Top Cruise Secrets Revealed

There are more than 200 cruise ships that you can choose from today. But the one thing that they all have in common is that a little advance planning and "insider" knowledge can help you save time and money on your next cruise. Here are the "top ten tips":

1. Maximum flexibility = Maximum savings. Most travelers have some flexibility in their travel dates, especially if planning ahead of time. Let your cruise specialist know that you can consider alternate departure dates that may have lower rates available. Keep in mind cruise lines will offer better prices and perks on sailings that are not nearing capacity.

Tip: Shoulder or off peak sailings offer the deepest price cuts. For example, the departure right after the New Year cruise might be substantially lower.

2. Ask if guarantees are available. This requires that you have a little gambling spirit. Many cruise lines will offer a rate on a particular cabin category instead of an actual stateroom number and in effect guarantee that rate to you. Then the cruise line has the option of assigning you a stateroom in either that category or better.

Sometimes you win and end up in a cabin several grades higher and sometimes you end up in exactly the category you were guaranteed. Remember, there is both an upside and downside to this program.

Tip: Completely understand the process before booking a guarantee.

3.Upgrade programs. Often, your cruise specialist may offer a cruise line upgrade program. This means that you book and pay for category 'B' and will be moved to a higher category 'A'. Again, there is an element of risk here. The fact that a stateroom may be in a higher category does not always mean it will be a more desirable cabin. For example, you might be in a nice mid ship balcony stateroom on Deck C and get an upgrade to a balcony stateroom on Deck A.

While your new assignment may be the same size and have identical amenities you might end up in a less desirable location such as near an elevator or at the extreme end of the ship. And there are outside cabins that have views partially blocked by lifeboats or other equipment. On the other hand there are many instances of guests being upgraded several categories to wonderful staterooms.

Tip: Advise your cruise specialist that you will consider upgrades offered but you want to have final say on any changes before they happen.

4.Special Fare Eligibility - One of the reasons that savvy cruisers find a knowledgeable cruise specialist and stick with them is the fact that there are many special fare programs that may or not be visible to cruisers doing casual research on the web. These include things like regional fares that are made available to residents of selected states.

Caution: If you are offered a regional fare and you don't live in that area and can not prove residency, don't do it. Cruise lines have the right to check your eligibility on sailing day and charge for the difference before you board. It does happen. Some of the other special fares being promoted today include active duty and retired military fares, union member fares, police and public safety discounts, airline or hospitality rates and more.

Tip: If your cruise partner is a member of any of the these groups, the discounts usually apply to everyone traveling in the same stateroom.

5. Past Passenger Specials - Virtually every major cruise line has a loyalty club for its members with different levels and benefits. Joining is free and entitles you to special perks and discounts when you book on that line. For many commonly owned cruise lines such as Carnival Corporation, the offers extend across all the brands such as Carnival, Princess, Holland America etc. Ditto for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity.

Tip: Many cruise lines started operation before computers become common and can not easily retrieve date for cruises you may have taken several years ago. However, if you send a letter to the cruise line listing the ships and cruises you have been on, most will take your word and credit you with those unrecorded sailings. This might have the effect of moving you from Gold to Platinum level and significantly improve the benefits.

6. Check for Group Rates: Many cruise agencies hold what is known as block space on ships. That means that they have reserved space at group rates, which can be up to 20% lower than individual rates. Many agencies that reserve space for groups hold aside several cabins for individual clients who might be able to depart on this date.

While you may be traveling as a group, your cruise experience will be as an individual traveler. The downside might be that your dining time or section is affected by the group program. The upside is that you might benefit from some group amenties such as an onboard credit, free shore excursion etc.

Tip: If your cruise specialist offers group rates, understand the features, benefits and limitations completely before you book. From the cruise line perspective you are a member of the group and fall under the policies and procedures for groups.

7. On board re-booking. Most cruise lines now allow you to book your next cruise with that line while on board. They may have what is known as an on board sales consultant or even a desk. This is usually a great opportunity to save. Generally, the cruise line will throw in some strong perks to retain your loyalty to their brand. Onboard credits on the future cruise can be quite substantial. Upgrades and other benefits are usually significant.

Tip: Many cruise lines realize that you may not be sure when and where you want to cruise while on your current voyage. Not to worry, because most have a program where you can book on board with the flexibility to change to other sailings and ships via your cruise specialist when you get home and keep all the benefits. This is a truly a win win for you!