Cruise Hacking Carnival & Royal Caribbean 2022
Last week I did an entire solo episode of the MtM Podcast on cruises while sailing across the Atlantic from Tampa to Barcelona on a free cruise! During that episode I detailed a lot of the cruise hacking opportunities that have come up this year, but I thought I would write out exactly how & why I have booked each of my
6 7 cruises this year. I’ll give you a hint. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get them this cheap again.
Background on 7 Cruises in 2022
As I said I have a total of seven cruises on the books for 2022 with two already completed. If I sail on all of them I will spend a total of 54 nights on cruise ships this year. That may sound like a lot, but considering we are traveling pretty much full time through October, it is probably saving us money as you’ll see. But even if it isn’t, we are getting to check off some incredible “bucket list” itineraries even if there are some disappointments.
My 2022 cruises are as follows:
- 6 night Caribbean cruise on Odyssey of the Seas (completed in February)
- 14 night Transatlantic cruise on Carnival Pride (completed a few days ago)
- 7 night Northern Europe cruise on Voyager of the Seas (sailing in May)
- 8 night Alaska cruise on Carnival Spirit in early July
- 5 night Western Caribbean cruise on Carnival Paradise in August
- 7 night Eastern Caribbean cruise on Carnival’s brand new Mardi Gras in September
- 7 night Mexican Riviera cruise on Carnival Panorama out of Los Angeles in December
So how did I get each of these cruises and how much did I pay?
Royal Caribbean Cruise Hacking
Last year Royal Caribbean released an amazing Amex Offer giving $500 back on $1500 in spend with Royal Caribbean. I had the offer on three cards (but left one on the table) in our household and I immediately began searching for cruises with a total cost of around $1500. The first cruise I booked was for Allure of the Seas in January, however a bout of Covid delayed us a bit and we ended up moving it to Royal Caribbean’s newest ship (at the time) Odyssey of the Seas.
Odyssey of the Seas – This 6 night cruise including all taxes came to just over $1500 for a balcony cabin. We used the Amex Offer to bring our cost to a few dollars over $1000.
Voyager of the Seas – I booked this cruise to finally get to St. Petersburg Russia, however that port was cancelled. We paid about $1400 for an inside cabin (see upgrade info below) + added prepaid gratuities for one person to bring it over $1,500 to trigger the Amex Offer. We also have a $250 on board credit due to our MGM Rewards status which I’ll explain below.
MGM Rewards & Royal Caribbean Partnership
Royal Caribbean and MGM Rewards have a partnership where elite members from MGM Rewards with a Gold or higher status get perks on board Royal Caribbean when you book through the casino desk. I have MGM Rewards Gold status due to their match with Hyatt (I am Hyatt Globalist), so I was able to get a $125 credit on our Voyager of the Seas cruise. My wife was able to match her Caesars Diamond status from Founderscard to MGM Rewards Gold in Las Vegas and she also got a $125 credit.
Pro Tip: While a few people I know have had success badgering Royal to get this credit when booking through a third party, my experience is you need to book through the casino desk to get the credit, but you can transfer the cruise to a travel agent before final payment is due. For that reason I didn’t get a credit on the Odyssey of the Seas cruise, because I booked through a travel agent.
RoyalUp Program – Amazing Upgrades!
As I said before I booked an inside cabin for my Northern Europe trip with a net cost of ~$1,000 (+ $250 on board credit) after the $500 Amex Offer. That was great, but I made it even better by getting a $6K suite for only $400 more. Royal Caribbean has a program called RoyalUP where they allow you to bid for upgrades. The good thing is you can bid no matter if you are in the cheapest cabin or a more expensive one.
When they sent me an email I bid $200 per person ($400 total) for the 1 bedroom Grand Suite and got it! (I also bid less for balcony and Junior Suite upgrades.) We get full suite privileges including access to a private lounge, concierge service and more during our cruise. We paid $1,400 total (still have our $250 credit) which is a decent amount less than even the cost of a regular balcony cabin. I’ll take it! Of course, getting an upgrade isn’t guaranteed but if you are okay with an inside and want a chance at something much nicer for not much more money than this can be a good strategy.
Carnival Cruise Hacking
While people love to rag on Carnival, I think they are fine and have sailed with them a number of times in the past and have just completed our Transatlantic crossing. I do prefer Royal Caribbean but believe it or not there are a few things Carnival does better. Plus “free” is free right?!? 😉
3 Free Casino Match Cruises
To start, three of our cruises this year are free for the first two guests not including taxes/fees because of their Fun Match offer. I matched my Caesars Diamond status from Founderscard and MGM Rewards Gold and received an offer for a free balcony cruise plus an offer for a free oceanview cruise. My wife matched the same statuses but had a glitch and never got a free cruise offer. After contacting Carnival they extended an oceanview offer to her. It was frustrating that she didn’t get the same offers as I did, but at least we got another free cruise.
Our three free cruises are the Transatlantic in an Oceanview, Mexican Riviera in an Oceanview and Caribbean on their newest ship Mardi Gras in a balcony. We paid the taxes and nominal extra person charges for our daughter, but the fares for us were zero dollars including on the 14 night Transatlantic. Each of the free cruises also includes free drinks in the casino and $200 in slot play. Not bad.
VIFP Past Guest Offers Have Been Insane!
The other two cruises were booked because of insane offers I got as a past guest of Carnival. Like I said before I have been booking these cruises to check off bucket list items. The Transatlantic had LONG been something I had wanted to do, St. Petersburg was supposed to happen and Alaska has been on my list forever. I hit my 49th state in 2012 so Alaska has been waiting as state #50 since then.
Carnival Spirit Offer – When I saw an offer for an oceanview on Carnival Spirit for just $100 per person on an 8 night Alaska cruise over the busy July timeframe I jumped on it. With my daughter’s fare we paid a total of $325 plus taxes for this entire cruise. Prior to Covid I had not really ever seen an 8 night cruise for $100 let alone an Alaska cruise in the height of the summer season! Score. Plus Spirit is a sister ship to the Pride which we enjoyed so I am sure it will be fine.
Carnival Paradise Offer – This was the last cruise I booked and is one I may potentially cancel. Carnival Paradise was my first ever cruise ship. Back in 2009 during the Swine Flu Epidemic I was able to book a 4 night cruise for $99 plus taxes. At the time that was an amazing deal, but considering everything I’ve seen this year it was alright. But I know the Paradise’s days are numbered so for nostalgia’s sake I wouldn’t mind sailing her again. For a 5 night cruise we paid $357 + taxes for 3 people or $119 per person. I’m still within the cancellation window so I am wavering on if we need to do it. But I wouldn’t mind sailing my first ever ship one more time and the price is right, although not as good as most of the other deals and Paradise doesn’t have a lot of the amenities of newer ships.
@milestomemories The 6 best activities to do on @Royal Caribbean #odysseyoftheseas including the amazing #northstar and #bumpercars. #fyp #milestomemories #cruise ♬ original sound – Miles to Memories
Mandatory Tips & Taxes
In the totals above I have left out the tax amounts (except with Royal Caribbean where I included the total paid including everything), because they vary by itinerary, etc. More ports = more taxes and ports in more expensive countries (for example Alaska) add up too. In addition both Royal Caribbean and Carnival charge a set fee per day per person for tips ($14-$17). You can remove or adjust this, but it isn’t something that I recommend.
Cruise Hacking Carnival & Royal Caribbean 2022 – Bottom Line
This post went a little long, but buried within it is a framework for finding cheap cruises right now and taking advantage of deals when they come. I think listening to the cruise hacking episode of the MtM Podcast along with this post should help you get started on the path of saving on cruises, because this is just the tip of the iceberg. Now if you don’t mind I’ll be heading back out to sea for awhile! 🙂