On Board Credits – The key to cheaper cruises!

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Cruises are not cheap and when you add port excursions, taxes, fees, on board gratuities, and miscellaneous spending you end up with an bloated vacation bill.  While the cost of cruising may seem high believe it or not they still rank among the top value for consumers, year over year.


To understand the industry a little it helps to know that the prices and final transactions for each cruise is controlled ultimately by the ship companies themselves.The lowest advertised prices are the same no matter where you end up booking through, while there may be variances in deals (ie. group/bulk bookings) the prices normally always end up being the same due to this controlled environment. This structure puts us all in the same boat, pun intended. However, there is one savings opportunity when available that makes a noticeable difference in maximizing value, on board credits.

What are On Board Credits (OBC)?

On board credits ultimately equate to cash that is available for spending during your cruise on excursions, food and drinks, photos, and even gratuity on most cruise lines. The credits are provided one of two ways, by the cruise operator itself or by the travel agent/website. They are not regulated like cruise fares so agents and websites look to gain an edge by providing them to consumers to secure bookings. The amount that a travel agent or website will provide is dependent on the price of the room you are booking. The more you spend the more you get, kind of a losing battle unless you are planning to book a higher-priced room like a balcony. Cruise cabin rooms are categorized from Interior to Ocean View/Outside to Balcony and finally Suite level respectively in both price and size.

Big Guys vs. Smaller Shops

We all know of the big travel websites that allow you search everything from car rentals, hotels, airfare and yes of course cruises. These sites are essentially your local travel agent shops on steroids, 24-hour booking in the drop of hat, pretty sweet. So why even consider the smaller shops? Customized experiences. The big travel websites funnel thousands of people through their purchase tunnels everyday and each consumer is essentially just an email address to them. So while they are great for the last-minute booking, if you are doing a fair amount of planning and research and eventually going to spend a decent amount of money on a vacation I’d look at a smaller shop. You can talk to them on the phone without wading through a maze of the “Press 1 or say Bookings” menus. Being able to work with a travel agent one-on-one also ensures you get an optimal cabin location on the ship, none of those rooms under the nightclub or dining room.

Maximizing On Board Credits

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Unfortunately, the big travel websites have a lot of overhead and investors. While they may provide that lowest advertised price (which we know available to everyone) they generally do not go over-the-top with on board credit bonuses. Meet CruiseGrouper.com, a small-time specialty shop that provides the same low prices as the big guys but, with DOUBLE the on board credits vs the top providers! CruiseGrouper.com has worked with us in the past on our vacations both on short and long. They provide some popular itineraries on their website but, thrive in customized experiences based your requests.

Here is a snapshot of a sample cruise booking from their website:
On Board Credits Comparison

We normally use our on board credits for paying the daily gratuity requirements (normally $12+ per guest, per day) and budget from there on with excursions and other shipboard activities.

Extra Tip: Make sure you research port excursions through the venue operators themselves, booking through the cruise line can tend to be more expensive.

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