WEBINAR REPLAY: Top Budget Hacks

In this month’s webinar we asked you all to share some of your best budget tips for cruising. There were many tips, from booking early to taking advantage of last-minute deals. To discover what other readers do to save money on their cruises, read the transcript or watch the webinar below.

Britton: Thank you everyone for being here. Today we’re going to go over our budget cruise hacks and I do want to say before we start that a lot of these came from our readers and as you who participated know, and thank you so much for contributing. We always appreciate kind of having a forum for everyone to be able to contribute and share their opinions and share their tips because we learn probably as much from you as you do from us, so thank you for that.

Britton: So, hack number one is to research. Now, this seems like a natural first step that’s probably what led a lot of you to our website, what has led you maybe to this webinar. So, you can use Google, you can use various cruise review sites but one tip was to check the cruise line websites for special deals and offers. And we talked about this actually in our last webinar, which was our airfare hacks webinar because a lot of the cruise lines will offer deals on airfare, they will offer reduced prices on cabins and there are just many different deals and offers offered by various cruise lines. And another way to access those offers is to sign up for emails from the lines that you are most interested in. So, sometimes that happens automatically. I was on Holland America cruise last year and I guess I gave them my email because now I get emails from Holland America Line, but I am now aware of all of the promotions that they have happening. So, if you’re interested in booking a cruise with a certain line, this is a good way to do that.

Britton: And also finding a travel agent. That would be my first step once you’ve kind of decided that you want to take a cruise and maybe know where you want to go or don’t, a travel agent can give you so much advice and although we feel like we give you great advice, it is only enhanced by a travel agent who can help with bookings and who can help with special offers and can really take care of everything for you at no charge. So, those agents are going to be very useful.

Britton: Another thing that we talked about last time was to use Google alerts. So, if there’s a specific sailing that you’re interested in, if there’s a specific cruise line that you’re interested in, you can always go to Google and set up an alert for a certain search term. So, let’s say that you are interested in sailing with Avalon, then you would type in Avalon special offers and anytime that a Google article was published with that term, you would get an email about it. So, that way you’re able to take a little bit out of the work out of finding these deals and just having them come directly to you.

Britton: On the next slide, I have a couple of screenshots of cruise websites. So, here we see AmaWaterways and then you can see special offers at the top in red. That’s where you go to find these offers. You can see that for this specific promotion, it actually ended already, but there was a free round trip airfare or 25% off a single supplement on select sailings. And then on the next slide we have Regent Seven Seas who was offering first-class airfare on Caribbean voyages. So, through those special offer tabs on the website, you can find those deals as well if you know which line you would like to cruise with.

Ralph: There are a couple things about research that I wanted to add Britton and one is you mentioned travel agents and another thing that a travel agent can do for you is a lot of times they can add special perks or get you upgrades that you wouldn’t get by going to the cruise line directly to the cruise line. So, that’s something to keep in mind. A lot are affiliated with larger organizations like Virtuoso or Signature or other organizations and they can get you special perks because the cruise lines give this ability to these travel agents.

Ralph: The other thing is talking about research, on the River Cruise site we broke down the pricing and the incentives and all into per diem, so we wanted to know what is your true per diem, what are you paying per day for your cruise once everything is included. Why don’t you include the value of that airfare? So, River Cruise Advisor, especially for river cruises and of course for river cruises is a good place to look to begin research like on the per diems, what it’s going to cost you to cruise on a particular river on a particular cruise line.

Britton: And we will get to that as well in just a minute a little bit. But yeah, that helps as well to kind of look at what’s included and how that’s going to affect the cost of the cruise as well.

Britton: Hack number two is to book early. Now, I could also say that hack number two is to either book early or late. There are kind of two sides to that, so some of the readers said book at least one year ahead and reserve the cheapest category of room. These sell out quick, which is true. They do sell out quickly. This person adds book early and reserve the cheapest category on the ship. The public areas on board are the best for watching the world go by. So, you only need a cabin to sleep and shower in. And this has kind of been my philosophy when I first started river cruising, I was staying on the bottom deck without a balcony and I do agree that oftentimes I don’t feel like I need that because I’m going to be sitting on the top deck or sitting in the lounge and just enjoying the rest of the ship outside of my room.

Britton: So, booking early is one way to assure that you can get one of these cabins that does sell out quickly but on the flip side, there are also people who say to book later on when cruise lines are trying to get rid of rooms that are available on sailings that might not be selling out at the beginning and then they start to lower their prices to sell those cabins. So, it goes both ways, but generally if you want to book a cabin that’s going to sell out, it’s best to book early, obviously.

Britton: Hack number three is to use credit cards. That’s something that we talk about a lot. We’ve talked about that as well with our airfare hacks webinar. Points are your friends. Many credit cards have a pay with points option, so your points apply to your cruise invoice. And then someone else says use a credit card for free insurance and we’ve talked about that and how certain cards have insurance with them. So, when you travel you have a certain allowance. And then also you can use credit cards for airline points. You can use credit cards for so many things and there are a lot of credit cards that are geared specifically toward travel. Ralph, do you want to talk a little bit about the Chase card?

Ralph: Oh yeah. I love it and I love it because when I signed up for it, they were giving me 100,000 points. If I met like certain spending criteria, which I did because if you’re booking a cruise in particular, you can sign up and I had somebody do this with one of my barge cruises. The cruise was $3,400 per person and I advised him to sign up for a Chase Sapphire Reserve card. There are two of them, it’s the more expensive one of both and he got 100,000 points for meeting that spend threshold. Plus he got, as somebody said here, he got the insurance as well, so they’re really great values and in particular that Chase card, I don’t work for Chase. I wish it had some of their money, but that’s a very good card and I know others are fans of the American Express, particularly the platinum. Once you get into those higher level cards, who are actually paying an annual fee then you’re going to get a lot of benefits with it and a lot of points and that sort of thing.

Britton: And there are certain cards that allow you access to airport lounges and it’s not always about saving money, sometimes they’re just about added comforts and added conveniences as well.

Britton: Number four is transportation. So, I know that we talked about this last month, but transportation is obviously your cruise is transportation and getting to and from your cruise transportation and there are just so many aspects to getting transportation when you cruise. Where are you flying from? How are you getting to the airport? How are you getting from the airport to your ship? And so there are just so many factors to figure out and we’ll talk a little bit about pre- and post-cruise extensions after I read these quotes.

Britton: When flying transatlantic, for example, find a secondary airport. So, if you’re flying into London, maybe not flying into Heathrow, flying somewhere else, flights are usually less expensive even when you add the extra cost of transportation to town. And we also talked about maybe flying to another city at last month’s webinars. So, finding alternate routes can be a good way to save money. Let the cruise line handle the airline reservations, arrive a couple of days before departing and enjoy the sights before cruising. So, I’ve heard from certain people that they’ve had success with letting the cruise line book their airfare. I have heard from other people that it hasn’t been such a great experience, so I would kind of book that at your own discretion but if you use a travel agent they will also be able to help with air. So, that’s another reason to use an agent.

Britton: And then the last tip is actually a little bit more specific. If you’re leaving from Vilshofen and must spend the night in Munich and need an airport close, inexpensive hotel, say the Moxy hotel near Munich. I thought that this might be a good tip because a lot of these river cruises on the Donau do leave from Vilshofen so I just wanted to share that as well.

Britton: Now talking about transportation pre- and post-cruise, Ralph and I, we did a cruise on AmaMagna in July and we really wanted to go to Prague afterward and it wasn’t so much so because we wanted to see Prague, although we did, but the flights out of Prague were so much less expensive than the flights out of Munich. And AmaWaterways had a post-cruise extension in Prague and so we were able to go to Prague using their transfer, which you can book, you can be on that transfer and not be a part of the group. You will still have to pay for the transfer but that is often a very convenient and less expensive way to get from one city to another is to go on the bus with your fellow passengers. And then we chose to stay in the same hotel as the AmaWaterways group but you can find your own hotel, you can kind of book everything on your own. But by going to Prague, we actually saved a lot of money and we got to spend a couple of nights in Prague which was beautiful.

Ralph: Yeah, that’s right. And you know, a more extreme case, I talked in the last webinar, talked about flying to Copenhagen to get to Venice. For business class airfare it was so much cheaper for us to go to Copenhagen. And I don’t know how I found it, but instead of going to Venice, I was able to pay for an entire week in Copenhagen with the money that we saved by flying direct to Venice. So, I look all over the European map when I’m flying from the US to Europe and I just think of what cities could be interesting and then I run it through Google flights and see what the fares are there. So yep. Fly to different cities. It’s a good way. Good tip there. And the Moxy, that’s for river cruising out of Vilshofen as Britton mentioned, a lot of those are on AmaWaterways.

Britton: Hack number five is to use flexible dates and this is a comment from a reader who says, “We were flexible on our dates. I called Viking and told them I wanted a good deal and it had to be at least two weeks away to my husband to give notice for vacation time at work. I gave about a three month window.” So, when you give a flexible date, instead of saying, “I want to go this week,” which we so often see, you say, “You know, I could go anywhere from March to May or to June.” And that way you’re able to find a cruise that might be a little bit less expensive, especially if you’re doing this during shoulder season so either in the spring or the fall and finding a fare that’s less expensive. And you know, it may only be a week off, it may be two weeks off but if you’re retired and you don’t really need to go on a certain date because you have that week off, this is a really good solution.

Britton: Hack number six is to sail with a certain cruise line. So, “Sail with Teaming River Cruises,” was commented by the owner of Teaming, Jeff, but he does raise an interesting point that Teaming kind of strips back a lot of the amenities, they unbundle them, the cruise fare. So, you’re not paying for drinks because they are not included, but you can purchase a drink package. You’re not paying for tours, but you can do tours off the ship and they give presentations and have an app that allows you to see the sites and get back to the ship. And so, I mean this is a shout out to Teaming, but it also kind of raises this point because there was another comment that someone said, “Make sure that you find a cruise line that includes beer and wine at lunch and dinner because it takes your bar bill down. It makes that less expensive.”

Britton: We talk often about how river cruising is a customized experience and everyone going to see different value in different places and some people might want an all-inclusive cruise fare so it just depends from person to person what you value and what you want on your trip. So, maybe taking a cruise line that has kind of unbundled the fair is something that’s going to work for you, but if it’s not, you can also look at a cruise line that has all of those inclusions so that you don’t have to worry about paying them later.

Britton: I also have a comment that said, “I booked a last-minute CroisiEurope cruise through the Netherlands for my first cruise. I was the only English speaking guest on the boat, but they went above and beyond to make sure I was enjoying myself. Affordable way to cruise if you’re aware that most other cruisers are French.” Which CroisiEurope is a French-owned cruise line. They’re based out of Strausberg. So yes, there is French on board and Ralph, you can speak to that as well.

Ralph: Yeah, so I use CroisiEurope for my barge cruises. I charter barges with CroisiEurope every year. And in this April I have three of them. Three back to back. But what I like, they’re no frills and so they are surprisingly all-inclusive, so they do have, so on the drink menu, you will see a list of drinks and on the back of the menu you’ll see premium drinks that you would actually pay for, but almost everything you would want like a sparkling wine, now if you want champagne, you pay for that but if you want a sparkling wine, you don’t pay for that. They are French-owned but you’d be surprised because not all of the people who work on this ship are French. A lot of them are from Hungary or Romania. We had some Portuguese so a lot of the staff on the ship, they speak English because that’s the way they communicate to one another. And most also speak French of course, too. But we get a lot of good comments about CroisiEurope. They came into the North American market several years ago trying to attract North Americans to travel with them and they’ve been fairly successful and all of the comments that we’ve had on the site about CroisiEurope have been positive.

Britton: And while we’re on the subject of sailing with a certain cruise line, I also want to mention solo travel for a minute because we often see that with these budget hacks that they might not apply to solo travelers because of single supplements. And so make sure that if you are a solo traveler you are aware of which cruise lines are solo travel friendly. So, Riviera has certain sailings with no single supplement. I know that Vantage also has sailings with no single supplement. And with Riviera there, I misspoke, there are a select number of cabins on every sailing that are available with no single supplement and then they also have solo only river cruises. So, everyone on the cruise is a solo passenger. And so that kind of aligns with this tip as well just to know your cruise line, know what you value, know what you’re looking at paying, especially as a solo traveler and find something that works there.

Britton: Hack number seven is to be proactive. So, after booking a cruise in order to be sure the price hasn’t dropped and or a higher category cabin is available, keep checking by starting an online reservation for the same and or upgraded category and it will give available cabins at what price. Continue booking as if another reservation to see all available cabins in any given category. Then call the company if you want to change your stateroom location, or if the price jumped request an adjustment such as an on board credit or an upgrade. Now, I will say that this is not something that I have ever thought of, but it is certainly a great tip to kind of be proactive, keep checking those rates and make sure that you are getting the best rate.

Britton: Then the other quote, “Check the availability of superior accommodation. A few days prior to the sailing date some cruise lines offer on their websites unsold accommodation to the highest bidder. If you win with a reasonable bid, that’s great. If you do not win you still have your original.” So, both of these are kind of just about making sure that you’re checking up on things and that you are able to gauge whether or not you got a good price and make sure that you can keep up.

Ralph: Yeah, it’s a little bit like price protection. You know, with the credit cards companies sometimes if you buy something and the price is lowered a month later or some stores will also do that, they’ll match your price.

Britton: Yeah, exactly. It is. It’s like a price match. It’s like Best Buy. So, I want to conclude this with kind of a long quote, but I think that this sums up what we’ve said and kind of adds maybe a few other things that we haven’t touched on but have touched on in other places meaning our websites through articles, through podcasts or through other webinars.

Britton:Budget means a lot of different things. Do you take a river cruise on the lowest fare you can find? My meaning of budget is finding a great deal by searching out all avenues of purchasing. I didn’t want to wait and see how low a fare could go because then I might not even get the flight I wanted or the room that I wanted. So, that goes back to booking early. I check out all the advice from River Cruise Advisor as well as other sites I find on the internet. Price comparisons give you a start and people’s opinions. Don’t forget the cruise is the middle of the trip. Making sure you get to your initial destination on time and being rested is really important. Using miles on airlines isn’t as easy as having enough points. Packing, paperwork, hotels, and making sure you left your home organized while you were gone. Even having your cell phone able to work in a foreign country is important. How about money and what about your health? What are the weather or crowds going to be like? So, budget isn’t such a big deal. Budget is just making a plan, have fun.”

Britton: And I just loved that. I think it sums everything up. It really expresses that it’s not just about the cruise fare, it’s about the airfare, it’s about your phones, which we have written articles about which phone carrier is the best because there are so, so many other aspects. And so I think that budget is making a plan, have fun, is kind of the best philosophy for all of this and kind of sums this up really nicely.

Ralph: That is very well said. And I like that person, whoever said that they just have a very practical and also an optimistic sort of positive outlook and that makes such a difference too on the cruises. I had one comment from a reader on our water levels page and it was interesting, she came from New Zealand and she talked about how, I’m going to read the quote because I just thought it was so good, if I can find it. But it just came in the other day and having a positive outlook is such an important thing I think.

Ralph: Okay. So this lady says, “No one can control the weather. If you want perfection in every way then cancel. Otherwise go with an open mind to go with the flow and enjoy whatever the experience gives you. There is nothing worse than being with fellow travelers who complain about changes when they knew it may happen. If you’re unsure, please do not go. Others will enjoy even if you will not. Having done a cruise in 2018 when the water levels were extremely bad and not being in top health, I went open to anything as I traveled from New Zealand and do not regret one minute, but I’m a very positive person. Others were not.”

Britton: Yeah, and that’s what it’s about. When we’re traveling, and I think with anything in life it’s about being flexible and that’s what we’ve talked about a lot in this is being flexible and knowing what you’re getting into and you’re taking a journey. So take a journey, right?

Ralph: Yes.

Britton: Thank you for everyone who filled out our surveys, be it on our websites or through our newsletters. Thank you for coming today. Thank you to our subscribers.

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