For some people, a cruise is a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. For others, it’s an annual event. But whether you’re a frequent sailor or a first timer, a cruise deal is a must for those of us on a vacation budget. Avoid going in blindly and picking up any and all cruise brochures from a travel agent and then picking the first itinerary that appeals to you. In your breathless excitement to start packing, you might miss some big savings. No one pays full price if they can help it and everyone looks to score better value for their money. If you were buying a new car, wouldn’t you do all you could to negotiate for lower prices and better perks? Of course, and it’s the same with a cruise deal.

1. Be a smart shopper. As with anything, it’s buyer beware. Shop around and know what you’re getting for your money. You could consult with a travel agent to find a great cruise deal. Or, you could be your own travel agent. Some online companies will have oods is a freelance writer and radio talk show host with a focus on healisecured a collection of staterooms at a group discount and then can pass along the savings to you. Travel agents can usually add bonuses like free upgrades, free travel insurance, shipboard credits or coupons for on board discounts.

2. Compare, compare, compare. Allow yourself enough time to analyse the kind of cruise deal that different companies offer in terms of perks and base pricing. Some websites provide a handy price comparison tool that enables you to put various offers side by side and see which represents the best value for you.

3. Take advantage of industry competition. There are many cruise lines around and each has several ships. With so much business to offer, your vacation dollar is valuable to all of them. Be an opportunist. Put up your hand and say: “I want to buy a cruise” and let them all vie for your attention. Try one of the websites where you can list your requirements. These are then passed on to competing cruise line companies. It’s the same as those websites that look for the best price on electrical goods and new or used cars. The result will be a cruise deal that’s best for you, based on your criteria.

4. Consider a one-way cruise. A fabulous cruise deal can be found if you can take advantage of a one-way sailing. When a cruise company dispatches a vessel to a new destination (ending a season or beginning a new one), it’s called a “re-positioning” sailing. They are often longer than usual; feature fewer ports of call and more days at sea, so a different kind of passenger takes these trips. As such, the rates per day are often cheaper than those of normal sailings.

5. Don’t cruise alone. If you travel alone, the cost of cruising skyrockets. To have a cabin all to yourself, you will be required to pay in the vicinity of one and a half times the regular single fare. So why not take along a companion? And if you bring along nine of your closest friends, you’re likely to score group rates on your cruise deal, with a satisfying discount.

You work hard all year to save up for your vacation. Do a little homework and it will pay off. Plus, you’ll enjoy your trip so much more if it doesn’t put you into debt!