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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.