There are some routes and times where you can find cheaper cruises from other lines.
Do Computer “Cookies” Matter When Searching Online for Cruises? Do They Change Prices?
There is a belief among some people that if you search for a cruise on your computer multiple times, that the price will increase as it shows you are more interested in buying.
The idea is that a cookie on your computer browser tracks your visits and bumps up the price to earn more money for the cruise line.
Having searched and bought cruises online for years, we can tell you that we’ve never seen any sort of evidence that this happens. We’ve priced the same cruise over and over, searched in “incognito” windows, different browsers, etc. with no change in price.
Where we have seen price differences is when entering our loyalty number, which sometimes is automatically filled in with your browser’s cookies. It’s not often, but sometimes there are actually higher prices with this number entered than without.
What Is A Good Price For A Cruise?
Of course, with all the different dates, routes, lengths, and ships, the price of a cruise can vary widely. So what is a good price?
We have more details on what’s a good price here, but in general you can consider the prices below as relatively cheap. Note that these are priced per day for an interior cabin — so you can compare these with the “headline” prices you see quoted on websites.
Good Prices for a Cruise (interior, per person, before taxes/fees):
- Caribbean/Bahamas/Mexico: $75 per night
- Alaska: $100 per night
- Mediterranean: $85 per night
Why Is The Price I Pay So Much More Than The Headline Price?
When shopping for a cheap cruise, you’ll notice that there are low “headline” fares mentioned. So a 7-day cruise might go for $559, but the total cost is much higher — often three times as high — by the time you actually buy the trip.
That’s because of several reasons. First, prices on websites are quoted for the lowest-tier interior cabin. If you choose a higher-end room like a balcony, then that price will be higher.
As well, cruise fares are quoted on a per-person basis, but almost always are charged for double occupancy. So even if you sail solo, you’re charged for two cruise fares.
Finally, there are port fees and taxes. These can add another $100-$200 per person, depending on your specific trip.
More on Finding Cheap Cruise Deals
- 12 Cheap Alaskan Cruises (Starting at Just $339)
- I Sailed the CHEAPEST Cruise I Could Find… Here’s What It Was REALLY Like
- 12 Cheap Cruises Under $500 Per Person