Cruise vacations are the ultimate in luxurious, exotic getaways. Each ship is a unique, nearly all-inclusive resort with fine dining, energetic lounges, Vegas-style shows, comedians, pools, whirlpools, spa facilities, and even crazy and unexpected features such as zip lines, surfing simulators, climbing walls, ice bars, escape rooms, bowling alleys, and more. But fares on the newest, biggest, most elaborate ships can stretch any traveler’s budget.
Fortunately, there are many tricks you can use to save money and find cheaper cruise fares. The savviest cruise travelers, however, know there are ways that just about anyone can cruise not for cheap, but for free.
Anyone Means Anyone
There are different ways to get free cruises, and if you know crew members or are a crew member yourself, you can easily cruise for free. You might also finagle free cruises from wealthy relatives or friends, but an absolutely free cruise is one that almost anyone can get, no matter who you know.
Free cruises may not always be available and you will need to be flexible about the cruise line you sail with, sailing dates, itineraries, and stateroom options, but it is possible to cruise without paying for your cruise fare.
How to Get a Free Cruise
The saying “you can’t get something for nothing” is absolutely true, even when talking about free cruises. Each technique to score a free cruise does require some effort and finagling, but each one is a way you could set sail without as much stress on your travel budget.
Many timeshare presentations offer hefty incentives to attendees. These incentives can range from concert, theme park, movie, or sports tickets to spa packages, local tours, and hotel stays. The more expensive and elite the timeshare property, the more elaborate its presentation incentives may be, and yes, some timeshare properties will give away cruises to entice potential buyers to listen to their sales pitches.
Those sales pitches, however, are extremely high-pressure, and might not end even after you leave the 2-3 hour presentation. As part of the freebie offer, you may be required to provide verified contact information, including addresses, emails, and phone numbers.
You could then be receiving solicitation calls and promotional material from the timeshare company for weeks or months after the presentation, even if you were firm in declining their sale.
Still, attending a timeshare presentation can be a way to get a free cruise, if you are firm enough to withstand the excessive sales pressure and don’t mind potential follow ups long after you’ve returned from your cruise vacation.
Cruise lines will occasionally give away free cruises, especially to promote new vessels or embarkation ports, company milestones, and other significant events. Entering such a contest might be as simple as filling out a basic form, or could involve a more elaborate survey, social media connections, or other steps to be eligible to win.
Other companies may also give away cruises as grand prizes, especially when they have partnered with or may be sponsored by a cruise line or travel agency. Radio stations often do vacation contests, or different businesses might run these luxurious giveaways. Your own employer might run a contest offering a free cruise to a top sales agent, head producer, or other outstanding employee – and the winner could be you!
In order to increase your chances of winning a free cruise, take careful note of the entry guidelines and follow them precisely. Enter as many times as you can according to the rules – some giveaways limit entries per person or per household, and violating those restrictions can invalidate all your entries.
Also note that contests with more elaborate entries such as longer surveys or multiple stages during the giveaway will generally have fewer entrants, so your overall chances of winning may be higher than for simpler sweepstakes. Take advantage of every entry opportunity – such as daily or weekly entries, or extra entries for social media shares – and you might find yourself setting sail as the grand prize winner.
Credit Card Points
Different credit card companies allow customers to accumulate points that can be redeemed for incentives, including free travel and cruises. While the number of points necessary for free travel will vary between different cards, it can be worthwhile to save up on a credit card until you can earn a free cruise.
To make the most of earning points, opt for cards with higher earnings rates, or use that specific card to its best advantage. Some cards offer greater rewards for certain types of purchases, for example, which can help you accumulate points toward a free cruise more quickly. You may also be able to get many more points by using the card during certain promotional periods, such as introductory offers or holiday periods.
Worth Reading: Here Is How to Get the Best Deal on a Cruise
When using a credit card in the hopes of earning a free cruise, however, beware of certain pitfalls that could cut into your free budget. Cards with hefty annual fees may not be as worthwhile as they seem if it will take longer for you to earn a free cruise, or points may expire before you accrue enough to redeem them for that coveted vacation. So long as you are aware of these conditions and can work around them, however, you can earn a free cruise through your regular credit card spending.
If you are willing to coordinate group travel, you can qualify for a free cruise as a group leader. Some cruise lines offer free fares based on a certain number of either overall passengers or cabins sold in a group package, and once you reach that threshold, you can cruise for free.
The number of passengers in the group necessary to qualify for group leader freebies can vary, however, based on the cruise line, the itinerary selected, and the types of cabins included in the booking.
Any type of group can help earn free group leader travel, from family reunion, birthday, or anniversary cruises to spring break getaways, company retreats, crafting clubs, church groups, or even just a group of friendly neighbors cruising together. As the group leader, you may be responsible for coordinating among your group to get paperwork submitted, arrange onboard meetings, or otherwise be the go-to person for the group, but then you’re free to enjoy your free cruise.
If you have a unique expertise you are passionate about, and you’re willing to share that passion with other passengers, you could become an onboard lecturer and cruise for free. Many cruise lines either host or hire expert lecturers and speakers to add an enriching dimension to their activities, and many passengers are surprised and pleased to find a wide range of experts onboard.
Your lecture, talk, or presentation could be focused on either personal or professional expertise. Are you a professional artist? You might teach a class or hold a demonstration onboard. Have you spent years teaching Spanish? You could offer conversational Spanish classes on Mexican cruise itineraries. Are you a marine biologist? A lecture on the fragility of the Great Barrier Reef could be ideal for an Australian cruise. Any type of hobby or career could become a fun new cruise lecture.
There are other options to share your expertise during a cruise that could lead to a free vacation. If you lived in Belize for many years, you might offer a personalized tour of the port for interested passengers. If you’ve always loved card tricks as a hobby, you could roam through the main dining rooms or show lounges during preshow periods to entertain guests with your sleight of hand.
When approaching a cruise line about your services as a guest lecturer, be sure to have firm, reputable documentation of your expertise to show that you’d be a valuable addition to the voyage. If you can tie your presentation to a particular destination, you will make an even stronger case to earn a free cruise.
You must be willing, however, to give up part of your vacation to render the services you’ve promised, such as a lecture or two, guiding a tour, or being available for guest interaction. During the rest of the cruise, you’re free to enjoy your own getaway, but must abide by any restrictions the cruise line requires, such as a standard of dress, wearing a name tag, or avoiding poor behavior.
Some luxury retailers offer incredible incentives for purchases, and those incentives could include a free cruise vacation. Such high-end offers are only paired with extravagant purchases, however, such as buying a new luxury vehicle, a new boat, or even a new house in an elite community. If you are making these purchases you may not be concerned about your vacation budget, but a free cruise can be a great deal if you’re already in the market for such a purchase.
Not every high-end retailer will offer such incredible bonuses, and it is important to understand the limitations of the offers before you assume you will qualify for a free cruise. When buying a luxury vehicle, for example, a free cruise may be available only for new (not pre-owned) vehicle purchases (not leases) of certain makes and models, with certain upgraded packages. Be sure to review all the terms and conditions of these types of offers to ensure they will come with a free cruise.
How Free Is Free?
A free cruise, even under the best of circumstances, isn’t always completely free. Depending on the offer, giveaway, or other conditions, the recipient of a free cruise may still be responsible for paying government taxes, port fees, and fuel surcharges for their cruise, which can add up to several hundred dollars.
Similarly, most free cruises do not include onboard expenses, such as crew gratuities, spa treatments, shore excursions, beverage packages, premium dining, or souvenirs. Some offers may include onboard credit that can be used to help cover those charges, but the onboard credit may be limited or may not be able to be applied to all expenses.
Free cruises don’t always include other necessary travel expenses either. If you live far from the cruise embarkation port, you may still be responsible for your own flights, airport transfers, hotels, or parking charges to arrive at the cruise.
Being aware of these extra charges and how quickly they can add up can help you determine if a free cruise – even if the fare is expensive and would be a great savings – can still be free enough for your vacation budget. The better you understand how free cruise offers work and what they may still cost, the better you will be able to work out a free cruise you can truly enjoy without worrying about the budget.