October 6, 2014

Greetings! I trust that this will find you well and enjoying life.

Who takes an emergency cruise? The answer is no one. People book emergency flights all the time — to visit someone ill, attend a funeral, see a new baby or even decide to go on an impromptu vacation. It’s this steady flow of last-minute bookings that allows airlines to charge their highest prices prior to the travel date.

But cruises? No way. Who would take a three- or five-day cruise to see a dying relative? Cruises lie at the other end of the planning spectrum; vacationers tend to book them months in advance. As such, cruise lines charge their highest prices further out. The closer they get to the travel date, the more they discount rates.

When it comes to booking a cruise at the lowest discount price possible, your approach to saving money can often be just the opposite. For example, newer cruise boats are more likely to offer last-minute discounts. This defies logic; you would think that the newest boats with the most up-to-date amenities, bells and whistles wouldn’t have good deals. But the opposite is true. Because today’s newer boats tend to have more rooms, they’re less likely to get 100 percent booked. That means that as the travel date nears, empty cabins are offered at much lower than the previously going rate. Those rates start dropping about one to two months before departure, and rates can be reduced as low as 50 percent in the last week.

Another surprising fact: Long cruises and those that cross the Atlantic Ocean offer the best discounts. That’s because most people can’t take a week or more off from work, so the market for these cruises is smaller. In fact, some cruises that run for seven or more nights can sell for about the same price as a shorter cruise. It’s an ideal situation for retirees who don’t have to give notice at work or have other timely obligations. Not only do you save money on travel and lodging expenses, but meals and lavish entertainment options are included as well.

Trans-Atlantic trips offer not only luxury accommodations, but exotic port visits such as the Azores Islands off of Portugal or the Canary Islands off of Spain. Recent deals from the U.S. to Europe include a 13-night trip from Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona for $369 and an 11-night cruise from Miami to England for around $400.

Don’t forget to ask for a senior, military or police discount, and in some places state residents of the port of departure will get a discount on top of the reduced rate quoted. Since seniors are frequently the ones filling cruise rosters, these companies cater to the older crowd and will honor all additional discounts for senior citizens. Many will even extend your discount to others in your party who do not meet the same criteria, depending on how and where you book. This means you can take your children or grandchildren along and enjoy the same low rate for everyone in the room. Much like hotel rooms, some cruise lines can accommodate as many as four travelers per suite, so the savings can be significant.

Finally, you may not have considered that the points you earn using your credit card can be exchanged for cruises, as well as airline travel and hotel rooms. Some programs allow you to convert your points into a cash voucher that can be applied to cruise purchases. For example, some airline programs equate 10,000 miles to a $100 cruise credit.

On the other hand, if you are a consummate planner, you can also get lower rates by booking a cruise six to 12 months in advance for “early-bird” rates. These can be 25 percent less than rates offered during the prime booking time two to six months before departure. Another advantage to making your reservation so far in advance is that you can have your pick of itineraries, dates and cabins. If you book early and then later learn that rates dropped, some cruise lines will lower your price before you have to make your final payment. So don’t just book and forget about it; continue to track rates to see if they offer a better deal.

If you have questions, comments or feel that I can be of service in any way with your retirement planning, don’t hesitate to call.

Best regards.

Jeff Christian CFP, CRPC

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