Cruises are a great way to vacation in multiple destinations without packing and repacking your luggage. However, they still have some drawbacks. Extra fees for excursions, premium dining up-sells, and tips for employees can significantly raise the low teaser rate. You might also find limited appeal in visiting the same ports of call on every trip. Repositioning cruises address these issues by offering significant discounts and the opportunity to head into different ports of call.
Repositioning cruises – some of which are referred to as transatlantic cruises – are used to move ships from one location to another so they can operate new routes. These might be one-time moves as new ships enter the fleet and others are reassigned, or seasonal moves to avoid cold weather or hurricanes.
The important thing is this: Cruises don't make money without passengers. That's why these massive companies offer cut-rate discounts on boats that would otherwise sail empty.
Find a Great Deal
Many cruise operators will let you search for cruises by destination and list repositioning cruises as a separate category. Try not to be too specific with travel dates. Shoulder seasons are a good time to check for repositioning cruises, but can vary throughout the world. Websites like CruiseDirector.com, Cruiseline.com, and iCruise.com will let you search for repositioning cruises from multiple providers at once and may offer additional savings.
And discounts should be significant. A 16-night trip from Royal Caribbean departing New Orleans for Barcelona makes several stops in the Caribbean and Spain, but costs only $649 for an inside stateroom or $769 for a view. Tickets for traditional 14-night Caribbean cruises go for twice as much.
Consider paying a little more – $900 – for a 13-night cruise from Celebrity Cruises that makes additional stops. On the way from Fort Lauderdale to Rome you'll visit the Madeira, Gibraltar, and Alicante. This is potentially less expensive than purchasing a transatlantic flight and far more entertaining than a cramped seat in economy class. (Be aware that your return flight could be unusually expensive if booked one-way. Consider using frequent flyer miles or ask if the cruise operator can arrange discounted travel.)
Broaden Your Horizons
Notice something? Many of these cruises are long, often more than one week. Unlike most trips that make several stops near a ship's home port, a repositioning cruise involves traveling long distances between different parts of the globe. The benefit for those with an open calendar is that you can visit some unusual destinations.
One example is a 14-night cruise from Royal Caribbean between Singapore and Dubai that stops in Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and several Indian cities. The price is atypically high (about $2,300 including taxes and fees) but far cheaper than if you tried to book your own flights and accommodations between these cities. You'll also save time by traveling while you sleep.
Save More the Longer You Wait
Last-minute bookings can help save money on any cruise, but this trick is especially helpful for repositioning cruises. When a ship sets sail, an empty room for that particular trip can never be sold again – it's lost revenue. A repositioning cruise suffers more from this predicament because these ships may travel at odd times to unusual destinations.
Airlines have a similar issue, but actually raise prices close to the departure date since they anticipate last-minute business travelers. Cruises serve only the leisure market, which tends to be price-conscious and willing to wait. Fortunately, cruises generate significantly more ancillary revenue than airlines once you're on board, so the operator can afford to drop its rates.
How good are these deals? A sample three-night repositioning cruise with Royal Caribbean from Panama to Fort Lauderdale less than two weeks away is only $184, including all taxes and fees. Clearly not every itinerary is the most exciting, but whether you want a long escape from work, to see new sights, or a cheap vacation, there's probably a repositioning cruise for you.