How to snag cruise ship suites for less
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Suite guests on mainstream cruise ships luxuriate in large, private spaces with upscale design, high-end amenities and expansive balconies. They get free perks (think butlers, stocked mini-bars and comped Wi-Fi) and access to exclusive, VIP-only restaurants and sundecks. And they always cut to the front of the line.
On the other hand, passengers who cruise in a ship’s top accommodations pay big money for the privilege.
We can all sit back and dream about being a VIP staying in a fancy suite on a big ship someday – after we hit the lottery. Or we can get creative with ways to find cruise suite deals and book those high-end cabins for less.
Here are some strategies for doing so:
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Book a shoulder-season sailing
One sure-fire way to save is to book your cruise in a shoulder-season period when fewer folks want to travel.
In Alaska and the Mediterranean, check suite fares for early spring and September to October, while avoiding the height of the season in summer. Going on a Mediterranean cruise in late fall or winter will save you even more.
In the Caribbean and Bahamas, a good rule of thumb for bargain-seekers is to avoid any dates where there is likely to be a big family crowd, such as holiday and school vacation periods, including over the summer. You’ll get a better deal on a suite in the autumn and on sailings right before or after holidays, such as in early November or mid-January.
Choose a smaller suite
Mini-suites or junior suites are a step down from fancier suites and therefore sell for cheaper fares. While big suites may come with a separate living room with a dining area, these faux suites are typically one room with a sofa area plus a balcony.
Still, you’ll get more square footage than a standard cabin, and your accommodations may include suite perks like fluffier bathrobes and designer amenities.
Check the inclusions carefully. Some cruise lines will offer passengers in any suite access to a restaurant, lounge, sun deck or pool reserved only for suite guests. For example, Celebrity Cruises’ Sky Suites start at 254 square feet and are basically an oversized, upscale balcony cabin, but they come with a king-sized bed, a bathtub, fancy bedding and access to an exclusive VIP-only area of the ship called The Retreat.
On the other hand, Norwegian Cruise Line’s 249-square-foot Club Balcony Suites come with a few extra perks but do not have access to its VIP area, The Haven. If you simply want a larger cabin, options like this can be a way to get a suite for less. If you’re looking for multiple rooms and perks, you might be better off upgrading to a nicer suite.
Pick an older, less popular ship
Cruise lines are always showing off their latest and greatest ship, and brand fans flock to these vessels so they can brag they’ve been on board. For those who want to save, suites on older ships, especially when recently upgraded, are often better deals than comparable cabins on the newest, flashiest ships.
A caveat is the older ships might not have as many suites, so you may have more of an issue finding space. Which leads me to my next piece of advice…
When it comes to cruises, the fanciest suites and the cheapest inside cabins tend to book before other rooms. With cruise fares based on supply and demand and the number of suites on any given ship limited, it pays to book your cruise as many months (or even years) as you can before your preferred sailing date.
The cruise lines want you to book early, so they may throw in onboard credits you can use for shore excursions, drinks, speciality restaurants, shopping or other onboard expenditures.
Choose a shorter cruise
When it comes to total vacation cost, a short cruise is typically more affordable than a longer one, especially if you can drive to your departure port and skip the flights and hotels. If you’re longing for the suite life, but need to stick to a budget, choose a three- or four-night sailing rather than a weeklong cruise.
The nightly rate of your fancy suite might be the same, or higher, than on a longer sailing, but your total price for the cruise will be lower because you’re paying for fewer nights, both in terms of fare and automatically added daily gratuities.
Be a cruise line loyalist
There are benefits to being a brand loyalist. If suites aren’t selling quickly on a particular sailing, the cruise line will offer special discounted upgrades to the members of the line’s frequent cruiser program, such as Carnival Cruise Line’s VIFP (Very Important Fun Person) program.
When you sail your first cruise, your name will be automatically added to the loyalty program — there’s no need to sign up. After that, keep an eye out for emails and newsletters highlighting discounts.
Bid for an upgrade
Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and river line Uniworld are among brands with programs where, after you book your cruise, you may be invited to bid for upgrades – just like you can for airlines such as Austrian and Qantas. In most cases, the upgrades are for one category, so your best shot at getting a suite upgrade is to book a mini-suite, and your best shot at a mini-suite upgrade is to book a balcony cabin. Being invited to bid is not a sure bet; it’s based on supply and demand. Preference is given to loyalty program members.
Book cruise-only fares
Cruise lines may bundle suite accommodations with air, hotel stays, limousine transfers and other add-ons, which bring up the base price considerably. Instead, choose the option of booking cruise-only. This will likely save you big bucks, particularly if you can use frequent traveller or credit card points for your flights and pre-cruise hotel stay.
Re-price after booking
It pays to keep track of fares for your suite accommodations even after you book because cruise prices are constantly in a state of flux. If you have not made your final payment and there is a price drop on suite accommodations, you can ask to have your fare updated. Call the cruise line (or your travel advisor) and ask for a price adjustment.
If the price changes after you have made the final payment, do the math and see if the credit you will get (after any cancellation penalties) makes a change to the lower fare worth it or not. The cruise line does not want you to cancel and may be willing to play ball to keep your booking – perhaps even offering the price difference in the form of an onboard credit.
Find sales that include suites
Finding a sale is the easiest way to get a deal on a suite, and in the pandemic age sales are a near-constant as the cruise lines return to normal business. You will find both discounted fares on suites and fares enhanced by value-added perks such as free gratuities, Wi-Fi and onboard credits.
Use a travel agent
Travel agents, especially those who do a lot of business with a particular cruise line, have both a lot of knowledge and a certain amount of pull. They can steer you to a cruise line that has lower fares for suites on certain routes and dates and help you compare products. A connected travel agent may even be able to convince a cruise line to upgrade you to a suite.
Pick a cheaper year-round market
This is a similar strategy to picking an older ship. Pick a cheaper market with lots of tonnage, where cruise lines have more cabins to sell. For instance, you’ll pay less for a suite in the popular Bahamas or the Caribbean than you will in Alaska or Europe, where cruise lines base fewer ships and only visit seasonally.
Get a deal when a ship redeploys
When a ship moves from one cruise region to another, say from the Caribbean across the Atlantic to Europe or through the Panama Canal on the way to Alaska, you can save big on the one-way ocean crossings no matter which category you book. For suite guests, these repositioning cruises bring the advantage of at least several days at sea — which means more time to enjoy your fancy digs.
Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:
- The 5 most desirable cabin locations on any cruise ship
- A beginners guide to picking a cruise line
- The 8 worst cabin locations on any cruise ship
- A quick guide to the most popular cruise lines
- 21 tips and tricks that will make your cruise go smoothly
- 15 ways cruisers waste money
- 12 best cruises for people who never want to grow up
- The ultimate guide to what to pack for a cruise
Featured photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean.
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