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Oceania's Regatta in Alaska (Photo: Oceania Cruises)

Luxury Cruise Deals: Top Tips for Saving

There's no such thing as cheap luxury cruises, but that doesn't mean deals do not exist. Travelers looking to cruise in an upscale, often all-inclusive, environment can find ways to get the best price or extract more value from their vacation dollar. Here's our top advice for savvy high-end cruise shoppers.

Updated June 22, 2018

Best-Value Luxury Cruise Lines

Not all luxury cruise lines are created equal. Oceangoing ships are divided into a few categories: true luxury (the most inclusive, high-end cruise lines); ultra-premium lines (often larger ships and fewer inclusions); and yachts (extremely small cruise ships). The ultra-premium cruise lines, like Azamara Club Cruises and Oceania, can often -- but not always -- offer the most affordable base fares, but entry-level cabins will be smaller, often without windows, and things like crew gratuities and alcoholic beverages might cost extra.

True luxury ocean ships and yachts are typically more expensive, but entry-level cabins often have balconies or are more spacious, and fares can include everything from tips and drinks to Wi-Fi, shore tours and even airfare. If you take advantage of all the inclusions, the value can be incredible; if you don't, you might get a better cruise deal with a more a la carte line.

Best Itineraries for Affordable Luxury

Luxury cruise itineraries are often longer than a week; many stretch to two weeks, with world cruises spanning three to four months. If you want to sample luxury or find the cheapest possible base fare, look for weeklong or shorter cruises. You'll most often find these in the Mediterranean, Alaska and Caribbean. Some transatlantic cruises without a lot of ports can be more affordable, as well.

Best Time to Take a Discounted Luxury Cruise

With fewer ships than the mainstream lines, luxury cruise lines don't often stick around destinations during their shoulder or low seasons, which are typically the cheapest times to travel. However, you can often find luxury cruise deals in the Caribbean before and after the peak Christmas and New Year's weeks, as well as the first and last sailings of the Alaska season.

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Top Tips for Getting the Best Luxury Cruise Deal

Here are a few more tips to know about scoring discounted luxury cruises.

Book early. Last-minute luxury cruises tend to be more expensive rather than less. Luxury cruise lines typically offer their best cruise fares early, and raise prices as ships sell out. While you might luck into a last-minute deal if a particular set of sail dates are selling unusually slow, you are more likely to encounter sold-out cabin categories and expensive fares.

Look for promotions. Luxury lines, like their mainstream counterparts, are fans of the extra-value promotion. Oceania's OLife offers free airfare plus a choice of complimentary tours, beverage package or onboard credit. Silversea has been known to offer free airfare or shore tours on select itineraries, while Seabourn and Crystal alert cruisers to discounted fares. Keep an eye out for promos, but it's smart to watch fares for a while first, so you know if the offer is a good value or not.

Work with a travel agent. Travel agents are a great asset to upscale travelers. They can point you toward the best promotions, the lowest prices, the best time to book and occasionally throw in a bottle of Champagne or some onboard credit as thanks. They can also help you choose the right cabin or suite so you don't waste money on a room that's more than you need. Look for travel agents who specialize in luxury cruises and belong to a consortium, like Virtuoso, that can negotiate better deals for partner agencies.

Get the right credit card. Certain high-end credit card, like the American Express Platinum Card, offer cruise benefits, including onboard credit and exclusive discounts. If you're a frequent traveler and would benefit by all the travel benefits associated with the card, don't forget to obtain the cruise benefits when you're booking. The credit cards might also have booking agents you can use to plan your cruise vacation.

Book onboard. Many cruise lines, including luxury ones, offer extra benefits for booking your next cruise onboard your current one. You can score reduced deposits, onboard credit and discounts, depending on the cruise line and the type of booking you make. Plus, onboard cruise consultants are specialists in that line's ships and itineraries, so can answer all your questions.

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Best Time to Cruise
It's one of the most common cruising questions: When is the best time to cruise Alaska, Australia, the Caribbean, Canada/New England, Hawaii, Europe or the South Pacific? The answer depends on many variables. Fall foliage enthusiasts, for instance, will find September and October the best time to take that Canada/New England cruise, whereas water sports-lovers (and families) much prefer to sail the region in the summer when school is out and temperatures are warmer for swimming. The best time to cruise to Alaska will vary depending on your preferences for viewing wildlife, fishing, bargain-shopping, sunshine, warm weather and catching the northern lights. For most cruise regions, there are periods of peak demand (high season), moderate demand (shoulder season) and low demand (low season), which is usually the cheapest time to cruise. High season is typically a mix of when the weather is best and popular travel periods (such as summer and school holidays). However, the best time to cruise weather-wise is usually not the cheapest time to cruise. The cheapest time to cruise is when most travelers don't want to go because of chillier temperatures or inopportune timing (too close to holidays, the start of school, etc.). But the lure of cheap fares and uncrowded ports might make you change your mind about what you consider the best time to cruise. As you plan your next cruise, you'll want to take into consideration the best and cheapest times to cruise and see what jibes with your vacation schedule. Here's a when-to-cruise guide for popular destinations.
Cruise Packing 101
There once was a not-so-savvy seafarer who didn't feel right unless she took two steamer trunks crammed with outfits on every cruise. This, she learned, was not a good idea. Besides incurring the wrath of her male traveling companion, who pointed out that he would have to wrestle with excess baggage through airport terminals and beyond, she quickly tired of cramming her belongings into tiny closets and bureaus. The now savvy seafarer follows her own packing 101 rule: Thou shalt put into one's suitcase only that which will fit neatly in the allocated storage space without hogging every available nook and cranny for thyself. Following that advice is getting easier these days because, for the most part, cruising has become a much more casual vacation -- even on luxury and traditional lines. Plus, with airlines charging to check bags and imposing extra fees for overweight luggage), it's just plain economical to pack light. To do so, you need to have a good sense of what you’re going to wear on a cruise so you don't pack your entire closet. If you're wondering what to bring on your next cruise, here are our guidelines for what you'll need to pack.