The other day I booked a short last-minute cruise for a fun little weekend getaway. I’m a big fan of cruises ever since I took my first one last year and have noticed that if you’re flexible enough, you can really get a great deal that can often make it one of the cheapest vacations possible. In my search I came across a variety of choices and discovered that sometimes the best price isn’t always the best deal.
If there is one consistent thing about travel, it’s that nothing is consistent. You can go to the same place ten times and never experience the same scenario. The weather might be different, the service, the hotel, the cuisine, all of these things can experience even minor changes and the end result will be different every time. However, one of the most variable factors in vacationing is the price. Two people can visit the same destination for the same amount of time and pay drastically different amounts. Was one vacation better? That’s a matter of opinion. My personal opinion is that the experience is more important than the amenities.
I love to travel, but I also love to travel cheap. I will often forgo luxuries if I can trade them for more time or more activities. Though, often just putting in a little extra time to find the best deal, I can get somewhere in the middle and still have a rather comfortable and enjoyable time for very little money. I try to shoot for $100 per day per person including ALL expenses (air travel, meals, hotels, local travel and souvenirs). I can tell you that this is a very achievable goal and only requires a little extra effort. But I was talking about cruises. Lets talk about cruises…
Periodically I will have a look at last-minute cruise fares just for fun, even when I have no intentions of taking one. For one, it gives me an idea of whats available and two, I get to see what some of the fares look like, so when I go to book something later I already have an idea of what the cost could be. A while back I noticed that Fall fares for weekend cruises to Baja California can get down in the $200 range. I figured that sounded like a pretty cheap fun weekend to me. Now not to be misleading, cruise fares also incur taxes, occasional fuel surcharges and gratuities and that can add up pretty quick. Taking a quick look on my go-to last-minute cruise deals website Vacationstogo.com, I was able to find a cruise on Princess Cruises for $205 per person for three nights with free gratuities. The brochure rate for this cruise (which is the rate you should NEVER pay) is $1359. The advertised rate from the Princess Cruises website is currently $269, so right off the bat I’m able to save $64 per person, but I think I can still do better than that.
Many times cruise retailers like to offer incentives with their cruises like free on board credits, cabin upgrades and free gratuities to sweeten the deal. This is great but it makes comparison shopping a little trickier. I checked with a few other cruise retailers and was able to find a price of $199 with $60 in free on board credit. During my search I found another website called Cruisecompete.com where travel agents email you their best offer and you decide who wins. I was actually pretty impressed with this site because it produced the cheapest fares. I was able to get a quote down to $180.89 per person but with no incentives. When I started factoring in the incentives I realized that the cheapest fare wasn’t necessarily the best deal.
The on board credit incentives are nice because they give you extra spending cash on board, though arguably for things that are overpriced anyway. If you’re like me and don’t do any shopping on board then the credit might not mean much to you. However, free gratuities is great because most cruise lines automatically add-on about $12 per person per day in gratuities to be split among the cruise staff. This is money that comes out of your pocket and is an additional expense towards your cruise fare. So when I factored in my lowest price after taxes and gratuities, Vacations To Go turned out to be the winner with an overall fare of $494.98 for two people or about $82.50 per night per person. The next best fare including taxes and gratuities would have been $526.78 saving me about $32. Had I booked from Princess Cruises directly I would have paid $703.
So, what have we learned here? First, shop around. Booking through the corporate website is almost never the best deal. Second, let people compete for your business. Competition creates lower prices. Lastly, make sure you compare the final total with all fees to make sure you are getting the best deal possible. Happy hunting!
$526.78 (best fare) – $494.98 (best deal) = $31.80