How to Determine Which Promotion Will Save You the Most

by John Roberts

How to Determine Which Promotion Will Save You the Most

by John Roberts

Cruise lines have started sweetening their deals by throwing in perks you typically have to pay extra for, such as Wi-Fi, drink packages, specialty dining, and even gratuities. "We started seeing this type of deal through Norwegian last fall," says Jaymie DeGaetano, deals production manager for ShermansTravel Media. "And now other lines have started their own programs." You can find limited-time "pick-your-perk" offers from major lines such as Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, and Oceania Cruises. But how do you know which promotion will save you the most money on your cruise? Read on to find out.

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Curtis Stone's SHARE on Ruby Princess / Princess Cruises
Staying connected on Norwegian Escape
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1. Understand the offer.

The promotions all center on the same premise — choosing a perk that you would normally pay extra for — with slight variations. Norwegian Cruise Line's "Free at Sea" promotion lets you choose among five perks (drinks, dining, gratuities, Wi-Fi, and third and fourth guests sail free), while Celebrity Cruises' "Go Big" lets you pick one perk among a classic beverage package, unlimited internet, prepaid gratuities, or up to $300 onboard credit. Carnival runs "Pick Your Gift" offers that could include choices such as a $50 onboard credit or a cabin upgrade. Oceania's "OLife" includes internet access plus the choice of shore excursions, a drink package, or onboard credit.

Princess and Holland America also run similar programs, but include all of the perks instead of making you choose. Princess's program, called "3 for Free," includes onboard credit, gratuities, and a stateroom location upgrade, while Holland America's "Explore4" covers a beverage package and dinner at specialty dining spot Pinnacle Grill, plus a discount for third and fourth passengers and a reduced deposit.

The level of stateroom you book also determines how many perks you receive — or if you receive any at all. On Norwegian, however, even those who book single cabins and inside cabins can choose one perk. And if you book a suite or a room in the Haven ship-within-a-ship, you'll get all five. On Celebrity, you have to book an ocean view stateroom or above to choose one offer, while suite passengers get all four.

The promotions all center on the same premise — choosing a perk that you would normally pay extra for — with slight variations. Norwegian Cruise Line's "Free at Sea" promotion lets you choose among five perks (drinks, dining, gratuities, Wi-Fi, and third and fourth guests sail free), while Celebrity Cruises' "Go Big" lets you pick one perk among a classic beverage package, unlimited internet, prepaid gratuities, or up to $300 onboard credit. Carnival runs "Pick Your Gift" offers that could include choices such as a $50 onboard credit or a cabin upgrade. Oceania's "OLife" includes internet access plus the choice of shore excursions, a drink package, or onboard credit.

Princess and Holland America also run similar programs, but include all of the perks instead of making you choose. Princess's program, called "3 for Free," includes onboard credit, gratuities, and a stateroom location upgrade, while Holland America's "Explore4" covers a beverage package and dinner at specialty dining spot Pinnacle Grill, plus a discount for third and fourth passengers and a reduced deposit.

The level of stateroom you book also determines how many perks you receive — or if you receive any at all. On Norwegian, however, even those who book single cabins and inside cabins can choose one perk. And if you book a suite or a room in the Haven ship-within-a-ship, you'll get all five. On Celebrity, you have to book an ocean view stateroom or above to choose one offer, while suite passengers get all four.

Cagney's Steakhouse on Norwegian Dawn
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2. Break down the real value.

The smart tactic is to research how much extra each perk would cost if you were booking it separately, and what is included. 

The most versatile option is the onboard credit, since you can spend it like cash, using it toward anything that would appear on your spending account, such as shore excursions, spa treatments, specialty dining, and drinks. 

Drink packages are the big-ticket items — they typically cost about $50 per person, which means, for a seven-day cruise, a couple would pay $700. This seems like a great deal, since these packages typically cover not only beer, wine, and cocktails, but also specialty coffees, soda, and bottled water, though if you're not much of a drinker you may want to skip this deal. 

Wi-Fi and specialty dining are two other perks routinely offered as part of these promotions. Internet packages on Norwegian start at $25 per day, while Celebrity's high-speed Xcelerate Wi-Fi starts at $140 per person for the length of the cruise. But be sure to see exactly what you are getting with these packages, too. For example, on Oceania, that free internet promotion only covers one device per stateroom, unless you're booked in one of the top suites, and then you can connect two devices.

Dining packages generally allow you to eat at three specialty restaurants during a weeklong cruise, where fees range from $30 to $60 per person. 

There is one extra cost some cruisers forget about that can also be covered with a promotion: gratuities. Tips for the staff are automatically charged to your account by most cruise lines and are typically $13 to $15 per person, per day. So, for a weeklong sailing, a couple would pay upward of $200. But be aware this promotion only covers set daily gratuities and not tips for things like drinks at the bar or dinner in a specialty restaurant. 

The smart tactic is to research how much extra each perk would cost if you were booking it separately, and what is included. 

The most versatile option is the onboard credit, since you can spend it like cash, using it toward anything that would appear on your spending account, such as shore excursions, spa treatments, specialty dining, and drinks. 

Drink packages are the big-ticket items — they typically cost about $50 per person, which means, for a seven-day cruise, a couple would pay $700. This seems like a great deal, since these packages typically cover not only beer, wine, and cocktails, but also specialty coffees, soda, and bottled water, though if you're not much of a drinker you may want to skip this deal. 

Wi-Fi and specialty dining are two other perks routinely offered as part of these promotions. Internet packages on Norwegian start at $25 per day, while Celebrity's high-speed Xcelerate Wi-Fi starts at $140 per person for the length of the cruise. But be sure to see exactly what you are getting with these packages, too. For example, on Oceania, that free internet promotion only covers one device per stateroom, unless you're booked in one of the top suites, and then you can connect two devices.

Dining packages generally allow you to eat at three specialty restaurants during a weeklong cruise, where fees range from $30 to $60 per person. 

There is one extra cost some cruisers forget about that can also be covered with a promotion: gratuities. Tips for the staff are automatically charged to your account by most cruise lines and are typically $13 to $15 per person, per day. So, for a weeklong sailing, a couple would pay upward of $200. But be aware this promotion only covers set daily gratuities and not tips for things like drinks at the bar or dinner in a specialty restaurant. 

The Alchemy Bar on Carnival Liberty
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3. Read the fine print.

Free Wi-Fi packages sound great if you're planning to check email or upload photos to Instagram during your cruise. But before you tick that box, do some research into just what type of internet your ship offers and how strong the connection will be. If you're going to have slow speeds and spotty service, you might be better off choosing a different perk on board and waiting until you're in port to connect.

And while drink packages can be an amazing value for those who plan to, say, drink beer by the pool all day, wine with every meal, and after-dinner drinks and cocktails in the evening, you do need to see whether your libation of choice is included. Top-shelf whiskey, for example, is rarely part of the deal. On Holland America, the packages only cover drinks priced at $8 or less, and on Norwegian the cap is $15 or less and does not include Lavazza coffee. 

 

Free Wi-Fi packages sound great if you're planning to check email or upload photos to Instagram during your cruise. But before you tick that box, do some research into just what type of internet your ship offers and how strong the connection will be. If you're going to have slow speeds and spotty service, you might be better off choosing a different perk on board and waiting until you're in port to connect.

And while drink packages can be an amazing value for those who plan to, say, drink beer by the pool all day, wine with every meal, and after-dinner drinks and cocktails in the evening, you do need to see whether your libation of choice is included. Top-shelf whiskey, for example, is rarely part of the deal. On Holland America, the packages only cover drinks priced at $8 or less, and on Norwegian the cap is $15 or less and does not include Lavazza coffee. 

 

Couple on Norwegian Gem
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4. Look for lower fares — without the perks.

Just as you should price out a package's true worth, you should take the fare and subtract the actual price of the perk to see what the trip would cost without it. And then try to beat it. "The cruise lines that offer such promotions will generally offer more than one price point," says Christopher Festerman, a travel agent with CruisesOnly. "The math is simple when you analyze the perk value minus fare difference. Is it worth it or wasted?"

Just as you should price out a package's true worth, you should take the fare and subtract the actual price of the perk to see what the trip would cost without it. And then try to beat it. "The cruise lines that offer such promotions will generally offer more than one price point," says Christopher Festerman, a travel agent with CruisesOnly. "The math is simple when you analyze the perk value minus fare difference. Is it worth it or wasted?"

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