Tips for Saving Money on Travel and Cruise Vacations

Money Girl offers advice for taking a debt-free vacation and buying travel insurance, and reveals 7 tips to save money on a cruise vacation--like her recent trip to Alaska.

Laura Adams, MBA
8-minute read
Episode #366

7 Travel and Cruise Vacation Tips to Save MoneyStep #3: Estimate your total costs

Your airfare and hotel expenses are just the starters for your vacation. Do as much research as possible ahead of time to pick the attractions, events, and restaurants you don’t want to miss, and research those that may not be worth the price. It will also help you build out an estimated cost for your trip.

If you want a completely debt-free vacation, divide the total estimated cost by the remaining number of weeks or paychecks until your departure date, to see how much you might need to save.

If you won’t have enough saved up, consider delaying your departure date so you have more time to put money away. Or make another plan to visit a less expensive destination or hotel.

Think how great you’ll feel when you come home without a huge load of credit card debt from the trip. That’s one of the best ways to make sure your getaway is good for your mental health and your financial life.

7 Cruise Tips to Save Money

I recently took a debt-free cruise to Alaska with family to celebrate my parents’ 50th anniversary. What an amazing trip! The landscapes, glaciers, and wildlife we saw were spectacular.

We were on a beautiful, mid-size ship from the Oceania cruise line, which I highly recommend. This was my very first cruise, so I’m no veteran. But I did come away with 7 tips that saved me a boatload:

Savings Tip #1: Book early

Early-bookers definitely get the best deals on cruises. Most lines want to book ships months before the departure date, and may offer 2-for-1 pricing, free airfare, and cabin upgrades to pile on the value. I got all 3 of those discounts.

If you’re trying to decide between cabins, such as one with an ocean view or one with a balcony, go with the less expensive option. As the trip got closer, we were bombarded with offers to upgrade for very little cost.   

The cruise line may not advertise it, but all cabins in a specific tier are not created equal. For instance, I saved about $1,000 by booking an ocean view room that is “obstructed.” That means it’s exactly the same, but we could see part of a lifeboat from the window. I’ll take it.

Remember that anything a cruise line arranges for you will cost more than if you book it yourself.

Savings Tip #2: Book your own airfare

Most cruise lines offer packages that include the cost of airfare from certain cities.  Remember that anything a cruise line arranges for you will cost more than if you book it yourself.

So do your research on airfare, and then ask the cruise line how much credit you’d receive if flights were removed from your package. I saved about $600 booking flights myself, which paid for several shore excursions!

This same book-it-yourself tip applies for pre- and post-cruise hotel stays, and transfers between the airport and ship. We were offered a shuttle from the Seattle airport for about $150 per person. Meanwhile, the taxi we hailed only cost $40.

Savings Tip #3: Book your own shore excursions

Shore excursions are what really make a cruise interesting. Although some luxury lines include the cost of excursions, they’re typically an expensive add-on. I’d say that if you splurge on one thing during a cruise, make it the excursions.

We went on terrific day trips that got us really close to glaciers, icebergs, and different kinds whales, like humpbacks, minkes, and orcas. In Prince Rupert, Canada, we took a beautiful tour boat into the Khutzeymateeen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary. We saw about 7 bears throughout the day, including mothers and cubs coming down to the shore to eat sedge grass. I was spellbound.

Every port we stopped in had plenty of excursions and guide companies ready to go. I didn’t think about researching these ahead of time—but it would have been easy to do. Again, book it yourself (or BIY) to save money. See what excursions from your itinerary look interesting and research them online. You’ll probably find the exact same companies that offer those trips for the cruise line. Purchasing directly from the local company will definitely cut the cost.   


About the Author

Laura Adams, MBA

Laura Adams received an MBA from the University of Florida. She's an award-winning personal finance author, speaker, and consumer advocate who is a frequent, trusted source for the national media. Money-Smart Solopreneur: A Personal Finance System for Freelancers, Entrepreneurs, and Side-Hustlersbook is her newest title. Laura's previous book, Debt-Free Blueprint: How to Get Out of Debt and Build a Financial Life You Love, was an Amazon #1 New Release. Do you have a money question? Call the Money Girl listener line at 302-364-0308. Your question could be featured on the show.