It’s another year and time for another vacation. Yay! I would like to share a personal testimonial about how we were able to afford a trip to Europe, before Bon Voyage by Barbour was in existence.

My husband and I started discussing our plans for a 2012 vacation shortly after our wedding in November. We had initially wanted to honeymoon in Europe, but realized that we neither had the vacation time nor financial resources to cover our destination wedding in Mexico AND a trip to Europe. So we punted the Europe trip until this year.

We began pricing out the cost of a European vacation and immediately got discouraged. We compared land-based and cruise vacations, and between airfare, hotels, shore excursions, and spending money, we realized that we would either need to donate our body parts to science or sell plasma to afford the trip. That, or just postpone it until we could save the right amount of cash. (and where’s the fun in that?) We explored alternative options (such as Hawaii), but the cost was almost identical to Europe. Geez!

Well..we had to go somewhere. Since I hadn’t started my travel business yet, I browsed around the web until the perfect deal showed up: a 10 night Mediterranean cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines (or NCL) for less than $600 per person. Excuse me? Airfare was reasonable when purchased with the cruise, so we booked that night! Boom!
Anyone who knows me is well aware of my cruise junkie status: this will be my 7th cruise, Hubby’s 3rd. I’ve found some additional ways to save money on this vacation as the trip approaches and felt led to share my tips with the interwebs!

Norwegian Jade

1. Find a Travel Agent

In the planning process, you’ll often see some cheaper deals through third party websites, such as the two mentioned above. In our case, we booked our deal through Travelocity. Not only was the rate $100 less than the actual cruise line, but they threw in an On-Board Credit (OBC) for booking with them. They were also able to bundle the airfare to Rome and travel insurance, which was incredibly helpful and gave us one balance to pay off. This is the benefit of working with a travel agent.

Most travel agencies (which, in essence, is what these websites are) will offer you these same perks. What you DON’T get, however, is a personal travel agent who will be dedicated to making your trip the best experience possible. There have been times that I called Travelocity 3 times in one day and never once spoke with the same person. I would’ve rather had one person dedicated to our vacation planning.

No matter who you book with, you will have the option to pay off your cruise until 30-90 days prior to sailing. For us, this also included the airfare. Because we booked so early, we had 11 months to pay off our vacation. After determining how much money we would need to set aside per month to achieve this, we treated our cruise payment like another bill.

2. Ask Your Agent about Promotions

There are few things more lovely than arriving on a cruise ship and having FREE money at your disposal. Like I previously mentioned, we cruised the Norwegian Pearl for a week in 2009 and didn’t pay a dime onboard. Man. It’s hard to go back to paying for on-board expenses after that. So, I advise you to jump on promotions that will provide you with an OBC at time of booking. It may not seem like much at the time, but those free credits will come in handy once you’re sailing. The beauty of working with a travel agent is that he/she will catch these deals FOR you and adjust the booking accordingly.

Other promotions you will sometimes see are reduced deposits ($250 down for two people instead of $500) and free cabin upgrades. Make sure you read the fine print. The ideal upgrade situation would be to pay for a lesser category and get upgraded to the next level (i.e. inside to oceanview, oceanview to balcony, etc). Norwegian ran this promotion this past December and we had just missed it. Other upgrades are within category, which just means you’d get a BETTER inside cabin for the same price of a lesser inside cabin…”better” is usually based on its location on the ship. (that’s a whole ‘nother post though). Make sure you know what you’re getting – check with your TA if you notice any such deals.

3. Have your Travel Agent Check for Price Reductions

Having booked our trip so early and for so cheap, I was extremely doubtful that we would see the price of our cruise drop any further. Wrong! I randomly checked Travelocity a few months ago and saw that the price of our cabin had dropped another $100 per person. What? I ran off to Norwegian’s website, which also reflected the price drop. Sweet! I IMMEDIATELY called Travelocity and mentioned the price drop to the agent. Because we hadn’t made our final payment yet, they adjusted the final amount due to $200 less than our prior balance.

I checked the website again yesterday and saw that there was a better cabin available at the same price we paid. I called Travelocity again and they bumped us up to the better category. The same may happen if the cruise has a lot of empty cabins remaining once the final payments are made. And best believe, if it does I will be calling again.

We were also affected by a price drop on our 2009 cruise. We had already made final payments when I saw a $200 per person price drop online. This was a group booking (20 family members), so I called Expedia about the price reduction and they gave a $200 On-Board Credit (OBC) to every cabin affected. That came in handy, as we didn’t end up spending a red cent on that cruise once we got on board. *thumbs up*

The only problem with both of these examples is that I had to do the calling. Had we worked with a travel agent, he or she may have noticed the price reduction and acted on our behalf! If you happen to book a cruise and see the price drop, contact your travel agent! They will call the cruise line, who will do SOMETHING to make up for the fact that you paid more than they are now charging.

4. Check Your Resources

I wouldn’t have known about the $100 OBC promotion if not for the fine folks at Cruise Critic. CC is perhaps the most comprehensive and informative website on the internet when it comes to cruising; it’s Mecca for cruise junkies such as myself. There are forums on just about every topic, from shore excursions to ship reviews to tipping procedures to packing. I’ve practically lived on that website before each cruise. Another great feature are the pre-cruise Roll Calls, where folks from your same booking can post about their plans, arrange meet & greets onboard and even get together for excursions and port transfers. We are going on two excursions with CC folks, thanks to our Roll Call. You’ll get some great tips.

There is so much I have learned since I started cruising back in 2001, but the biggest lesson has been how to save some serious dough in order to take these vacations more often. There is no need to pay premium prices if there are ways around it!

Happy Travels!