The Open Water Beckons: How To Cruise And Not Lose

As the saying goes, “if you don’t cruise, you lose.” Okay so that is not really a saying but you’re missing out if you don’t go on a cruise. If you’re unsure about doling out the cash to climb aboard a floating wonderland, check out a few tips to ease your sea-loving heart.

Budget Travel talked to a couple experts, Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of CruiseCritic.com, and Marilyn Green, a cruise editor at industry publication TravelAge West.

• Booking through a travel agent can save money: Those agents can be quite cozy with cruise lines, which translates to upgrades and extras for you. And you don’t have to pay them, as lines pay them in commissions. Research agents (at least five years experience in an agent is good) with Cruise Lines International Association and The Travel Institute.

• You can save some big bucks by joining a cruise line’s loyalty program: Lines like Royal Caribbean have excellent progams, says Spencer Brown. “They really make it worth your while to stick with them by hosting special members-only events onboard and occasionally distributing coupons for $100 to $500 off select sailings.” You can also get priority boarding on some lines with the loyalty program. And again, free things are good — membership comes at no cost.

• Buy your own flights, even if the cruise offers do it for you: You can save money and greater flexibility with travel times. Cruise lines used to hold the ship if you were delayed on the way, but that doesn’t happen much anymore. Some lines also charge fees for the service of booking airfare.

• Don’t worry about tipping everyone on a cruise: Most cruise lines will charge your account around $6 to $15 per person per day to cover restaurant personnel and other helpful attendants. Make sure to ask about this when you check in to see if this is the case. That envelope left in your room marked “gratuity” can be used if your room steward is exceptional and you want to leave extra. So what if you don’t like the service you’ve received? Tell the ship’s purser before you leave and change the amount. Many times, drink prices include an automatic gratuity in the price.

• Booze is expensive, no matter what, so factor it into your budget: Sorry, enjoyers of alcohol. Beer and other spirits have risen in price recently, and you’re not supposed to bring your own on board. Even duty-free booze purchases are kept by ship personnel until the trip is over.

5 money-saving questions — and answers [CNN]