Cheap Cruise Tips for Budget Travel

The Caribbean is among the world's most popular cruise destinations.
••• (c)Mark D. Kahler

How do you define a cheap cruise?

For some, it means spending less than a week's salary for a week at sea. Others define it as less than $125 USD per day, per person. Many are more concerned about the value they receive for each dollar, pound or peso.

Definitions vary, but most ask one key question: where do I find cheap cruises? Here are some techniques for finding a good cruise deal. Not every suggestion will work for every traveler or situation. They're presented in no particular order of importance. Choose a few and get busy! Cruising is still one of the best ways to travel, and bargains are available for all types of trips.

  • 01 of 07
    Turtle Beach, Ocho Rios, Jamaica
    ••• Doug Pearson/Getty Images

    Have you ever heard of a "repo cruise?" It's travel industry slang for repositioning trips that cruise lines must make between seasons. For example, would you want your ships in Norway or the Alaskan Inside Passage during January? Those ships move to places where the weather is favorable. But the trip between Norway and Jamaica is expensive, so cruise lines take on travelers for these unusual trips. 

    The repo itineraries usually include many days at sea. The cruise lines program those days with shipboard entertainment that might not be possible on a conventional cruise. Another fact to ponder: these cruises often come in at a lower daily cost than standard three- and seven-day trips.

    These trips have attracted a loyal following, with retirees who have time to travel making up a significant part of the customers. For that reason, these trips are not as heavily promoted as other cruises.

    Find out if a repositioning cruise could fit into your travel plans. 

  • 02 of 07
    Freighters take passengers on lengthy trips.
    ••• Hamburg Süd Group

    Can you do without glitzy entertainment, waiters who double as entertainers, or spa treatments? Are you going on a cruise to enjoy the sea air and some exotic ports-of-call? For many of us, the answers to these questions lead to genuine interest in a freighter cruise.

    But freighter cruising is not to everyone.

    These trips, like repositioning cruises, last longer and cover more mileage than conventional cruises. You might need to invest weeks or months in a freighter trip.

    The primary purpose of a freighter cruise usually is to transport product, not to provide an entertaining trip for paying passengers. So business interests dictate the itinerary.

    Still interested? Find out more about freighter cruising.

  • 03 of 07
    Shore Excursions on a Budget Cruise
    ••• (c)Mark D. Kahler

    Many cruise lines will gladly give you a deep discount on your trip, knowing they'll make a lot of that money back in the sale of shore excursions. There is value in the convenience of having someone else arrange these excursions, but the profit margin is sometimes excessive. There are times when a budget traveler can make similar or even identical arrangements independently at a fraction of the price.

    Take a closer look at do-it-yourself shore excursions

  • 04 of 07
    Save Money Aboard a Cruise Ship
    ••• (c)Mark D. Kahler

    Getting a great price on a cruise is always fun. Unfortunately, it doesn't always guarantee that a cruise vacation will be affordable. On-board charges are often unexpected, especially for novice cruise travelers. Some of the on-board opportunities will add value, but potentially sink your budget.

    Take a look at 10 tips for safeguarding your cruise budget after you board the ship.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07
    Affordable Cruises
    ••• (c)Mark D. Kahler

    When looking for a budget travel experience on a cruise ship, it pays to know something about how the industry operates. Make no mistake: this industry has a unique way of doing things that run counter to the expectations of many novice cruise passengers.

    When you understand a few simple principles, it becomes easier to find discounted cabins and the right places to consider for your vacation.

    Take a look at 10 steps aimed at helping you find an affordable cruise.

  • 06 of 07
    5 Pre-Sail Cruise Tips
    ••• (c)Mark D. Kahler

    Your parents and coaches probably emphasized the importance of a good start. Most human endeavors benefit greatly from a successful beginning. Cruise travel isn't any different. As with any other budget trip, it's important to know where you'll find value, and where your money could be wasted. Cruises that are poorly planned or itineries that feature scores of impulse buys frequently take a turn toward disappointment.

    Don't risk joining that disgruntled group of travelers who grumble incessantly about their poor cruising experiences. Take a look at 5 pre-sail cruise tips that could make your trip much more pleasant.

  • 07 of 07

    More Tips

    Carnival Dream calls at Cozumel, Mexico.
    ••• Mark D. Kahler

    Consult a Specialist

    You might think the suggestion a bit obvious, but we're saying more here than just "consult a travel agent." The help you need comes from a travel agent who specializes in cruising. Not all of them do so. Avoid travel agents who push one particular line. You need someone who is familiar with the cruising industry in general -- someone who will make recommendations based on your best interests.

    Find Empty Cabins

    Travel businesses cannot afford empties. They'll do whatever they can to fill them, even if it means deep discounts. Budget travelers who know that applies to  hotel rooms or airline seats sometimes forget that cruise cabins are sold much the same way. Cruise lines will display availability on their websites. Lots of empty cabins can result in a bargain cruise.  

    Search "Last Minute Cruise Deals"

    This is a quick way to get to every cruise line's deal page. Look for wording along the lines of "last minute" or "hot...MORE deals," because more than likely they're trying to fill empty cabins on a deadline.

    Underrated Cruise Departure Ports

    Some budget travelers rush to their departure port for a cruise, intent on getting out to sea and beginning the itinerary. In reality, the departure port is indeed your first port-of-call. To arrive at the last minute and skip what that port has to offer takes value from your trip. Worse: missing the boat can become a sad reality with a couple of flight delays. Give yourself a few extra days in that first port. It's easy to find hotels that cater to cruise passengers, and relieved stress will add value to your trip.