Booking a Cruise Onboard: How to Score Extras and Discounts

celebrity-silhouette-cruise If you're like us, you've inevitably breezed past your cruise ship's onboard sales office, ignoring the colorful brochures and promises of booking incentives. Why waste time planning your next cruise when you only have about a week onboard to spend time at the pool, play trivia for silly prizes and try your luck at the casino? Heck, you might never have even noticed your cruise ship has a sales desk, being too busy enjoying this vacation to think about the next one.

The thing is, if you're going to go on another cruise someday -- and, face it, we all know you are -- then, you'll really want to check in at the sales desk to see the kinds of deals featured. That's because your cruise line is likely to be offering onboard credit, reduced deposits or an attractive discount when you book a future cruise onboard your current sailing. All the cruise lines mentioned in this story let you transfer your booking to your travel agent, so you can reap any perks they offer, too. Many also let you change your cruise dates or ship or even cancel by a certain date with no penalty or fees. In most cases, you have nothing to lose if your travel plans change and everything to gain if you're going to take another cruise with that line.

We stopped by the sales desk on a recent Celebrity cruise because we're planning for an upcoming trip. We were pleasantly surprised to find we could reserve a booking with a range of flexible benefits and essentially no risk if we decided to cancel. Plus, our sadness when that trip ended was somewhat assuaged by the knowledge that we had a future cruise already lined up at a great price.

A host of lines from mainstream to luxury offer onboard booking perks, though each line's offerings and booking parameters are slightly different. Here's a look at some of the key benefits the major lines offer when you book a future cruise during a sailing on their ships. Unless specifically outlined below, deposits and cancellation policies for onboard bookings don't differ from those that apply to the lines' other methods of booking a sailing.

azamara-journey-cruise Azamara Club Cruises features a Passages program in which cruisers can book their next trips while onboard. With an Open Passage booking, you can reserve a sailing with a 50 percent reduced deposit but don't have to pick your date right away; the deposit is nonrefundable, but there is no expiration. The Reserved Passage deal also offers half off the typical deposit (based on length of sailing), and you pick your ship, sail date or cabin category at the time of booking. That deposit is refundable. Each program gives two certificates, allowing friends or family to take advantage of the offer, too. The certificates will also give them up to $600 in onboard credit per stateroom, based on length of sailing and cabin category.

Azamara Cruise Fares:

carnival-dream-lido-pool Carnival Cruise Lines offers a Future Carnival Vacations desk on all ships, except Imagination, Inspiration, Sensation, Spirit, Valor and Legend. Cruisers can pick their sailing dates and ships and receive an onboard credit of up to $200 per stateroom. The reservation can be combined with other promotions, except interline discounts, and you get two vouchers for the same onboard credit that you can give to friends or family who will be joining the sailing. There is no deposit discount. (Deposits typically are about $200 or more, depending on length of sailing.) You can cancel for no charge up to 90 days before the scheduled sailing.

Carnival Cruise Fares:

celebrity-solstice-sunset-bar Celebrity Cruises' Future Cruise Vacations program offers discounted deposits. Passengers pay $100 each, instead of $600, to reserve a cabin for a future cruise. You can book up to three future cruises at one time (or reserve trips for friends or family), and you can combine the booking deal with one other offer (such as the "1-2-3 go!" sale, for example). Choose either the Cruise Now or Cruise Later option when reserving a cruise. The Cruise Now plan offers up to $500 in onboard cabin credit (based on the length of the sailing and the cabin category) for passengers who know which ship and sail date they want. You can cancel your booking up to 90 days before your sailing date without penalty. You also can change your cruise date or ship, and, if the price drops for your cruise, you can get the better deal. The Cruise Later option is best if you know you want to cruise but haven't yet picked a ship or date. There is no expiration date on your reservation, and you're eligible for up to $200 in onboard credit.

Celebrity Cruise Fares:

costa-fascinosa-cruise Costa Cruises offers cruise consultants on its ships to discuss its current promotions. If you reserve a cruise, you get a 5 percent discount that becomes guaranteed once you finalize the booking through Costa or your travel agent. The line also runs promotions on top of the 5 percent discount, such as a 100 euro voucher to use toward that future cruise; you also would get a voucher to give to a family member or friend in such a case.

Costa Cruise Fares:

crystal-pool-at-dusk Crystal Cruises offers a simple percentage-off discount as part of its program. Crystal gives a 2.5 percent discount to passengers who book while onboard. For select sailings, the line features "Triple Onboard Booking Savings," giving 3 x 2.5 percent, or a 7.5 percent total discount.

Crystal Cruise Fares:

disney-dream-aquaduck Disney Cruise Line's Future Cruise desk offers a chance to book your next sailing by putting down half the typical deposit amount, which is based on cabin category. You'll also get 10 percent off the prevailing rate for the cruise and an onboard credit of $100 per stateroom for sailings of six days or fewer and $200 for longer cruises. You must travel within 18 months of the booking but can change or cancel your sailing at any time before your final payment is due and receive a full refund. You can reserve two cabins, though one must be for you.

Disney Cruise Fares:

hal-eurodam-deluxe-cabin Holland America Line's Future Cruise Consultant desk offers up to $200 per cabin in onboard credit (based on length of sailing and stateroom category) with a deposit of $100 per person. You can choose an itinerary on your current sailing or make a future cruise deposit and take up to four years to pick your cruise. Fees generally apply if you cancel your reservation within 90 days of your sailing.

Holland America Fares:

msc-divina-cruise MSC Cruises' Future Cruise Consultant program, only on MSC Divina, which is homeported in Miami, allows passengers who book onboard to receive up to $200 per cabin in onboard credit, based on ship, sail date and cabin category. Deposits are $100 per person. Cruisers can book specific cruises while onboard or decide up to four years later. You can combine the reservation with certain other promotions.

MSC Cruise Fares:

cruise-like-a-norwegian Norwegian Cruise Line allows passengers to make a $250 Freestyle Cruise Rewards deposit to reserve a cabin on a sailing of six days or longer and gives them each $100 in instant onboard credit, meaning you use the credit on your current sailing. While onboard, you can make up to four deposits toward future cruises, and you have four years to pick your sailing date before the deposit expires. You can even charge the deposit to your onboard account. Deposits, minus the $100 in instant onboard credit, are refundable within 30 days.

Norwegian Cruise Fares:

oceania-dining-al-fresco Oceania Cruises features a future cruise sales desk that offers promotions for booking while onboard. Passengers can save between $200 to $9,000 per booking when they book onboard, and they'll also get $100 in shipboard credit to use on their current voyage. Required deposits are reduced by 50 percent, and savings can be transferred to another sailing if the planned cruise date changes. The onboard deals are also combinable with the best available promotional offer, items such as free airfare, two-for-one reduced deposits and early-booking savings.

Oceania Cruise Fares:

royal-princess-cruise Princess Cruises offers future cruise sales consultants on each of its ships. You pay $100 per person to reserve a future sailing, and you can claim onboard credit of up to $150 per passenger (based on cruise length and cabin class). You can book a specific cruise onboard or get an open reservation to sail that's good for up to four years. Your deposit is refundable if you choose not to use your reservation.

Princess Cruise Fares:

luxury-regent-pool-bar Regent Seven Seas Cruises touts exclusive savings for passengers who book onboard. Cruisers get 50 percent off deposits and savings of up to $8,000 per suite, based on sailing date and suite category. You have up to 30 days to cancel for a full refund and are able to change your selected sailing date one time for no fee. If you don't know when you want to sail, you can buy a "Future Cruise Certificate" for a $3,000 deposit. The certificate is redeemable for up to two years, and the sailing date can be outside of the two-year window.

Regent Seven Seas Fares:

oasis-aerial-money-shot Royal Caribbean International features a NextCruise booking program. You get up to $200 per cabin in onboard credit (based on length of sailing) and pay a reduced deposit of $100 per person for your reservation. Cruisers don't have to pick their ships or sailing dates at the time of the reservation; there is no expiration date. You'll get two NextCruise certificates for friends or family who can sail with you and also receive onboard credit. Royal Caribbean's standard cancellation policies apply to onboard bookings. Shareholder onboard credits and other onboard credit or dollars-off promotions are not combinable with the onboard credit for booking a NextCruise onboard.

Royal Caribbean Fares:

seabourn-couples-mingling-ondeckSeabourn features a simple discount formula for onboard bookings. Passengers get a 5 percent discount when purchasing a sailing. If you're unsure of which cruise you want, you can buy a "Future Cruise Deposit" onboard and receive the 5 percent savings to apply to the cruise when it's eventually booked. The deposit expires four years from the date of purchase, and you must apply it to a sailing that embarks prior to the expiration date. If not, it will be automatically canceled on that date, and the amount paid will be credited back to the credit card used to purchase the deposit. The deposit can also be canceled and credited back at any time at your request.

Seabourn Cruise Fares:

la-terrazza-siverwind Silversea gives a 5 percent discount when booking a specific sailing or putting down a deposit on any future cruise. If you book a future voyage while onboard, you can put down a floating deposit of $1,000 per person, which secures the 5 percent savings if you convert it to an actual voyage within 6 months of initiating the booking. If you do not apply the deposit to an actual voyage, you can request to have it refunded in full.

Silversea Cruise Fares:
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