Ever wonder how to be assured of getting the best deal on a Carnival Cruise? Which is better? Booking months in advance, or, waiting for a last minute deal? Are you confused by cruise industry jargon like "Onboard Credit", "Cabin Category Upgrades", "Senior Rates", "Military Rates", "Balcony Sale" and "Resident Rates"? Well, you've come to the right place!
Carnival's top priority is to sell out each and every sailing – this is no different from any cruise line. In selling-out the sailing, Carnival wants to maximize their profit, and, avoid any last minute scrambles that ends-up selling cabins at fire-sale prices. To achieve this goal, Carnival has created a system of promotions that can be confusing. Our aim is to demystify these promotions and give helpful advice on how to get the best price.
Before we dive into explaining cruise industry jargon, let's start with four simple tips to get a great deal on Carnival:
Tip #1: Procrastination Rarely Pays
Years ago, the cruise industry was rife with last minute deals. Cruise lines realized that this only encouraged people to wait for the price to drop before they would book. Today, cruise lines give their best deals and price protection guarantees to those who book their cruise early. On popular cruise itineraries and ships, it is not uncommon to see prices increase as the sailing date approaches. Carnival rewards early bookers with the best discounts, and, a price protection guarantee (discussed in detail later).
Tip #2: Driving to your Departure Port Equals Big Savings
Finding a cruise from a port within easy driving distance of your home can add-up to big savings on the total cost of a cruise vacation. Carnival has moved many of its ships to ports that are within easy driving range for a good portion of the country. Galveston, San Diego, Mobile, New Orleans, Charleston, Baltimore and New York all have Carnival ships sailng from their ports.
Tip #3: Be Realistic About "Best Price Guarantees"
Almost every cruise line and cruise retailer offers some form of a "best / low price guarantee". Like most guarantees that you come across, the "devil is in the details". The fine-print of the guarantee lays-out stringent qualifications to get the lower price. Also, whenever cruise lines create promotions aimed at selling-out there ships, they make certain that their offer will not trigger hundreds of best price guarantee claims. There are occasions where best price guarantees do pay off, but, smart shoppers know that the value these guarantees are generally limited.
Tip #4: Cruise Pricing Follows the Laws of Supply and Demand
Like any travel product, the price is determined by a combination of the product demand, the type of cabin you choose, and, the competition in the marketplace. The better the cabin quality (location, size, etc.), and, the high-demand cruises (e.g.- high vs low season, old vs new ship, convenience of departure port, how many cabins are left to be sold, etc.) will impact the price of the cruise.
Now that you have some helpful general tips on how to save money, let's take a look at some of the programs and discounts offered by Carnival Cruise Lines.
The Best Discounts Go To Those Who Book Early: Carnival's Early Saver Program
Carnival rewards early bookers with an "Early Saver" discount backed by a "Best Price Guarantee". The Best Price Guarantee works hand-in-hand with the Early Saver program. This assures you of the best price from the time you purchase your cruise right up until two days before your cruise departs. Here's how it works:
You may be asking "why does Carnival only assure the best price up until two days before cruise departure". We don't have an answer for that yet. Carnival rarely permits any cabins to be sold less than 2 days before departure – and that has mostly to due with security requirements that limit their ability to sell cruises at the last minute.
- Book your 6 night or greater cruise 5 months in advance of the sailing date (3 months for cruises of 5 nights or less) and Carnival will honor any lower advertised price found up to 2 days before the sailing date,
- Here's the catch – the lower price has to be a Carnival advertised fare. If a travel agent is advertising a lower fare, you need to verify that the same fare is available on Carnival.com and is available to the general public (not a targeted fare to a specific audience that you do not fall into – senior citizen fare, military fare, resident rate, etc.). If you find a lower fare, you need to go online to report it to Carnival. If the price is legit, Carnival will issue you an onboard credit for the price difference,
- You can exercise the best price guarantee as many times as you like when you find a lower price for which you would be eligible,
- The "110% of the difference" guarantee sounds great until you actually do the math. If you find an elligible fare for $20 less than what you paid, 110% of the difference means that you would get a $22 shipboard credit ($20 fare difference + 10% of the $20 difference). But, at least it is something, and, the difference could be much greater than $20. If the guarantee gets triggered, you might end-up lowering the cost of your vacation,
- The "Early Saver" fares requires a non-refundable deposit. Carnival charges a $50 per person service fee for changing sailings booked under the Early Saver program.
Carnival's 110% Best Price Guarantee
Carnival guarantees the best price for up to 48-hours after the purchase is made irrespective of when you bought it. If you find a better price within 48 hours of booking, Carnival will give you 110% of the difference in onboard credit. Onboard (shipboard) credit helps offset the cost of purchases made while on your cruise. However, like the Early Saver, it is up to you to find and report the lower price.
While you may prefer the cash refund, you will spend money on shore excursions, spa treatments, soft drinks, wine, liquor and other sundry items you might purchase while onboard.
With the exception of fares bought under the Early Saver program, you only have a 48-hour window to find a lower fare. This restriction does, however, support why the Early Saver program is the best deal when it comes to "best price guarantees". Under the Early Saver program, the best price guarantee is in effect from the day you buy your cruise up until 2 days prior to sailing.
Once The Early Saver Window has passed, what other discount programs are there?
Carnival has a range of promotions they use once the Early Saver window has passed. They include:
Cabin Category Upgrade
You've seen the promotions: pay for a lower category of cabin, and, get immediately upgraded to a higher cabin category. This is a good offer when it moves you from an inside cabin to an outside cabin, or a picture window cabin to a balcony cabin, or let's you select a cabin that is not under the disco. Cabin Category Upgrade promotions are a powerful upselling tool for cruise lines – getting you to pay more for a cabin. Customers typically select a higher, more costly cabin category (Inside, Outside, Balcony, Suite) than they would have originally intended. Other names by which Cabin Category Upgrades are advertised include Balcony Sale, or, Suites for the Price of an Outside Cabin. These promotions will say "up to 6 category upgrade", but, the fine-print places restrictions on which cabin categories are elligible for the "6-category" upgrade. In these types of promotions, the majority of the transactions end up with a 1-3 category upgrade.
Onboard / Shipboard Spending Credits
Some cruise promotions offer a credit on your shipboard spending account that can be used for anything you can bill to your shipboard account. Cruise ships work like major hotels: you charge to your room and then settle-up on a credit card or with cash before you leave the ship. This credits can help cover the cost of shore excursions, gratuities, specialty restaurants, alcoholic or specialty drinks, spa treatments and shopping onboard.
Past Passenger Discounts
All cruise lines want you to become a loyal, repeat passenger. Cruise booking web sites have a button on their cruise search form that allows you to specify whether you are a past passenger. By checking this button, you will be shown the Past Passenger discounted rates that may be available on selected cruises.
Before you will be allowed to actually book a past passenger rate online, you will need to enter your past passenger ID # / membership number, and, the name associated with that number. If you have misplaced or forgotten your past passenger number on Carnival, e-mail email@example.com for assistance.
Buying A Future Cruise When You Are Onboard Your Current Cruise
It is almost guaranteed that the cruise line will try and get you to book another cruise before you leave. The onboard specials on future cruises are usually quite good. There will be announcements on the public address system and in the shipboard newsletter (Carnival Capers) about what onboard "future cruise" promotions are being run. And don't feel like you are cheating on us by booking your next cruise while onboard – we still get our commission – we will be thanking you!
Cruise lines will target residents of a particular state to be eligible for a special discount. These Resident Rates are often referred to by their state name, including, California Resident Rates, Florida Resident Rates, Texas Resident Rates, etc. The reason why cruise lines target residents of a state is to help fill a sailing(s) while minimizing the number of best price guarantees they might have to pay out by limiting who is elligible for the lower rate.
Finding a Resident Rate is easy – any cruise web site should ask for your state or city name when you go to book a cruise. The pricing returned should include any available Resident Rate that is lower than other generally available rate.
Senior Citizen Rates
Senior Citizen Rates are offered on select sailings. To be elligible for a Senior Citizen Rate on Carnival, one guest in the cabing needs to be age 55 or older at the time of departure. The search form of any cruise booking site should allow you to indicate whether you are eligible for a Senior Citizen rate. Senior Citizen rates may not always show up in the search results if they are not the best price available.
Military and Community Appreciation (Teachers, Police Officers and Firefighters) Rates
Cruise lines may lower their rates on selected sailings by offering discounts to Active and Retired Military. These "Community Appreciation" fares are also sometimes elligible to used by teachers, police officers and fire fighters as well. Most cruise booking web sites make it easy to search for Military Rates by allowing you to select this in your search criteria. Teachers, Police Officers and Fire Fighters should call the travel agency / online travel agency to inquire whether there are any special discounts available.
What about Last Minute Deals?
The days of widespread last minute deals are pretty much gone. With best price guarantees being offered to early bookers, cruise lines can't afford to give unrestricted last minute deals.
You will see travel retailers promoting "last minute deals", but, more often than not, their offers are merely whatever current discount / promotion that is on offer by the cruise line. These discounts may include Bonus Shipboard Credit, Cabin Category Upgrades, Military Rates, Senior Rates, State Resident Discounts, etc.
When booking a cruise at the last minute, you may get a good price, but, the low price is likely to come with compromises. Itinerary selections tend to be limited, the best ships are sold-out and the more desirable cabins are not available. This could mean that you might be on an older ship with less than mediocre ports-of-call in a cabin right underneath the disco!
Maximizing Savings in 3 Easy Steps
Which is the best of all the above deals? Let's break it down into 3 easy steps that consistently maximize savings:
- Book early and take advantage of Carnival's Early Saver program,
- Pay attention to whether the price drops on your cruise to exercise the "best price guarantee",
- If you prefer to travel on short notice, look into whether there is a last minute deal that features a Cabin Category Upgrade, Onboard Spending Credit or a Resident Rate fare.