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I get this question all the time, what are some tips and tricks to book a cruise on a budget?

And I understand why because cruises are awesome! What’s not to love about all of your food, accommodations, and entertainment included? All you have to do is show up. That’s the best vacation!

So that’s why I’m covering 14 great ways to maximize your savings when booking cruises on a budget. From leveraging credit card rewards portals to using AARP discounts you’ll have all the information you need to book a cruise for less!

Whether you’re looking for couples cruises, family cruises, or a party cruise, these tips will help you plan a fun and budget-friendly vacation!

Some of the links contained in this post are affiliate links, meaning that at no cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Book a Cruise on a Budget

Whenever I’m planning a trip on a budget there are different strategies that I use to get the best price for my wallet and travel style. My favorite is the practice of maximizing travel rewards and benefits.

This can include leveraging loyalty programs, credit card rewards, promotions, discounts, and other tactics to make travel more affordable, comfortable, and luxurious.

By strategically combining different methods and staying informed about the latest deals and opportunities, I can make the most of my travel experiences while minimizing expenses. There are many myths about earning travel rewards so that’s why we focus on content that can help you figure out whether earning travel rewards is right for you. Let’s get to cruising!

The Celebrity Beyond cruise ship moored at a dock, showcasing its grand scale next to the clear blue ocean.

1. Use Points with Credit Card Rewards Portals

If you’re leveraging everyday spending by earning rewards with credit cards then you may be able to book your cruise through one of the credit card portals by paying with points. In some cases, you can book with a combination of points and cash.

Here are some credit card companies that may have this option:

Webpage section from Chase Travel highlighting 'Your most rewarding trips start here' with tabs for booking hotels, flights, activities, cars, and cruises.
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards: You can’t actually book a cruise through the Chase Travel portal, but you can call Chase and use your points to book.
  • American Express Travel: You can book a cruise through the AMEX travel portal with the Pay with Points program.

Hot Tip

If you are a The Platinum Card® from American Express or Centurion Cardmember then you’ll have access to the Cruise Privileges program. This program means more perks like onboard credit and amenities. You must book through AMEX Travel with your Platinum or Centurion credit card. Not all cruise lines are eligible.

  • Citi Thank You Points: You used to be able to be able to book a cruise through the Citi Travel portal, but since it’s now managed by booking.com I no longer see this option. However, you may want to call and ask about it. I bet you would be able to book over the phone.

It may not be the best choice to book a cruise with points since you’ll likely get better value redeeming for flights or hotels. However, if you really want to go on a cruise and this is how you can pay for it, then it’s a-ok in my book!

Some of these credit cards will have annual fees and you’ll need to evaluate the benefits to see if it’s worth it. Take a look at my list of the current best credit card offers.

2. Book a Cruise with Marriott Bonvoy Points

If you have a large stash of Marriott Bonvoy points you can use them to book with The Ritz Carlton Yacht Collection. It will cost you at least 180,000 points to save $1,000 towards your cruise and then you can redeem in increments of 90,000 points for $500 towards your cruise up to the entire price of the cruise. So a $2,000 cruise would cost you about 360,000 points.

Hot Tip

Marriott Bonvoy also has a Cruise with Points program that allows you to redeem Marriott Bonvoy points for credit towards any cruise line that participates in the program.

3. Book through Airline Portals

As an alternative to booking a cruise with points and miles via a credit card rewards portal. You can also use your points to book cruises through an airline portal like United Cruises. If you don’t want to use points to book a cruise, then you can opt to earn points as well. Or you can do a combination of points and cash to give yourself a discount!

Other airline portals that you can book cruises with are American Airlines Cruises or Delta SkyMiles Cruises, but you can just google “airline”+ cruise and find more options.

Be sure to keep an eye out for booking fees. Most of these sites will have a 110% best-price guarantee. This can be a nice perk depending on how much time you have between booking and embarkation.

Again, may be not the best use of points but hey it’s all about saving money so that’s always a win!

Hot Tip!

If you are a holder of a co-branded credit card or have elite status with one of these airlines they may offer you more perks like a higher earning rate on money spent booking cruises through their specific portal.

American Airlines Cruises website section with a cruise search panel and an image of a couple enjoying coffee with a seaside view in the background

4. Erase the cost of a Cruise with a Credit Card Statement Credit

Did you know that you can effectively erase certain travel expenses using credit card statement credits? This can include cruises!

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve® – offers a $300 annual general travel credit, which automatically applies to a wide range of travel-related expenses, including cruises. If the charge codes as travel it will be automatically reimbursed up to the $300 limit each year. Now the annual fee for this credit card is $550 per year, so you’ll need to make sure you’re getting enough value to offset that fee.
  • Citi Prestige Card: offers a $250 annual travel credit, which can be used towards a variety of travel expenses, including cruises. Unfortunately, this credit card is not available to new applicants, but it’s good to know if you already have it!
  • Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: offers a feature called Purchase Eraser, which allows you to redeem miles and reimburse eligible travel purchases on the credit card statement. The purchase must be coded as travel and can only be erased within 90 days of the travel purchase.

Of course, you’ll need to have earned enough Capital One Venture Miles to erase the purchase. If you can’t use it for the cruise, try erasing other travel expenses like hotels or flights. Other Capital One credit cards with the Purchase Eraser feature include Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card and Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card.

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Screenshot of a rewards redemption options page, highlighting six different actions. These include 'Book a trip,' 'Redeem for experiences,' 'Convert rewards,' 'Cover travel purchases' with a reimbursement offer for a recent travel purchase circled, 'Redeem with PayPal,' and 'Shop with Amazon' to apply rewards at checkout. There is a blue circle around "cover travel purchases".
Capital One Purchase Eraser option

5. Add Credit Card Offers

Have you checked your credit card offers lately? Many different credit cards will give you cash back for purchases through certain merchants. These offers usually need to be activated which is why I use CardPointers to activate all of my credit card offers for me.

6. Book a Cruise through Costco Travel

As a Costco member, you’ll have access to exclusive deals and discounts with cruise lines, allowing you to access competitive pricing that you won’t find elsewhere. Booking through Costco Travel can also include extra perks and amenities like onboard credits, complimentary upgrades, prepaid gratuities, beverage packages, or shore excursion credits.

Booking through Costco Travel is just like booking through a 3rd party site. So if you need to make any changes or have questions you’ll have to go through Costco. But it’s worth looking into!

Hot Tip!

Look for Buyer’s Choice or Kirkland Signature. If you find deals marked as Buyer’s Choice or Kirkland Signature you could be getting 15-20% more value!

Aerial view of two Carnival cruise ships docked at a port during dusk, with lights reflecting on the water and a serene sky above.

7. Owning Stock in Cruise Lines

This is an interesting option. Many cruise lines, such as Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean Group, and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, offer shareholder benefits to investors who own a specified number of shares in the company.

These benefits typically include onboard credits and discounted cruise fares. The required number of shares varies by cruise line and may range from as few as 100 shares to several hundred shares.

Now, of course, investing in individual stocks carries inherent risks. But if you already dabble in the stock market, this may be something to consider if you find that the benefits are worth it. I would suggest that you do some research on the particular cruise line to make sure this is the right move for you!

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8. Cruise Discounts

Many cruise lines offer special discounts if you’re eligible. You’ll need to provide proof of eligibility and will want to inquire before you actually book the cruise as these discounts will be subject to availability and not available for all cabin categories.

So it’s worth looking into, but just because you are eligible for a discount doesn’t mean it’s going to be the best deal for you and your situation.

Military Discounts

If you’re active military, retired military, or a veteran you may be able to get a discount on cruises. These discounts typically apply to service members and their immediate family members, but this varies by cruise line. To qualify for military discounts, proof of service is usually required at the time of booking.

Senior Discounts

Some cruise lines offer discounts for passengers who are 55 years of age or older. These discounts may apply to select sailings and cabin categories. To qualify for senior discounts, passengers typically need to be of the specified age at the time of booking.

Group Discounts

Group rates may include discounted fares, onboard credits, and other perks. The size of the group required to qualify for discounts varies by cruise line, but you may need a minimum of 10 cabins. Sometimes, the benefits or incentives are passed on to the Group organizers rather than the individual staterooms.

Celebrity Beyond cruise ship viewed from a pier with turquoise bollards and chains, the ocean reflecting the sky's blue hues

AAA or AARP Discounts

If you’re a member of AAA or AARP you may be eligible for cruise discounts and special offers. To access these discounts, you’ll probably need to book your cruise through the organization’s travel portal or website. And if you didn’t already know, it’s not a requirement to be 55 or older to become a member of AARP.

9. Repositioning Cruises

Cruise lines want to make money so when they have to move their cruise ship from one region to another, they want to make money on that trip. Insert repositioning cruises!

Repositioning cruises is when cruise ships need to relocate from one region to another to align with seasonal demand or itinerary changes. These cruises typically occur during the shoulder seasons, such as spring and fall, when cruise lines move ships between popular cruising regions, such as the Caribbean and Europe.

Here’s why they are usually cheaper:

  • One-Way Voyage: Repositioning cruises are typically one-way voyages, so passengers will need to make their own way to their final or return destination.
  • Fewer Ports of Call: Since the primary purpose of a repositioning cruise is to relocate the ship rather than focus on maximizing the number of destinations visited, there may be fewer port fees, excursions, and other activities.
  • Off-Peak Travel Season: Repositioning cruises typically occur during off-peak and shoulder seasons where demand is lower for cruises.
  • Need to Fill Cabins: Cruise lines aim to maximize occupancy by repositioning cruises to offset the cost of relocating the ship.
Aerial view of two Carnival cruise ships docked at a port during dusk, with lights reflecting on the water and a serene sky above.

10. Cruise Line Promotions

Booking directly with a cruise line can have its perks instead of booking through a 3rd party like a travel portal or with Costco Travel. Cruise lines offer promotions like onboard credits, free upgrades, or complimentary amenities.

Cruise lines have to give 3rd party companies a cut of their profits so they would rather you book with them directly. If there are some cruise lines that you like, make sure you’ve signed up for their newsletters, following them on social media, and regularly checking the official website to stay informed.

11. Book Onboard

Have you ever thought about booking your next cruise while you’re still on your current cruise? This can save you some money! Cruise lines offer special onboard booking discounts, including reduced fares, onboard credits, and cabin upgrades. These are usually referred to as Future cruise credits (FCCs) and they are pretty flexible. So next time you’re on a cruise, consider booking your next cruise while you’re still onboard.

12. Buy Discounted Gift Cards

Another way to save money for a cruise is to purchase discounted gift cards. For example, you can find discounted Disney gift cards at wholesale stores like Costco and use that as your travel fund. I also like to pick up Visa gift cards while I’m at the grocery store or office supply store and pay with a credit card that will earn me 3x or 5x points on the purchase.

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13. Book Through a Travel Agent or Travel Advisor

Another popular way to book a cruise is with a travel agent or travel advisor and this does come with some perks. Cruise Travel Advisors can have access to group discounts and other perks like onboard credit, but I think the biggest perks are their knowledge and price monitoring.

if you are new to cruising, a travel advisor can give you valuable insight while also checking for price drops and they handle everything for you. It shouldn’t cost you anything to book with a travel agent so it can be a good way to save yourself some time and money!

A cruise ship sailing on the ocean at sunset, with the sun casting a golden glow on the water

14. Sign Up for Cruise Deal Sites

There are many great cruise deal sites out there that can help you choose and book your cruise. These sites list some of the best cruise discounts available. Some of the best sites for this are Cruise Critic and Vacations To Go. Just keep in mind that you are booking through a 3rd party, but if it’s the right deal it may be worth it!

Booking Cruises on a Budget FAQs

What are the best times to find budget-friendly cruise deals?

You’ll find many cruise promotions during what is appropriately called “Wave Season” starting from January to March. So if you’re looking to take a cruise in the Fall, you may find the best prices in Q1 of that year.

But honestly, cruise lines offer deals all year long. The key is to be flexible and either book far in advance for “early bird” deals or very last minute. If you book a cruise and the price goes down try calling the cruise line to see if you can get additional perks like onboard credit or if you booked with a refundable deposit, cancel and rebook.

How much does it cost to go on a cruise?

Many people, especially those who are not familiar with cruises have no idea how much a cruise should cost so they have a hard time pulling the trigger when it comes to booking a cruise. Well, the problem is – “it depends”. Yup, it sucks, but it’s true.

The cost of your cruise really depends on what type of experience you’re looking for. Are you looking for luxury? Do you care about the food? Do you care about the crowd? Do you care about a balcony? How many nights? How many ports of call? How big is the ship? Is it new or old?

What you need to keep in mind is that cruise lines tend to advertise the base cruise fare and then as you dig deeper you find out that the total cost for the cruise is double what you originally thought. And then you have to factor in extras like internet or drink packages. It all adds up. I like cruise lines that keep it simple like Virgin Voyages and Celebrity Cruises.

My best advice would be to start looking at cruises and pricing things out. It will be easier to decide how much you’re willing to spend once you see how much cruises will actually cost. Just pick a destination and start playing around with dates.

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Are there any loyalty programs or rewards programs for frequent cruisers?

Yes, many cruise lines offer loyalty programs where you can earn points and/or status based on the number of cruises you take or the money you spend. These programs often include perks such as onboard credits, discounts, complimentary amenities, and priority services for repeat cruisers.

These loyalty programs can also be a trap to keep you from trying out other cruise lines. If you truly enjoy one cruise line and you are fine with not experiencing others then that’s great! But for me, I like to try out different experiences and figure out what I truly enjoy and value. It’s up to you!

How to decide on the best way to book a Cruise

Although cruises are viewed as a way to vacation on a budget, they can still get pretty expensive. It all depends on the cruise line, ship, cabin type, ports of call, etc. And personally, I don’t like to settle on just anything to save a buck. I like to find savvy and strategic ways to travel how I want on my budget!

So my best advice when it comes to booking a cruise is to start somewhere, anywhere. Whether it’s with a travel advisor, a cruise discount website, a credit card travel portal, an airline portal, or whatever it is just start looking!

Don’t make things too complicated. The base cruise fare is usually the same with all of these sites. It’s usually the perks and extras that can put things over the top. Once you’ve booked your cruise, check out this post on the best things to bring on a cruise!

Want to Travel More for Less?

Become a Budget Traveler! Head over to my start here page and grab my free budget travel cheat sheet  – it’s packed with valuable tips to help you create your own winning budget travel strategy.

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