cruise terminal parking, galveston cruise terminal parking, cruise parking galveston, galveston cruise parkingSeasoned cruisers know that booking the ultimate cruise deal is a tricky formula of aiming for the right destination at the right time of year; booking at the exact moment when good prices and excellent availability align; jumping on promotions; scoring perks like onboard credits; remaining vigilant for price drops; and sometimes, a dash of pure luck.

Simply browsing the web might not be enough to secure the ultimate deal. Heed our advice using these five cruise booking hacks and you might be able to find secret pricing, score double the bonuses and land the upgrade of a lifetime.

1. Book onboard; then switch to an agent.

Booking a cruise while you’re on vacation might seem impulsive, but it’s actually a great way to gather extra bonuses and discounts. When you book a cruise onboard, you not only earn onboard credit to use on that future sailing and often pay a reduced deposit, but you can transfer that booking to your preferred travel agent once you disembark. A travel agent can offer you even more perks on top of what you negotiated on the ship (more onboard credit, bottles of wine), and many times you can even adjust dates and ships without a penalty, if your plans change. It’s really a win-win situation if you know you want to cruise the same line again soon.

2. Call for hidden pricing.

When online agents tell you to call for pricing, it’s not a gimmick or another way of saying a ship is sold out. Through direct connections with cruise lines and marketing partners, agents and cruise specialists receive deals called “quiet offers” that they’re not allowed to publish. What that means for the consumer is that there might be even lower rates available than the listed bargain. In order to get in on the savings, you have to call to discuss your options. Agents are also privy to sales before they go public, and know about any additional savings you might be eligible for, such as a military or AARP discount. Picking up the phone might seem a bit archaic these days, but if you want to book a cruise at the lowest rate, it’s almost essential.

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3. Refer a friend (or get referred).

Referral programs exist for gyms, hair salons and apartment complexes, so why not cruises? Some companies, offer onboard credit in exchange for a new referral to their agency. Likewise, select cruise lines offer onboard credit to you and your friends when they are referred. If you’ve never been on a cruise but have friends who have, ask them if their cruise line or agency offers a referral program and chances are, you’ll all reap the benefits.

4. Scour for price drops.

Be your own bargain advocate. Sign up for cruise line e-letters, which will inform you about the latest deals, and even check their pages on social media. If you see a bargain that’s better than the one you have, call your agent to see if it’s possible to make a switch. Depending on the terms of a new fare or promotion, you might be able to score extra perks, get a price reduction, upgrade your cabin or receive the fare difference in onboard credit. While some travel agents might notify you of price drops, you’re the person most invested in your vacation, so it makes sense to monitor the price changes yourself.

5. Pay more for a lower total price.

Sure it sounds counterintuitive, but if you don’t mind shelling out a little extra on the base cruise fare, the upgrades and amenities included can make a significant impact on your total vacation expenses. If you’re on a super tight budget and plan on limiting onboard spending, then it might be important to adhere to low cruise rates, down to the last cent. However, if you have the ability to pay a bit more, the returns can be much greater than the difference in fares. You’ll hear it often from travel agents: The best deal isn’t always the sailing with the cheapest price. For example, pay slightly more for an ocean-view or balcony cabin, and on some lines you can receive an included drink package, internet or prepaid tips that aren’t available to inside cabin cruisers. The perks included in upper stateroom categories could add hundreds of dollars of value to your vacation. Think about what amenities you plan to buy (be it airfare or alcohol), and compare the total cost of a cheap fare plus all the add-ons with a pricier intro fare that includes more. The results might surprise you.

Higher Category Cabins Filled First

It’s much more palatable for cruise lines to publicly sell their lower-priced cabins (insides and ocean views) at discounted rates than to advertise deep reductions on balcony-level rooms or cruise vacation planning,cruise vacation tips,cruise vacationing,cruise vactation,cruise terminal parking,galveston cruise terminal parking,parking for cruises galvestonsuites. That’s because it’s better to lose $300 by discounting an $800 inside cabin to $500, than to lose $500 by cutting the cost of a $2,200 suite to $1,700, especially considering all the perks that a suite passenger gets.  In order to fill the higher categories first, cruise lines will typically try to upsell already-booked passengers. Keep in mind, most upper categories do sell out with little extra effort from the cruise lines.

So cruisers who have already booked and paid for a balcony might get a call from a cruise line sales representative or their travel agent, offering them a suite for a couple hundred dollars more (for a total suite cost less than its advertised price). This fills up the suites, and empties the balcony cabins which will then be offered to those who booked ocean-view cabins for a small upgrade fee.

Exclusive Sales

The remaining unsold cruise cabins (mostly lower category options, but not always) will cruise vacation planning,cruise vacation tips,cruise vacationing,cruise vactation,cruise terminal parking,galveston cruise terminal parking,parking for cruises galvestontypically be offered to select groups of cruisers through several methods.

Cruise lines will offer many of the remaining cabins at exclusive sale prices to partner travel agencies with an ability to move lots of capacity (think huge Internet agencies or land-based big-box travel retailers). The lines will also try to sell empty cabins via resident discounts to cruisers from the state from which the cruise ship sails. Cruise lines might also advertise a flash sale to subscribers of its e-letter or to its social media audience.

How to Snag a Deal

Cruise lines are not going to flag specific sailings as having empty cabins, making it easy for a potential booker to find a deal. If you want to save, you’ll need to make some effort.

Subscribe to Mailing Lists

The easiest way to find out about sales is to sign up for the cruise line’s e-letter or follow the line on social media; do this for every cruise line you’re interested in. The lines will advertise flash sales through these outlets. Also, get on the mailing list of large travel agencies (Cruise.com, Vacations to Go, CruiseOne, Cruise Planners, etc). If they’re asked to fill cabins, they’ll advertise the exclusive discounts through their e-letters.

Do Mock Bookings for a Sailing You’re Interested In

If you have a specific sailing in mind, you’ll want to be doing mock bookings for that sailing starting the week after final payment is due. During the booking process you’ll be able see how many cabins in any category are left.

cruise vacation planning,cruise vacation tips,cruise vacationing,cruise vactation,cruise terminal parking,galveston cruise terminal parking,parking for cruises galvestonIf you’re already booked on that cruise and see that there are open higher-category rooms than what you’ve got booked, contact the line or your travel agent to see if there are any upgrade offers open.  It’s more difficult if you’re not already booked. If you see lots of empty cruise cabins, you can try contacting the line to see if a sales rep or a travel agency will offer you a good deal. Chances are high, however, that if no sale was advertised on the website, you won’t be offered a discount. If this is the case, keep checking in. If cabins don’t start filling up as the sail date gets closer, the chances of a sale popping up increase.

Not All Empty Cabins Will Be Filled

Be aware: If your cabin search results in only a handful of empty rooms, chances are there will be no deals offered. This is because a cruise ship can reach its double-occupancy number without filling every cabin (due to filling third, fourth and fifth berths, not to mention cribs and rollaway cots). Cruise lines breathe easier about financials when that passenger count is reached, so they’re not always bothered to offer you a discount on their very last unsold cabin.

It seems everyone who has ever cruised either has a staple piece of advice to offer others or has received said advice from someone else. There are several recommendations we hear on repeat — bring magnets to hang things, pack a highlighter for your daily schedule and don’t leave home without duct tape — but some of them do make us scratch our heads. Read on for our list of some of the most overrated cruise advice.

1. Don’t Book Independent Shore Excursions

cruise vacation planning, cruise vacation tips, cruise vacationing, cruise vactation, cruise terminal parking, galveston cruise terminal parking, parking for cruises galvestonIt’s true that your ship isn’t likely to wait for you if you’re late getting back from a shore excursion you’ve booked through a private provider. That risk often scares cruisers into paying inflated prices for cruise line-sponsored tours. These days, many independent excursion operators provide guarantees that promise to get you to the next port of call to rejoin your ship if, for some reason, your tour returns late. You should always do your homework by reading the fine print before reserving anything, but we think it’s safer now than it’s ever been to book with a private company. The goal is to find a provider that offers a fun, safe tour for a fair price — even if it’s not through your cruise line.

2. Bring An Over-the-Door Organizer

cruise vacation planning, cruise vacation tips, cruise vacationing, cruise vactation, cruise terminal parking, galveston cruise terminal parking, parking for cruises galvestonThis is a tried-and-true bit of wisdom that works for many cruisers — particularly those sharing cabins with more than one person — because they help you to keep all of your things in one place while taking up relatively little space. But with cruise lines instituting more stringent policies on what passengers are and aren’t allowed to hang on doors, and with newer ships offering more storage space than ever, we question whether it makes sense to pack a bulky organizer when you can simply use the drawers and cupboards already provided.

3. Arrive at the Terminal Later to Avoid the Embarkation Rush

cruise vacation planning, cruise vacation tips, cruise vacationing, cruise vactation, cruise terminal parking, galveston cruise terminal parking, parking for cruises galvestonAs a general rule, most cruisers prefer to board their ships as early as possible, which means, if you share that mentality, you’re likely to be met by long lines. For that reason, experienced cruisers advise arriving after the masses. It’s a trade-off, though: If you show up on the later side of embarkation, you’ll probably zoom through without much of a wait, but you also risk missing out on those extra couple of hours onboard when you could have been exploring the ship, taking part in activities or grabbing a bite to eat.

4. Wear a Seasick Patch

cruise vacation planning, cruise vacation tips, cruise vacationing, cruise vactation, cruise terminal parking, galveston cruise terminal parking, parking for cruises galvestonWe’ve met many a patch-adorned cruiser who has no idea whether he or she actually gets seasick. “It’s just a precaution,” they claim. Maybe it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially where your vacation is concerned, but to us, that’s like saying “I’m just going to drink this bottle of Dayquil in case I get the sniffles.” Our advice: Take the patches with you, and apply them if you start to feel nauseated. Many times seasickness preventatives can make you drowsy and lethargic, so use them with caution so you are not too tired to enjoy your cruise vacation.

5. Buy a Beverage Package in Advance

cruise vacation planning, cruise vacation tips, cruise vacationing, cruise vactation, cruise terminal parking, galveston cruise terminal parking, parking for cruises galvestonBeverage packages are a great value for anyone who drinks enough soda or alcohol to outweigh the hefty cost. If you’re new to the concept of these packages, hold off on purchasing one until you’re onboard so you can see if your consumption habits warrant the per-day expense. Passengers generally have until the second or third day of a sailing (depending on its length) to decide if they want to commit to a package, but once you do commit to one, you’re locked in for the remainder of the voyage.