Cheap Cruises: 43+ Ways To Save Money On A Cruise (2023)

Concerned about hidden fees and extra charges sneaking up on you during a cruise? This guide will cover 43+ tips and tricks for getting cheap cruises.

Haven’t cruised before but have wondered what it’s like to stay in a floating hotel while you sail the big blue? Not sure if cruising is right for you? Well, there are so many different types of cruises that I think there’s something out there for everyone to enjoy at least once in their lifetime. To name a few: family-focused cruises, repositioning cruises, luxury cruises, learning-focused cruises, Alaska cruises, Antarctica cruises, Mediterranean Sea cruises, Rhine River cruises, Panama Canal cruises, and cruises around South America’s Cape Horn.

I’ve been on 3️⃣ cruises now and they’ve all been completely unique experiences. 

1️⃣ My first cruise was a 5-day cruise on Carnival with my family when I was in the 7th grade. We sailed from Tampa to Cozumel and the Grand Caymans.

2️⃣ My second cruise was a 2-month live-aboard study abroad program called Semester at Sea during college. We sailed from the Bahamas to Spain, Italy, Croatia, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, Morocco, and disembarked in Boston. 

3️⃣ My third cruise was an 11-day repositioning cruise on Celebrity with my husband. We sailed from Miami to Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, and disembarked in Bayonne, New Jersey (metro NY).

While cruising isn’t my preferred way to travel, I’ve enjoyed all three of these experiences for different reasons.

The Carnival cruise was a great family trip and really exciting as a kid and first-time cruiser. Carnival tops all of the lists as being one of the best kid-friendly cruise lines. Additionally, this cruise was my first time beyond the US and Canada, and therefore the first time to the Caribbean, so, that was a big thrill.

Semester at Sea was my first long-term travel experience and it occurred at such a formative time in my life. I met other students from all over the US, formed lasting friendships, and found future travel partners, all while studying the history, culture, architecture, foods, languages, and religions of each of the 7 countries while en route. Semester at Sea was also especially unique in its port schedule, as we had 4-7 days in each port which really gave us an opportunity to dig further below the surface than most cruises allow.

The Celebrity cruise was my husband’s first cruise, which fulfilled a long-time dream of his, so my greatest joy was experiencing the excitement of a first-time cruiser through my husband’s eyes. And, it was fun to experience that type of vacation as a couple.

I definitely have FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), and since cruises are usually in port for less than 12 hours, it’s just too rushed of a travel style for me to make it a habit.

However, on our recent Celebrity cruise, we loved our days at sea because there were so many different activities and high-quality entertainment options paired with 8 days of oceanfront views, dining, and gorgeous sunsets. Since we were on a repositioning cruise, we had more days at sea than regular cruises typically have. Not to mention, repositioning cruises are generally less expensive than regular cruises. Win, win! Should we choose to cruise again, I wouldn’t hesitate to book a repositioning cruise. And I would definitely utilize the 43+ money-saving tips below.

Cheap Cruises: Savings Considerations Prior To Booking

1. Travel during the off-season

Avoid traveling during spring break and summer holidays and consider cruising during hurricane season in order to snag cheap cruises. In the event of a hurricane, it is unlikely that your cruise will get completely canceled, although you may experience a change(s) to your ports of call in order to avoid any inclement weather.

Hot tub in the Celebrity Summit solarium

2. Book during “wave season”

Wave season occurs between December/January – March and is essentially Black Friday for cruise lines. During wave season you can find cheap cruises with rates as low as $40/night. Cruise lines know that many people are booking travel at this time of year and they want to secure as many bookings as possible, so they offer discounts ‘wave after wave.’ You do not have to sail prior to the end of wave season in order to reap the discounts, you just need to complete your booking prior to the end of wave season before supply and demand begin to factor into pricing.

3. Consider a repositioning cruise

Repositioning cruises leave from one port and end in another port in order to relocate a ship to a new departure location. They often have more days at sea than standard cruises. Thus, they are typically less convenient, desirable, and therefore, less expensive. Repositioning cruises may be even cheaper when booked last minute. 

Celebrity Summit cruise ship docked in Bonaire

My husband and I completed our booking for an 11-day repositioning cruise in February during wave season with a late April departure. The base rate that we paid was $784/per person for a guaranteed oceanview room prior to taxes, fees, and add-on packages.

A couple we met on our cruise booked 3 days prior to departure and paid a base rate of $725/per person. Our cruise was half full, so I’d say my husband and I got a pretty good deal with booking during wave season in comparison to booking at the last minute.

4. Consider a transatlantic cruise

Transatlantic cruises often have fewer ports of call with many days at sea and are thus often less expensive.

5. Book with a less expensive cruise line

Some of the less expensive cruise lines include Carnival, MSC, and Costa.

6. Book on an older cruise ship

Newer ships cost more due to better amenities, newer technology, and sleeker, more modern designs, to name a few. Whatever you do, avoid a new ship’s maiden voyage unless you secure a major, magical discount.

The Cosmopolitan Restaurant (Main Dining Room)
The Cosmopolitan Restaurant (Main Dining Room)

We cruised on the Celebrity Summit, which was launched in 2001, but renovated in 2016. The ship didn’t have the attractions that many of the newer ships have, however, it was completely modernized and very chic. We actually liked that it didn’t have the newer attractions like Go Karts, Laser Tag, Skydiving, or a FlowRider because that likely reduced the number of kids aboard and thus made for a more peaceful and relaxing vacation. Additionally, all of those attractions cost extra money so it would have just been a temptation to spend more.

7. Flexibility is your best friend

The more flexible you are on your departure and return dates, the more options you’ll have and the better chance you’ll be able to get cheap cruises. The price of a cruise is heavily dependent on how much of the ship is sold out, so, it’s not unusual to see similar itineraries with significant differences in cost. The price of a cruise can be hundreds to thousands of dollars different based on the percentage of the ship that’s still vacant. It’s ideal to have at least a 2-4 week window of time when you’re considering different cruises in order to leave room for this scenario. 

8. Consider alternative departure ports that may be less expensive than your first choice option

PortMiami Cruise Terminals
PortMiami Cruise Terminals

9. Cross-check with travel agents, online through a search engine like Priceline, cruise portals (such as United), and direct with the cruise line to compare prices

People we met on our cruise told us they always search for cruises on Priceline to compare rates across companies and voyages. Once they’ve found the cruise they want, they request a price match from the cruise line and book direct to avoid any complications from booking through a third party. 

When we booked our cruise in February (wave season) for an April cruise through the United cruise portal, these are some of the deals that were being offered:

Cheap cruises

10. Onboard credit

Booking through a travel agent may give you perks like onboard credit. And if they don’t mention anything, just ask. You may also receive credits by booking through travel portals, like the United cruise portal, or by booking with the cruise line directly depending on any sales or promotions offered at the time of booking.

Mixology class
behind the scenes ship tour

When we booked our cruise through the United portal, we received $400 in onboard credit. We chose to put this money towards a submarine ride to see two shipwrecks off the coast of Aruba for both of us, a mixology class for both of us, and a ship tour for my husband.

Fish spotted from the Atlantis submarine
Atlantis submarine
Shipwreck spotted from the Atlantis submarine

11. Consider booking 6+ months in advance through a travel agent as they may have better group pricing for advanced sales

This doesn’t mean that you have to travel with a group in order to reap these discounts. Rather, travel agents and agencies will often hold “group space” which can offer special amenities and/or lower rates on select cabins.

12. Book last minute

If you’re not traveling with a group, consider waiting to book until the last minute for steeper discounts. Consider booking last minute especially if you can easily drive to the departure port or if you live close to an airport that consistently offers low fares to the departure port, even at the last minute. Just note that if you book last minute, you may have fewer options when it comes to selecting your cabin.

13. Cruise closer to home

This will help you avoid steep transportation expenses to and from your departure port as well as lower carrier expenses for flights, trains, etc.

Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, New Jersey (Metro NY)
Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, New Jersey (Metro NY)

14. Pick a shorter cruise length in order to save money

Fewer nights often equate to less money.

15. Consider opening a credit card through the cruise line you opt to cruise with

And then book your cruise on that credit card to maximize points and rewards

16. Consider booking an interior cabin room instead of an ocean view, balcony, or suite

Cruise cabins are tiny so you likely won’t want to spend much time in it other than to sleep. Additionally, the 5-star service you receive will be the same across all types of cabins. 

Items magnetized to cruise cabin wall

17. Consider booking on a lower deck

Rooms on lower decks are almost always less expensive. Additionally, if you’re concerned about seasickness, you’ll be better off on a lower floor with a room in the middle of the ship.

Cabin 2000

18. Book a Guaranteed Cabin

With a guaranteed cabin, cruise lines guarantee a specific cabin type and class, but may assign your specific cabin closer to departure, even as late as the time that you board. If the cruise line is unable to accommodate you in the type of cabin and class that you booked, then you will be upgraded free of charge. 

My husband and I booked a guaranteed oceanview cabin and we were assigned to room 2000 immediately upon booking. This is the room that we remained assigned to up until the time of boarding. We must have been the first people to book a guaranteed oceanview room because we were placed in the lowest room number available to guests.

19. Cruise with family and friends for group discounts 

Depending on your group size, you may be able to score a free cabin.

20. Bring the kids!

Considering whether or not to bring the kids along or leave them behind with family while you cruise with your honey? Bring them! Cruise lines often offer free guests after the second guest in the party, therefore it’s likely that your kids will cruise for free. Cruise lines also have kid camps where the kids can participate in supervised activities and play with other kids so that you can still get one on one time with your partner. Just double-check to see if the kid’s camp will cost you anything extra.

21. If you are cruising with more than 2 people in your party, such as parents and one or two kids, you will be very cramped in a single cabin. 

Price out a single cabin for 4 with the extra fees for the two additional guests vs. 2 separate cabins to see if it’s still in your budget. You may be able to get connecting cabins or two cabins side by side, giving you more space and comfort.

Oceanview cabin

22. Additional Discounts 

Ask about additional discounts such as those for military, retirees, residents of the state where the cruise is departing from, and maiden voyage benefits for first-time cruisers of a given cruise line.

23. Don’t select travel insurance through the cruise line

See if you’re already covered through pre-existing insurance or consider less expensive alternatives. Booking your cruise on a credit card that includes travel protection is a great way to get coverage. Additionally, if your medical insurance won’t cover you during your cruise, purchase a plan from Faith Ventures, the most affordable comprehensive option on the market.

Cheap Cruises: Savings Considerations Prior To Boarding

24. Keep Checking Prices 

Many people would prefer not to check on their travel bookings after securing their reservations for fear of finding a cheaper price and experiencing buyer’s remorse. However, with cruises, you can often ask for an adjustment if the price drops. Even if you’ve made the final payment, it’s still worthwhile to ask for a partial refund. At the very least, you may be able to get a cabin upgrade or score some onboard credit.

25. Bid for a room upgrade

Consider booking the cheapest cabin you’re comfortable with and bid for an upgrade. You can bid for an upgrade prior to departure or check with guest services when you board to see what stateroom classifications are still available.

A couple we met went to guest services on embarkation day and paid $150 to upgrade from an ocean-view room to a balcony. If you know you want to upgrade, I would recommend doing it prior to boarding so you don’t waste a lot of time waiting in line at guest services on embarkation day.

26. Sign up for the cruise line’s loyalty program

The more you cruise, the more benefits you’ll receive, including points and rewards for future cruises. By joining Celebrity Cruise’s Captain’s Club, we received a free scoop of gelato as well as access to free, exclusive events such as a welcome party with the Captain inclusive of free drinks, a wine tasting event, and a backstage tour as members of the Preview level. The higher status levels had access to exclusive dining rooms as well as additional events and perks.

Celebrity Cruises Captain's Club exclusive events

Celebrity Cruises also hosts a happy hour each night from 5-7 PM for Captain’s Club Elite members and above with unlimited complimentary cocktails, wine, and beer from a select menu. This benefit alone could save you the price of a drink package if you’re not planning to drink throughout the day.

27. Pre-book all packages

This includes dining, beverage, wifi, and shore excursions. Pre-booked packages are 10-20%+ less expensive than purchasing after boarding, and you can use onboard credit in advance towards pre-booked packages. You will also get the best selection of excursions if you pre-book, as it’s possible for them to sell out. Just do your research to know if you’re actually getting a good deal or not.

Pre-booked discounted shore excursion

28. If you’re really trying to pinch pennies, avoid packages altogether

  • All base meals are included on cruises, so a dining package is unnecessary and will quickly add up. 
  • Think carefully about how many drinks per day you realistically think you will consume and do some research on beverage pricing for your cruise, including happy hour rates. Additionally, most cruise lines allow you to bring a specified amount of alcohol, soda, and water on board (more on that later), providing an affordable alternative to drink packages. Remember, there will be several free drink opportunities onboard as well.
  • Check to see if your phone carrier and plan will cover you while on board and in port. Consider whether or not you truly need wifi onboard or take the opportunity to unplug and check in at free wifi locations in port. 
  • Look at cruise excursion offerings to get ideas about activities of interest on land and then research pricing and feasibility for completing those excursions on your own or through a third party to see which is most affordable.
Our DIY trip to the Aruba Aloe Factory and Museum = FREE

Learn more tips and tricks for maximizing free onboard offerings in place of packages in the section below titled “Cruise Savings Once Onboard”.

29. Look at flights offered through the cruise company 

Flights through the cruise lines are often competitively priced, if not less expensive, and they come with added protection in case of any delays, missed connections, or cancellations. However, if your flight gets canceled or delayed and you need to rebook, you’ll need to call the cruise line rather than the airline since tickets booked through cruise lines are considered third-party bookings. Additionally, cruise line customer service offices often operate on standard business hours, i.e. Monday-Friday from ~8 AM – 5 PM, and may be closed on the weekends and likely on holidays. Therefore, unless the discount on the flight is significant, you’re probably safer to book direct through the airline.

Cheap Cruises: Packing Tips

30. Bring Bounce Rapid Touch-Up wrinkle release

This will help you avoid the hefty price tag of sending your clothing for ironing if your ship doesn’t have a self-service area. Additionally, this will save you the inconvenience of waiting for your clothing to be returned, especially if the outfit you want to wear on the first night is a wrinkled mess.

31. Bring Tide To Go to treat any stains

And wash your own clothing in your cabin sink if you get in a pinch.

Good Dimes tip: wash clothing with bar soap instead of shower gel to prevent staining.

Cheap Cruises: Savings Once Onboard

Cheap Cruises: Food and Beverage

32. Bring aboard your own alcohol

You are allowed to bring a small amount of alcohol onboard many cruise ships inclusive of wine and champagne but not hard liquor. Cruise lines typically allow one bottle per adult, but check with your specific cruise line prior to packing your bags. 

There is a corkage fee to have your bottle opened in the dining room, usually ~$15. If you have any wine left over, the dining staff will keep your bottle in the dining room for you so when you go back the next night, you can continue to enjoy the same wine. Decide to dine at a different restaurant the next night? You’ll still be able to request your wine from the previous night. It gets tagged with your room number and can be requested from any dining room on the ship.

Good Dimes tip: To avoid the corkage fee, bring your own corkscrew (be sure to pack it in your checked baggage) and go to the bar to ask for wine glasses. Open the bottle in your cabin, pour your own glass(es), and then take it up to your area of choice to enjoy. You could even bring your wine to dinner this way.

 33. Carry on your own soda and water if allowed by your cruise line 

Be sure to check the fine print of the policy. 

34. If you don’t have the beverage package, look for the “drink of the day” specials, happy hours, and free drink opportunities

The “drink of the day” may be as low as $6-8. Free drink opportunities include events such as the welcome reception, captain’s night, past passenger party (if that applies to you), and the art auction. 

Champagne and a show

On our cruise, free champagne was offered to us on both evening chic nights when we attended the show in the theater and during our free kitchen galley tour. Additionally, there was a martini show every night at 8 PM where you could score a mini martini if you were standing nearby and quick to act. 

Martini bar show

Some drinks come with souvenir glasses, but if you don’t take the souvenir glass, you can often save money, sometimes $2/drink.

35. When purchasing a drink at the bar, even if there’s a line for the tip, you are already being charged a service charge

The service charge is typically 18-20% and will be explicitly stated on your bill. Be aware that if you include additional money on the tip line, you are double tipping.

Blue Curaçao in Curaçao
Blue Curaçao in Curaçao

36. Lobster Tail

At least in the case of Celebrity Cruises, ordering a 2nd lobster tail will cost extra. Instead of ordering two lobster tails, consider ordering a surf and turf option where you get steak + a lobster tail. Alternatively, ask others you’re dining with who may not want lobster to add a lobster tail to their entree for free and give it to you, as the lobster tails are small. If you don’t like steak, you can always order an alternative second entree or double up on starters to supplement your lobster tail.

lobster dinner

37. Take snacks off board when in port to save money on food on land

It’s safest to take pre-packed, sealed snacks. If you’re considering taking other food items off board, make sure you know what items aren’t allowed through customs at your port, such as fruits, vegetables, and meats.

38. Hop Back On Board for Meals

Consider getting back onto the ship for lunch and/or dinner if it’s convenient in order to save money on land.

Oranges in Orangestad
Oranges in Orangestad


39. Check for discounts at the shops aboard the ship

First, check your cabin. If you booked your cruise through a travel agent or if you’ve cruised previously with the same cruise line, you may have coupons in your cabin. Additionally, ask the staff in the store if they will be running discounts later on during the cruise. 

Shop discounts

At the end of the cruise, there may be a liquidation sale which will either be held at the shops or potentially in one of the main dining rooms. As a note, the items at the liquidation sale are often not the items that are currently selling in the shop, but you may still find some Good Dimes. Sometimes, the liquidation sales will have deals where if you buy 6 items, you pay $50 instead of $60, for example. Our ship was selling lots of items for $10 on the last couple of days of our cruise.

Shop discounts


40. Check to see if your Spa offers complimentary sauna use 

The sauna on Celebrity Summit was located in the women’s changing room at the spa and was free for all passengers to use.

Cheap Cruises: General Tips

41. Look for specials, promotions, and discounts when boarding the ship on the first day and by checking the daily planner on the app

In particular, specialty restaurants are typically discounted on the first night. So, if you want an elevated dining experience at a discount, the first night is likely your best bet. Specialty restaurants may also have promotions on port days when most people are off the ship exploring. Check with the specialty restaurants on embarkation day to learn about their scheduled promotions.

My husband and I booked a specialty dining experience at Le Petit Chef for the first night at 30% off. We paid $42 per person for a 4-course meal instead of the standard $60 per person. If you want to go to Le Petit Chef in New York, you’ll be out almost $300!

Le Petit Chef

Spa discounts are usually offered later in the week, but, if you make your reservation on the first day for one of the last days on board, there will most likely be a cheaper rate that you can cash in on by the time of your appointment. Additionally, if you attend Spa events, you may also be offered discounts on Spa services.

Women's Wellness Event

Our cruise hosted a complimentary liquor tasting for all passengers.

Complimentary Liquor Tasting

42. Make friends on board and share the costs of taxis, car rentals, and other on-land expenses

Standardized taxi prices in Aruba
Standardized taxi prices in Aruba

43. Budget

Keep an eye on your shipboard account through your cruise line’s app if applicable or use a budget tracking app, like TravelSpend, to keep costs in check.

Shipboard account

44. Consider booking your next cruise while onboard your current cruise

I know it may sound crazy to already be thinking about your next vacation before even completing your current one, however, you can save a lot of money by doing this. Your next cruise will be discounted and you’ll likely get an onboard credit as well.

On the first day of your cruise, book an appointment with the future cruise consultant for the last day of your cruise since it gets super busy on the last day. You won’t be locked into signing up for a future cruise, but you can at least go learn about the future cruise offerings and discounts and see if anything entices you.

I hope you found this post informative and feel well-equipped to score a cheap cruise vacation. Let the community know in the comments below if you have any other tips for snagging cheap cruises!

Read my post about the 21+ best things to do in 1-day in Bonaire for less than $50 per person. It’s the perfect 1-day itinerary for cruisers to the island!

Looking for more content on travel savings hacks? Check out my post on 17 ways to get free room and board and travel on a budget.

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