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

Savings Tip #4: Know the beverage policy

Beverage policies vary considerably from cruise line to cruise line. For instance, the price on most high-end ships includes all beverages and alcohol, but the less expensive ships make you pay for both.

Most cruise lines allow you to bring 2 bottles of wine or champagne aboard. So that’s what we did—although no one riffled through our bag to make sure we weren’t smuggling in a case.  I’ve heard stories of people filling empty wine bottles with liquor and re-corking them--but don’t tell anyone Money Girl mentioned that strategy!

On our cruise, all soft drinks were included in the price, but not alcohol. They did offer a beverage plan where you could get unlimited bar drinks for $59 a day. I estimated that at about $12 each, you’d have to drink 5 cocktails a day to make it worthwhile. While I didn’t reach that limit, I probably should have signed up my husband for the booze plan. Oh well...

If you like wine with meals, buying a bottle is always less expensive than ordering by the glass. If you don’t finish it, they can label the bottle with your cabin number, and you can enjoy the rest of it at your next meal. Or you can bring your own wine and pay a $10 or $15 corkage fee.

Savings Tip #5: Avoid onboard Internet

Unless you really need to spend a lot of time online, I’d avoid expensive onboard Internet altogether. You’ll have a faster connection in an Internet café on shore.

And remember that if you make calls from your cell phone or get online through your mobile device, you’ll be racking up roaming charges when you’re outside the U.S.

Savings Tip #6: Ask about spa discounts

Most cruise lines have full spas services, but they charge a premium. Unless you really want to try an onboard spa, you’ll save money getting a massage or your hair and nails done before you leave home.

However, some spas offer discounts if you book early or want service on embarkation and port days.

Savings Tip #7: Consider travel insurance

Travel insurance is available for a variety of situations that range from an inconvenience, such as losing your luggage, to bumping-up against a hurricane, or having a life-threatening medical emergency that requires airlift to the nearest hospital.

Don’t forget that most health insurance plans, including Medicare, offer no or extremely limited coverage when you’re outside of the U.S. So check your plan, or speak to an insurance representative to make sure you understand what costs you’d be responsible for outside of the country.

Travel insurance can be a wise investment, because the typical policy may cost less than a visit to the ship’s doctor. And it’s a tiny fraction of the cost of an emergency evacuation, which could cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Check out sites such as Allianz, Travelex, and Travel Guard to get free quotes for different levels of coverage. Get quotes as early as possible, so you have plenty time to do some research and weigh the pros and cons of buying travel insurance.

And a final quick and dirty tip for booking a cruise is to try to compare them based on total price, not just the listed per-person fare. For instance, add up the fare, flights, beverage package, specialty restaurant fees, gratuities, and average cost of excursions.

You may be surprised to find that the cost to cruise an average mega-ship isn’t much less than the cost of a smaller, luxury vessel with much better service and food.  Smaller ships can also visit more exclusive ports and get closer to sights, such as the magical glaciers I saw up close in Alaska.

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Passenger Ship on the River, Piggy Bank at the Beach, Map, and Person at Airport images courtesy of Shutterstock.


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.