The Best Ways to Book a Cruise

We found cruise pricing to be more or less the same across booking sites — it's the perks that are different.
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Written by Lee Huffman
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Not all cruise sites are created equal. While you may find comparable prices on different sites, each site has its own benefits, offers and cancellation policies. 

Before you book, though, have a look at these credit cards that come with cruise benefits to sweeten the pot even more.

What is the best way to book a cruise?

The best place to book a cruise will vary depending on what you're looking for out of the experience. We've broken out cruise booking sites based on common booking goals.

From our findings, here are the top cruise booking sites for your next vacation, plus the pros and cons they offer travelers.

For sailings across the Caribbean, Mexico or Central America: CheapCaribbean

CheapCaribbean.com is the best cruise website for the Caribbean, Mexico or Central America. It offers a best-price guarantee plus limited-time offers and discounts.

If you find a better deal within 24 hours of booking, CheapCaribbean will price match and beat it by $25. The company's customer service is available seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET.

Pros

  • Best-price guarantee.

  • Customer service is available seven days a week.

Cons

  • Charges a $24.99 processing fee on reservations.

  • Must provide an email address to receive the best deals and promos.

» Learn more: The best cruise lines

For consulting reviews from other cruisers: Cruise Critic

Cruise Critic is an independent website that encourages community members to post reviews and share tips.

Its message boards offer ways for website visitors to ask questions and share feedback with others based on their personal experiences and opinions. The site also acts as a metasearch for cruise deals, pulling in prices from multiple cruise websites.

Pros

  • Read cruise reviews from travelers who've been on that itinerary before.

  • "Deal Score" ranks deals to find the best value.

  • Price tracker shows 90-day trends for cruise prices.

Cons

  • Must click through the deal to book your cruise on other websites.

  • Prices are not guaranteed and can change before booking due to fees and restrictions on the sites where the cruises are being sold.

To review several cruise prices at once: CruiseDirect

CruiseDirect is the best cruise website when all you want are cruise prices. It doesn't offer hotels, flights, rental cars or other reservations you may want for your next vacation. CruiseDirect does, however, offer bonuses for travelers booking through its site.

Travelers can filter search results by destination, cruise line or departure port on various ships. This site offers cruises for every type of traveler, from budget to luxury, and every type of ship, from riverboats to mega-ships.

Pros

  • Bonus offers on every reservation provide extra value.

  • Best-price guarantee and free reservation holds.

  • Buy now, pay later financing options.

Cons

  • Promos offered by cruise lines aren't exclusive to CruiseDirect.

  • Customer service can be unfriendly.

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For budget-friendly options: Priceline

Priceline was originally known for its "Name Your Own Price" promotions, but has grown into a full-service online travel agency offering flights, hotels, rental cars and cruises, saving consumers more than $1 billion dollars per year.

Travelers who book a cruise with Priceline receive up to $2,000 to spend at sea, plus waived deposits on their reservations.

Pros

  • Up to $2,000 to spend on board.

  • Waived deposits of up to $500 when booking your cruise.

  • 110% best-price guarantee within 48 hours of booking.

  • Ability to book flights, hotels, rental cars and more from the same site.

Cons

  • Must call Priceline to get exclusive offers and unpublished fares.

  • Restrictions make the best-price guarantee harder to benefit from.

For booking travel experiences beyond the cruise: TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor is an online reviewer community where travelers share their experiences, pictures and ratings of hotels, suggested activities and more. This honest feedback and travel inspiration also make it one of the best websites to book a cruise.

Pros

  • Search over 70,000 cruise deals from more than 60 sites at once.

  • Dedicated ship pages share details, reviews, photos and itineraries.

Cons

  • Too many search results make it harder to narrow down your choices.

To match with a vacation planner: Avoya Travel

Avoya Travel is a family-owned website that matches travelers with a vacation planner based on their preferences. It's the best way to book a cruise using a travel planner because it offers a low-price guarantee without charging extra fees for the planner.

The downside is that online pricing is not "live." Therefore, you must speak with a travel planner to get the latest prices and book your cruise.

Pros

  • Match with cruise planners according to your needs.

  • Does not charge Avoya fees for booking, changes or cancellations.

  • Get a low-price guarantee and the expertise of a vacation planner without extra fees.

Cons

  • Must become a member to unlock the best deals.

  • Pricing on the website is not "live" pricing, so actual cost may vary.

  • Cannot book a cruise online. You must speak with an independent vacation planner.

To book a vacation package with an airline or hotel

American Airlines Cruises

American Airlines AAdvantage members can earn airline miles when booking cruises at BookAACruises.com. All members earn one mile for every dollar they spend on cruise reservations, up to 10,000 miles. Some cruise specials offer up to 100,000 miles based on your selected cruise.

If you have an American Airlines credit card, you'll earn 2x miles, up to 20,000 miles. These miles and Loyalty Points count toward airline elite status. Additionally, trips booked through this site are eligible for promotions offered by the cruise lines.

Pros

  • Earn miles and Loyalty Points toward travel and elite status.

  • Cardholders earn 2x miles, up to 20,000 miles on cruises.

  • Cruise experts are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Cons

  • Cruise reservations are offered by a third party, so customer service issues can be a challenge.

Delta SkyMiles Cruises

Delta Air Lines is another airline that allows members to earn airline miles when booking cruises through its portal. Booking through SkyMilesCruises.com helps you earn Delta SkyMiles on your purchase.

Members get up to 10,000 miles on most cruises and up to 100,000 miles on luxury cruises. Plus, the site waives deposits on eligible cruise reservations.

Pros

  • Can earn up to 100,000 miles when booking a cruise.

  • Waives deposits when booking eligible cruises.

  • 110% price guarantee within 48 hours of booking.

Cons

  • Most cruise awards are capped at 10,000 miles.

  • Miles earned are based on the length of the cruise, not the amount spent.

United Airlines Cruises

United Airlines MileagePlus members can earn up to 25,000 miles when booking a cruise through United at Cruises.United.com.

When you have a United Airlines credit card, you'll earn up to 45,000 miles. By offering up to 4x miles per dollar spent (or 7x as a cardholder), this site is the best way to book a cruise and earn airline miles on your purchase. If you have Premier status, you receive additional perks on select cruise lines, like wine and onboard credits.

Pros

  • Earn up to 7x miles on cruises.

  • United MileagePlus Premier members receive additional perks.

  • Can redeem miles to pay for some or all of your trip.

Cons

  • Not all cruises can be booked online.

  • Prices do not include a nonrefundable $24.99 processing fee.

Marriott Bonvoy Cruises

If you want to earn hotel points on your cruise, Marriott Cruise with Points is the best cruise website for you. You'll earn up to 6x points on your cruise purchase, or you can redeem Marriott Bonvoy points to pay for your trip.

Plus, Marriott cardholders can earn an extra 2x points when they use that card for their purchase. While most cruises max out at 25,000 Bonvoy points earned, some luxury cruise lines offer up to 250,000 Marriott points.

Pros

  • Earn up to 6x points on your cruise, up to 250,000 Marriott points.

  • Marriott cardholders receive an extra 2x points when paying with their cards.

  • Can use Bonvoy points to pay for your cruise.

Cons

  • Redemption value of Bonvoy points is only 0.4 cent.

  • Must call to book cruises using points.

  • Processing fee of $24.99 per reservation.

For cruise package deals: Costco Travel

Costco is a retailer that offers exclusive products and pricing to its members. Through its Costco Travel website, members receive exclusive prices and benefits when booking hotels, rental cars, cruises and travel packages.

Executive Members earn 2% back on Costco Travel purchases and receive additional benefits on select packages. Plus, Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi cardholders earn 3% cash back rewards on Costco Travel purchases.

Pros

  • Earn 2% rewards and extra perks with Executive Membership.

  • Some cruises offer Costco gift cards or onboard credit.

Cons

  • Must be a member to book reservations with Costco Travel.

Directly with the Cruise Line

In some cases, booking directly with the cruise line can be best because it eliminates a third party. If there's a problem with your reservation or you need to make a change, you don't have to worry about the booking site and the cruise line pointing fingers at each other.

This may be the best approach if you know which cruise line you want to book and which cities you want to visit. However, you may miss out on promotions offered by third-party sites.

Pros

  • Simple search functions.

  • No hassles with third parties for problems, changes or cancellations.

  • Less likely to get scammed by fraudulent sites.

Cons

  • Miss out on deals offered by third-party sites.

  • Harder to compare prices, benefits and routes from multiple cruise lines.

Comparing cruise prices across websites

Without being able to compare prices, it can be a challenge to determine the best site for booking a cruise. To make it easier to compare, we priced out a 7-night Caribbean cruise for two adults. 

We selected the lowest-priced balcony room on Royal Caribbean departing from Miami in August 2023. Here are the results:

Booking website

Total price

Extra benefits

CheapCaribbean

$1,834.12.

Free gratuities for two, up to $50 onboard credit and up to $1,000 to spend on board.

Cruise Critic

$1,834.12.

Free gratuities for two, up to $50 onboard credit and up to $1,500 to spend on board or Visa prepaid card.

CruiseDirect

$1,834.12.

10% off shore excursion and a $50 Visa gift card.

Priceline

$1,834.12.

Free gratuities for two, up to $50 onboard credit and up to $2,000 to spend on board.

TripAdvisor

$1,834.12.

Free gratuities for two, up to $50 onboard credit and up to $1,500 to spend on board or Visa prepaid card.

Avoya Travel

N/A.

N/A.

American Airlines Cruises

$1,834.12.

Free gratuities for two, up to $50 onboard credit, earn AAdvantage miles.

Delta SkyMiles Cruises

$1,834.12.

Free gratuities for two, waive deposit, up to $50 onboard credit, earn up to 10,000 SkyMiles.

United Airlines Cruises

$1,834.12 or 244,549 miles.

Free gratuities for two, waive deposit, up to $50 onboard credit, earn up to 4 miles per $1.

Marriott Bonvoy Cruises

$1,834.12.

Free gratuities for two, waive deposit, up to $50 onboard credit, earn 6x points, Marriott credit cardholders earn extra 2 points per dollar.

Costco Travel

$1,834.12.

$95 Costco shop card, 2% rewards for Executive Members.

Royal Caribbean (Direct booking)

$1,834.12.

None.

Mitigate cancellation policy risks with travel insurance

If you're worried your trip plans being disrupted by bad weather or a change of plans, travel insurance might help. This optional standalone insurance can be purchased separately from your cruise bookings.

But you might not even need to pay out-of-pocket for trip insurance because many credit cards offer travel insurance as a built-in benefit to customers who pay for travel expenses on that card.

Travel cards with cruise benefits

You can get even more perks by booking your cruise with the right card.

Popular cards for cruisers
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
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Apply now

on Chase's website

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
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Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card
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Apply now

on Bank of America's website

The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Platinum Card® from American Express
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Apply now

on American Express' website

Rates & Fees
Annual fee

$95.

$95.

$95.

$695.

Welcome offer

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

Receive 60,000 online bonus points - a $600 value - after you make at least $4,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.

Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $8,000 on eligible purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.

Cruise benefits
  • Get 25% more value out of your points when you book cruises through Chase.

  • Book with your card to get automatic travel protections for your cruise.

  • Redeem miles as a statement credit to cover spending on cruises.

  • Book with your card to get automatic travel insurance coverage for your cruise.

  • Earn 2x points on travel spending, including cruises and some ship excursions.

  • Book with your card to get trip delay reimbursement, trip cancellation coverage and other travel assistance services.

  • Get American Express Cruise Privileges Program benefits when you book at least five nights with eligible cruise lines. Terms apply.

  • Cruise program benefits include $300 credit redeemable toward dining and spa services plus amenities like wine, chocolates and champagne. Terms apply.

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Booking a cruise recapped

When looking for the best way to book a cruise, the price is virtually the same on every website. The difference lies in how each seller sweetens the deal.

Several cruise booking sites set themselves apart from the competition by offering additional benefits to encourage booking through them. Additionally, being able to book other parts of your trip — like flight and excursions — on the same site, or offering access to a travel agent, distinguishes some of the best cruise websites. 

When prices are the same, we recommend cruise bookers compare the perks being offered, then book on the site with the most appealing bonuses, like onboard credits, airline miles, hotel points or cash back.

Frequently asked questions

If you're searching for cruises on a third-party website, you may question the legitimacy of that site. This is especially true if the site doesn't look professional or some of the information is outdated.

For this reason, you should stick with one of the best cruise booking sites on this list because they've been vetted for legitimacy and have a good track record with travelers.

Yes, last-minute deals can be the best way to book a cruise. If your travel plans are flexible, these deals can save you a lot of money. Keep in mind that you may not be able to book your preferred destination or routing if it is sold out.

Unfortunately, most cruise lines do not offer free cancellations or changes to take advantage of price drops after you book. Passengers can always negotiate with a booking site or cruise line, but they aren't obligated to refund the difference. Instead, they may offer you onboard credit, complimentary excursions or credit toward another cruise booking.


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