If you are planning a trip to Alaska and trying to figure out how to see Alaska on a budget, read on to find out how one couple did just that by taking an Alaskan Cruise.
For our 10th anniversary, my husband and I celebrated by taking an Alaskan cruise (without our kids). We had been saving since our wedding for this someday event, and Andy convinced me that our 10th anniversary was the perfect time to take a cruise. We did it and had a great time on our week long cruise to Alaska.
You see, Alaska was the final state on Andy’s bucket list goal of visiting all the states. North Dakota was the 49th state our family went to the previous summer, which left Alaska.
Because there are so many parts of Alaska that are surrounded by water, we decided the best way to explore Alaska on a budget was to take a cruise. We didn’t have to worry about the logistics of getting ourselves to various places, booking hotel rooms in smaller towns or paying for an expensive car rental with high gas prices. Someday we have plans to return to Alaska for a road trip to explore more areas, but we truly loved our first Alaska vacation.
A cruise can be a good option to explore Alaska withough breaking the bank. Because cruises are (mostly) all inclusive, we found it a great way to see Alaska on a budget.
Of course, we wouldn’t be us if we didn’t work at stretching our hard earned pennies. We were able to take a week long cruise to Alaska for under $5000. This was our final budget total that included all our travel costs – flights, airport parking, cruise tickets, cruise insurance, excursions, hotel room, travel and all food that wasn’t included in our cruise.
I’m sharing this dollar amount because I didn’t see a lot of specifics when I was researching our Alaskan cruise and I want to help others who are saving for their own Alaska cruise. It may still seem like a daunting number but I promise you that it is possible to see Alaska on a budget.
The good news is that it is easier than you think to save money and still have a good time exploring Alaska. If you decide the Alaska budget cruise option is for you, here are some of the main ways we saved money, so you can save money too!
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Here are some simple tips to help you save money on a cruise and see Alaska on a budget.
1. Start a savings account for your Alaska trip – as far in advance as you can.
This is one of the most basic but most important savings tips. Set up a savings account specifically for your Alaska trip and set it up today. Whether you are going to Alaska this summer or don’t know yet when you will be traveling, having money set aside for a big trip like this one makes it so much easier to travel on a budget.
We set our Alaskan cruise fund up as one of our 22 (yes, we really do have 22!) savings accounts. Whenever Andy or I got a monetary gift or made some extra money, we put it in this cruise savings account. Of course, you can also set up automatic deposits into your savings account as well. Whatever you do, the sooner you do it, the better!
For more information on all our savings accounts and exactly how it works to have so many savings account, read why we have 22 savings accounts. Now that we’ve been to Alaska, that savings account has turned into our Europe savings account.
2. Be flexible with your cruise dates and cruise ships.
There are two parts to this that I hope everyone knows! Playing around with your cruise dates can greatly change the price. Cruising to Alaska is different than other cruises because you have to cruise in the summer months (as compared to the Caribean where you can cruise year round). We considered cruising in July for our anniversary, but by going in early June instead, our tickets were almost half price since we weren’t in peak season! Look at different dates and see how your price may increase or decrease.
The same is true of different cruise lines. We were specifically looking at Holland and Norwegian for our Alaska cruise – but the ultimate decision for us came down to price. Norwegian was the cheaper cruise ship so that was where we booked. This can change by cruise so unless you are extremely loyal to one cruise line, be willing to look at different cruises. It can save you a lot of money too.
3. Book an inside stateroom to save money.
We heard complaints and rave reviews from other vacationers about inside staterooms. We decided to go ahead and book an inside statement room and were very glad we did. We actually booked the cheapest room available (which was even priced lower than an inside stateroom) because it allowed the cruise to assign your room rather than you picking it yourself. Booking an inside statement room was well worth the savings! Our room wasn’t huge but it was comfortable and more space efficient than we imagined.
For an Alaskan cruise, we were especially thankful we had an inside stateroom because the sun stays up so late and rises so early. An inside room with no windows made sure our room was always nice and dark whenever we wanted to sleep. No, you don’t have a balcony because we could simply walk out to any deck when we wanted to enjoy the views. The only time we were really in our room was to sleep so why spend more just for a window or a balcony? We didn’t feel the need and greatly appreciated the savings.
Now, if we had been traveling further North and knew the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) would be visible, maybe we would reconsider…but I still think we would stick to our inside room. That’s the kind of frugal travelers we are!
4. Compare prices before you purchase your cruise.
I touched on this above but this is worth repeating. Research, research, research! Look at all the prices for different cruise lines and different dates and different cruises. We chose an inside passage cruise in early June because it was early in the season and a lower price. July is peak tourist season for Alaska, so plan with prices accordingly. My parents were able to take a longer Alaska cruise to Denali National Park simply because they went later in the season.
Go to the different cruise websites. Compare the prices. Go to third party sites. Compare the prices. Sign up for cruise email alerts. Sign up for cruise newsletters. You can use a travel agent but you definitely don’t need one to find a good deal. The same is true of flight prices! Start looking early and compare various airlines.
All cruises will have great points about them – regardless of cost. So, compare the prices and decide what is worth your money and where you can save.
That leads me to my next savings tip.
5. Book your cruise through Rakuten and earn cash back.
Rakuten is a free online program that earns you cash back. When we went to book our cruise, I noticed that Norwegian’s prices on their website were exactly the same as at Priceline. I started at Rakuten and booked through Priceline – and earned $177 cash back, simple as that, just for taking 5 minutes to research and one extra click. Plus, Priceline gave us a free $200 in cruise credit which Norwegian wasn’t offering. Both were great perks! Booking our cruise through Rakuten (via Priceline) saved / made us $377. With high inflation being what it is, don’t you want to stretch every dollar? Rakuten is a super easy way to save money on your Alaska adventure where every dollar counts!
You can sign up for Rakuten here. I use it for all my online shopping and make hundreds of dollars back every year. (More about how I use Rakuten to make money shopping online here.) This tip may not work for all the cruises but it is definitely worth comparing prices to see if it works for you too!
6. Sign up for an airline credit card if you need to fly.
If you are going to Alaska, almost everyone needs to fly – whethere you are cruising or driving once you get to Alaska. Start searching for the best flight deals early. Alaska Airlines regularly has good deals, if you are flying in or around Alaska. Otherwise, most major airlines will get you to Seattle (the most popular port city for Alaskan cruises). If you are flying to Alaska, here is an important way to save money. Sign up for an airline credit card.
I am a firm believer in not carrying debt and only use credit cards if I can pay them off each month. That said, United (one of the most popular Seattle airlines if you are cruising to Alaska) has a great credit card program!
They offer a $0 fee for the first year (and it is easy to cancel the credit card after your flight, if you so choose). Plus, it gives you free baggage fees – which at $30+ per bag, per flight – saved us $120. In addition to that, it gave us two free United club passes where we were able to pass an enjoyable 2 hours in the Seattle airport, enjoying complimentary snacks, beer and wine as we waited for our flight home. That was another $100 plus value. Those benefits are available to all who apply for a United card.
At the time we signed up, they also offered a $100 credit on our first statement. This promotion varies. But we also were surprised with a free upgrade to business class on our flight out – another $100 free perk!
But the best perk of the United credit card? When we spent $2000 in the first 3 months of opening our account, we earned a bonus 40,000 miles to our United account! We simply booked our flights on the credit card and the remaining cruise balance and quickly met that amount for our free miles. These miles don’t expire and translate to at least one free flight – depending on where you are flying. With perks and savings like this, it made signing up for the United credit card a no brainer and a great source of savings.
Let’s recap. This airline credit card saved us $320 instantly and earned us enough for one or two more free flights! It was an easy way to save money – even if you only use it for your cruise and cancel it afterwards. The miles will still be yours to keep.
I highly recommend looking into the United credit card (or a similar airline credit card).
7. Save money by using hotel rewards.
While traveling to and around Alaska, the odds are you will be spending at least one night in a hotel. For us, we needed one night after flying into Seattle before getting on our cruise. We looked for a hotel that was a short walk to the pier where we would get on our boat. Others look for a hotel with a free shuttle to the airport. We took public transit to get to our hotel. Wherever you are going to stay, consider signing up for a hotel rewards card to make and save money.
We are members of several hotel rewards programs, but our go to hotel rewards is the IHG program which includes Holiday Inn, Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites, among others. Since we normally travel with our kids, Holiday Inns work great for our needs. Now, you can sign up for a rewards program without getting a credit card. BUT, once again, if you are going to be traveling more and staying at multiple hotels, consider getting a credit card to save some money – and earn bonus rewards.
If you are interested, the IHG hotel does have a small yearly fee, but you also get a free hotel reward every year so that makes the fee worth it (in our opinion). We also earn extra hotel rewards points for booking with our credit card, which means we earn free hotel rooms even quicker. We used our free hotel room anniversary night as part of this trip to save us a couple hundred dollars more.
If you staying at hotels throughout Alaska, you will have to take what hotels you can find in some small towns, but regardless of where you travel, I think hotel rewards programs are a great way to save money.
8. Purchase cruise insurance from an independent company instead of your cruise company.
I don’t always buy the extra insurance on appliances or airplane flights, but for a cruise? It is a good idea. I’ve heard a couple stories of how beneficial the insurance. Yes, it was unlikely we would need it but it did give us peace of mind – even though we were spending extra for it. Sometimes, it is necessary to spend a little more money but you can still save when you do buy insurance.
Your cruise company will offer you travel insurance that is easy to buy. However, for a bit of time, you can save yourself a couple hundred dollars by shopping around for cruise insurance. We started by comparing prices at Travel Insurance and ended up booking our insurance through IMG. Their insurance was a more reasonable price which saved us over $200 from what the cruise company said and gave us a more robust policy.
9. Look for free excursions before you leave on your cruise.
This is another great savings tip. Some excursions are worth paying for but there are also great free excursions available too. The White Pass train ride in Skagway was definitely our priciest excursion (at $149 each) but it was totally worth the high price tag. This Alaska railroad ride was by far our favorite excursion! Alaska is a once in a lifetime experience for many people so you want to take advantage of the unique experiences before you. Prioritize what is most important to you and choose your excursions accordingly.
Be sure to compare the prices of excursions from your cruise line as well as with independent companies. The only time we bought directly from our cruise line was when the price was the same as what we found elsewhere. Otherwise, you can find good deals from local companies. They depend on cruise lines for their income so don’t worry. They will bring you back on time! Plus, you see a different side of Alaska when you do local activities.
When looking for excursions, keep your eyes open for all the free things to do. Here’s a budget tip for you! We like history so always look for National Historic Sites as we travel. Skagway was full of them and had a fabulous, free Klondike Gold Rush museum. Any place that has a National Parks Service usually offers free lectures or a guided tour with the park rangers. That is worth doing as well.
Make note of where all the visitor centers are in your ports so you can pick up free brochures and walking maps. Many visitor centers have a coupon book you can pick up too. We knew we wouldn’t be paying for internet when at sea and just used our regular data plans to check in when we were on land. Before we left, we printed maps and directions and some pamphlets that we found online. We put everything we would need in a small binder to take along. This made it easy to pull out things for each port city, so we could maximize our time in port.
10. Plan, plan and plan some more!
Research. Read. Plan. The more work you do before hand, the more money you can save. It may take a bit of time, but you will be glad you invested the time when you see the money you saved.
Make a list of all the places you want to visit. There are so many amazing places to see in Alaska! The Mendenhall Glacier was a beautiful spot to visit, but our favorite day was cruising through Glacier Bay National Park. That was one of the best deals for us – because it was included in our cruise ticket. Did you realize the only way you can see Glacier Bay is on a boat? So, this was definitely another cruise perk and highlight!
I hope this gave you some ideas of ways to save on your Alaskan cruise. Do you have any other ideas for how to see Alaska on a budget?
Want some more practical cruise tips? Here are 21 things I wish I had known before our first Alaskan cruise – and some of these tips apply to all cruises, not just Alaskan ones!