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Cruise Hacking – Low-Cost Travel on the High Seas

Cruise Hacking

With a collection of cruise hacks, savvy travelers are discovering ingenious ways to make their cruising dreams a reality at a fraction of the cost. Now could be the right time to catch the cruise wave.

After mass disruptions triggered by the pandemic, the global cruise industry is back with a vengeance, according to the Cruise Lines Industry Association’s 2023 annual report,

The last two years of recovery have been a unique opportunity for savvy cruise hackers to cash in on one-off deals. Last year saw heavy discounting as the industry tried to revamp, although it is still in transition.

85% of travelers who have cruised before plan to cruise again – a 6% increase from pre-pandemic levels. The industry group predicts cruise global passenger volume will reach 106% of 2019 levels in 2023—with over 31 million passengers sailing.

“2023 is the last ramp-up year with 2024 being the truly ‘normal’ year, for real this time,” said Truist Securities Analyst Patrick Scholes in March. Scholes believes the industry is on track again after a solid start to 2023 with reduced price discounting and a surge in bookings.

Cruise hackers have a lot of go-to moves, which require strategic planning, creative tactics, and flexibility.

All aboard?

For some, it’s a quick fix for a budget holiday, while for others, cruising enables destination hopping as a viable alternative to flying. For die-hards, near-permanent long-term cruising can become a whole new lifestyle. MV Lara is due to set sail in November from Istanbul, kicking off the three-year-long, 130,000-mile Life at Sea cruise to over 130 countries.

Cruises are a crucial expense item for many retirees in their optimal retirement plan. To afford such a high-ticket item, would-be travelers can save with an investment plan through a portfolio of high-performing ETFs, investment-grade bonds, or another mixture of assets.

“Cruising offers a unique blend of travel, comfort, and convenience. Particularly for retirees, it could serve as a gateway to a nomadic lifestyle, allowing them to explore the world without leaving the comfort of their ‘home,'” says Jorey Bernstein, CEO of Bernstein Investment Consultants.

Timing is the name of the cruise hacking game. This holds for the average cost of the cruise itself (the same cabin can be much cheaper during the off-season than peak) and when you book. Beat the rush by booking early or late to score a good deal.

Some adventurous travelers even turn up at the dock hours before the ship’s departure to get empty cabins for a fraction of the cost of regular bookings. Cruise companies know cruisers are searching for last-minute deals, so some lines, like Princess, feature a dedicated last-minute deals page.

“Last-minute cruise deals can be a gold mine but come with inherent risks,” Bernstein adds. “The safer route is to watch deals offered directly by cruise lines or trusted agencies, balancing spontaneity with security.”

Other strategies

Repositioning cruises offer another unique opportunity to save. These occur during transition periods when cruise companies reposition their fleets to different regions of the world ahead of a new season. Cruise lines offer cabins at steep discounts, and ships are usually much less crowded than on central routes. This option allows passengers to see off-the-beaten-path and destinations not generally visited on regular passageways. However, these cruises include more days at sea and, as they are a one-way route, the disembarkation port will always be at a different destination from where they started.

Rebooking after the price drops is another hack. Cruise companies constantly shift prices for identical cabins. If you discover the cabin price you’ve booked is significantly less than what you paid, you can rebook at the discounted rate. This starts by monitoring your cruise’s price points post-booking.

Platforms like Cruiseline offer free price alerts so that customers are notified and can rebook at a discount if a price drop occurs for their cruise.

Experts advise travelers to remember that ticket prices are not the only metric and beware of hidden costs and fees.

“Deciphering cruise pricing can seem like navigating a labyrinth,” adds Bernstein. “The key is to account for all costs, not just the base fare. Consider the intangibles, like convenience and amenities, to truly gauge the value of your cruising experience.”

Success in cruise hacking comes with meticulous planning and solid research. Cruisers can make significant savings by timing the trip right, delving into the fine print, leveraging loyalty programs, and monitoring fluctuating fares. Once the price is right, the fun begins – optimizing the vacationers’ time onboard to ensure they get the most out of the experience.

Josh Dudick

Josh is a financial expert with over 15 years of experience on Wall Street as a senior market strategist and trader. His career has spanned from working on the New York Stock Exchange floor to investment management and portfolio trading at Citibank, Chicago Trading Company, and Flow Traders.

Josh graduated from Cornell University with a degree from the Dyson School of Applied Economics & Management at the SC Johnson College of Business. He has held multiple professional licenses during his career, including FINRA Series 3, 7, 24, 55, Nasdaq OMX, Xetra & Eurex (German), and SIX (Swiss) trading licenses. Josh served as a senior trader and strategist, business partner, and head of futures in his former roles on Wall Street.

Josh's work and authoritative advice have appeared in major publications like Nasdaq, Forbes, The Sun, Yahoo! Finance, CBS News, Fortune, The Street, MSN Money, and Go Banking Rates. Josh currently holds areas of expertise in investing, wealth management, capital markets, taxes, real estate, cryptocurrencies, and personal finance.

Josh currently runs a wealth management business and investment firm. Additionally, he is the founder and CEO of Top Dollar, where he teaches others how to build 6-figure passive income with smart money strategies that he uses professionally.