We are officially in cruise sale season. Spring means that cruise holiday companies are running their annual sales, offering savings of up to £1,100 per cabin, balcony upgrades, free nights and free hotel stays. Royal Caribbean, for example, is offering a free room upgrade plus £120 to spend on-board with some cruises, while on others you can get £500 off a state room. But if you know the secrets to cruise bargains you could save even more money.
Before you book, it's worth considering the 10 secrets to bagging a cruise bargain.
1. Consider traveling off-peak
If you book for October-March, you could spend less than half the price of a high-season trip. These tend to be a quiet time for the cruise ships because people are aware of the risk of less good weather. However, given the size of some of these ships, you could stay indoors for a couple of days and hardly notice the rain.
2. Consider an inside cabin
Unless you plan on spending a lot of time in your cabin, you can get breaks for a third of the price of a balcony room if you opt for a cabin inside the ship with no window. Some companies have a channel on the TV which is set to a camera on the bridge, so if you want to feel connected to the outdoors you can switch to this channel and turn the sound down!
At various times of the year the different cruise companies offer discounts for military personnel, teachers, fire fighters and police officers. Some will also offer a special rate for those aged 55 or over.
4. Take a chance on a last-minute booking
Some of the best deals are reserved for the 'flash' sales that cruise companies run just before sailing. They all have a policy of filling as many cabins as possible at this stage, so if you leave it until 1-3 months before you travel, there are some great savings to be made.
4. Book in advance
Sometimes the best prices are saved for the very last minute, but this is risky as there's no guarantee you'll get the holiday you want. if you don't want to leave it to chance, the best rates are often available to those who book up to a year in advance. You can get an early-bird deal until about six months before your trip.
5. Book your own flights
If you are booking in advance and sailing from outside the UK, you can also save by not booking flights and hotels direct from the cruise company. It is possible to book a discount flight in advance, stay in a budget hotel, and cut hundreds of pounds from the cost of your trip.
7. Shop around.
If you are booking last-minute, bookmark the special offer page on each cruise company website. If you are prepared to leave booking until the last minute, you can then regularly check these pages until the cruise you want reaches a price you are comfortable with.
8. Form a relationship with a travel agent.
Just before sailing, the very best rates and are often given to a small number of travel agents on the understanding that they don't advertise them. Those agencies will email the offers out to people on their newsletter lists, and call people who have registered an interest. It's therefore worth getting in touch with large agencies that sell a lot of cruises, and get on their email lists.
9. Consider a repositioning cruise
A couple of times a year the cruise ships will be repositioned - and the companies will be keen to get travellers for these less traditional journeys. If, for example, the ship starts in Norway and moves to the Caribbean for the colder months, you could get a trip which takes you through Europe and onto the Caribbean. These trips will tend to be longer than standard cruises, and will include more days without stops, but if your priority is to spend time on board and enjoy a much lower rate per day, then you can bag a bargain.
10. Don't buy the excursions
Often it's far cheaper to get off the ship and arrange to see a destination yourself for a fraction of the cost. However, you'll need to bear in mind is whether the port is within easy reach of the tourist attractions, and whether there are any restrictions on those travelling alone.