The 1 thing savvy cruisers do to save more on their next cruise

Savvy cruisers have a few tricks up their sleeves when it comes to saving money on cruise fares — because the less they spend, the more often they can cruise. But there’s one thing repeat cruisers often do that many newbies don’t even know exists as a money-saving option.

The trick? Booking a future cruise while you are already on board a cruise ship.

You may have seen this type of booking referenced as a “next cruise” or “future cruise” booking on a social media cruise group or in an advertisement on a ship. Almost every cruise line offers a way to do it because it’s much easier to convince you to book another fabulous trip while you are blissfully enjoying your relaxing getaway and never wanting it to end. Plus, folks in vacation mode already have their wallets open, ready to spend on more fun.

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What’s in it for the cruiser? Cheaper deposits, competitive rates or discounts, and gifts of onboard credit. In other words, savings that should make your next vacation cheaper.

You may be wondering if there are any drawbacks to this strategy or if it really is free money in your pocket. I dug into the process to see how it works on most major cruise lines and what you stand to gain or lose.

Here’s everything you need to know about booking a future cruise on your current sailing.

The basics of booking your next cruise on board your current cruise

MSC World America. MSC CRUISES

Future cruise booking is facilitated on most large ships at a specific office or desk, usually in a high-traffic location. You’ll often need to schedule an appointment with a consultant who can walk you through the savings offered and the terms and conditions of the booking.

On some ships, you may be invited to join the consultant for a special preview event of upcoming new ships or itineraries. This may be done in a small group setting or with a larger group in a lounge area on board.

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You will generally be offered a discounted cruise fare, onboard credit (often in higher amounts than you can find elsewhere) and a lower-than-normal deposit. You may even have access to cabin inventory not yet available to the general public, including on new ships.

If you booked the cruise you are on with a travel agent, the next-cruise booking will automatically transfer to the same agent. If you booked directly with the cruise line but want to use an agent next time, the consultant can set that up for you as well, though there may be a time limit for adding an agent with some cruise lines.

Some cruise lines give you the option to put down an “open” deposit without applying it to a specific cruise. For those who don’t want to spend precious cruise time listening to sales pitches, some cruise lines make it easy to pay an open booking deposit via the Royal Caribbean cruise app or by filling out a simple form and returning it to the future cruise desk.

Related: Cruise payment plans: All you need to know about paying for a cruise

When booking a future cruise during your vacation, it’s important that you understand the terms and conditions. In some cases, deposits are nonrefundable, meaning if you change your mind and don’t go on the cruise you book, you may forfeit the deposit. Open bookings have a cutoff date for you to book a cruise and apply the onboard deposit. If you miss that cutoff date, again, you may lose the deposit.

Changes to your onboard booking could also result in your reservation reverting to the prevailing rate at the time of the change — which could be a higher amount than what you paid on board.

Every cruise line handles onboard cruise bookings slightly differently. Here’s what the major cruise lines offer for booking your next cruise while on board.

Royal Caribbean’s NextCruise program

Ovation of the Seas in Sydney. ROYAL CARIBBEAN

Royal Caribbean’s current deal gets you up to $600 (depending on the cruise you book) in onboard credit for putting down as little as $100 (nonrefundable) toward your next cruise. If you’d like the deposit to be refundable, you can opt for a $150 deposit.

The deposit required for an open booking is $200. Open-booking deposits are nonrefundable, but you have one full year to pick your cruise. You can make an open booking via a drop-off form or within the cruise app. You can book up to three staterooms for yourself, friends or family members with the same benefits.

The NextCruise program also pairs with Casino Royale instant certificates given for reaching certain levels of gameplay in the casino during your cruise. If you earn a certificate and then pay for a deposit toward a future cruise, you may be eligible for a bonus offer.

In most cases, the bonus is free casino play added to your next cruise. In a few cases, these bonuses can even be free cruises, so you don’t want to miss out just because you didn’t do a NextCruise deposit. The bonus is earned for any deposit, even on open bookings placed through the app. To learn the details about instant certificates (and whether you have earned one), you can visit the casino host on board.

Related: I earned a ‘free’ cruise in a ship casino — here’s what it cost, plus tips for getting comped

Best thing about Royal Caribbean’s NextCruise program

The top offer of $600 in onboard credit (based on length of cruise, number of people and cabin category) is one of the highest offers in the industry. That amount can be applied to beverage packages, specialty dinners, Wi-Fi or even shopping on board.

Fine print

Though your open-booking deposit is valid for a year, you only get the dollars-off or onboard credit offers if you choose your cruise within two months of making the deposit.

Carnival’s Future Cruise Vacation program

Carnival Spirit in Australia. CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE

You can visit with a Carnival Cruise Line Adventures Expert while on board to learn more about booking a future cruise vacation, but the line also makes it easy to handle all the arrangements yourself, either online or in the FunHub app. You’ll get Early Saver rates with price protection, upgrades, 50{d8a8d447f05f03c64398acf0d3c5a745c9c41fc784ba89cd5aecd37177dc7d51} off standard deposits and up to $50 per stateroom or up to $100 per suite in onboard credit.

The best thing about Carnival’s Future Cruise Vacation program

Carnival also has a Welcome Home program that allows you to take advantage of these offers for up to four weeks after you return home from your cruise. You don’t have to spend time during your cruise making decisions. You can wait until you are unpacked and wishing you were still on board enjoying the food and fun.

Fine print

The FCV offers are not combinable with other promotions. That means you can’t stack onboard credit from an FCV with your VIFP loyalty program status offers or any other special rate classes.

NCL’s CruiseFirst and CruiseNext programs

Norwegian Bliss in the Caribbean. NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE

Norwegian Cruise Line has a unique CruiseFirst program that allows anyone to put down an open deposit for a future cruise right from the website, even if you haven’t ever cruised with the line.

CruiseFirst deposits are valid for cruises that are six nights or longer and begin at least 120 days after purchase. You have three full years to pick and take your cruise. Your choices are to purchase a $150 CruiseFirst certificate to receive $300 off the cruise you select or purchase a $250 CruiseFirst certificate worth $500 off the cruise you book.

When you are on board a cruise ship, you can save on your next cruise and the one you’re on by purchasing CruiseNext deposits in either $250 or $500 denominations. You use the $250 denomination CruiseNext deposit as a full deposit for non-suite categories, or as partial payment of suite deposits. The $500 deposits are full deposits for bookings in suites or The Haven.

You buy the deposits on board and then have four years to apply them to any reservation you make. The reward for purchasing CruiseNext deposits on board is the instant onboard credit they earn for the cruise you are on.

Related: When is the best time to book a cruise?

Buying one of either denomination ($250 or $500) earns $100 in onboard credit; buy two and earn $250 in onboard credit or three for $375 onboard credit. You earn $500 for buying four deposits of either denomination. CruiseNext deposits are only valid as deposits (not payments) and only one may be applied per new cruise booking outside of special Double Up promotions.

The best things about Norwegian’s CruiseFirst and CruiseNext programs

CruiseFirst is an ingenious way for anyone to save on an NCL cruise. As long as the cruise you are planning is at least four months away (120 days), it’s absurd not to double your deposit money by buying a CruiseFirst certificate to apply.

The coolest part about CruiseNext is that you get to use the reward right away — even to pay for the CruiseNext deposits themselves. If you buy four $250 CNDs for $1,000, the charge goes on your onboard account. But guess what? The terms and conditions specifically state you can use the nonrefundable onboard credits given for buying the CNDs to pay for the purchase. That essentially makes the $250 deposits double in value when you buy two, three, four, six or eight, which is the maximum purchase.

Fine print

The two programs are not combinable. That means you cannot apply both a CruiseFirst certificate and a CruiseNext deposit to the same cruise. That does not mean you cannot use a CruiseFirst certificate to book your first NCL cruise, then buy your CruiseNext deposits while on board. Both programs are guided by a slew of terms and conditions, mostly pertaining to expiration dates and use with other offers, so be sure to read them carefully before making a purchase.

Celebrity Cruises’ Future Cruise Vacation program


Celebrity Cruises’ onboard booking program offers two options — Book Now and Book Later. Both offers give you initial deposits as low as $100, as well as up to $500 in onboard credit (based on cabin category and length of sailing) on your next cruise.

You’re also guaranteed the best promotional fare available at the time you book. If you wish to choose your cruise later, you have one year to finalize the arrangements using your Book Later deposit.

The best thing about Celebrity’s Future Cruise Vacation program

No appointment with a consultant is needed if you want to choose the Book Later option. A convenient drop-off form is available.

Fine print

You definitely need to choose wisely with these deposits. In most cases, changes to your reservation will result in a forfeit of the onboard credit and a change in rate to the applicable rate of the new cruise chosen.

Virgin Voyages’ My Next Virgin Voyage program

Valiant Lady pulls into Costa Maya, Mexico. VIRGIN VOYAGES.

While on board a Virgin Voyages cruise, you can opt into the My Next Virgin Voyage program by paying a $300 deposit either at the Get Lost desk on board or via an online link within the Sailor App. The deposit can be used on bookings made within the next two years. The deposits are valid only on Sea Terrace or higher accommodations, and the cabin category must be chosen at the time the deposit is paid on board.

Buying the deposit earns $300 in onboard credit (known on Virgin as “Sailor Loot”) for use on the future cruise, as well as a $300 discount on the final invoiced amount of the next voyage.

The best things about Virgin Voyages’ My Next Virgin Voyage program

Virgin’s deal gives you money off your next cruise plus the onboard credit. Each cruiser may purchase four $300 deposits, each of which can be applied one per booking on future cruises for you or your travel mates. The deposits are transferable once to another traveler. Current promotions have doubled the Sailor Loot to $600 until further notice.

Related: First impressions of Scarlet Lady, the first Virgin Voyages vessel

Fine print

Virgin Voyages is pretty relaxed about things like date changes within certain limitations. However, if you wish to downgrade your reservation below the Sea Terrace level, you will forfeit all of the bonuses.

Disney Cruise Line’s Placeholder reservations

The 1923 restaurant on Disney Wish. AMY SMITH/DISNEY CRUISE LINE

Disney Cruise Line doesn’t explain which promotions will be offered for booking on board, just that you can discover the advantages of onboard bookings by scanning the QR code at guest services. People on board recently are reporting the current offering is a reduced deposit of $250 and 10{d8a8d447f05f03c64398acf0d3c5a745c9c41fc784ba89cd5aecd37177dc7d51} off the prevailing cruise rate. The Placeholder deposit is valid for two years and can be purchased in the Navigator app while on board.

The best thing about Disney Placeholder reservations

Disney cruises are pricey, so any discount you can get is a reason to book on board.

Related: How to save money on a Disney cruise

Fine print

Placeholder reservations cannot be used on select cruise sail dates, including those taking place over major holidays. They may also not be used for guaranteed room categories (where Disney chooses your cabin location) or combined with other rate specials.

Princess Cruises’ Future Cruise Deposits

A family watches TV in their cabin on a Princess Cruises ship. PRINCESS CRUISES

Princess Cruises keeps things simple with an offer of up to $150 in onboard credit with the purchase of a refundable deposit of $100 per person, which secures your cruise until final payment. The amount awarded depends on the length of cruise you book and the cabin category. You can book a specific sailing on board with the cruise consultant or leave your deposit as an open booking, in which case the deposits will show up in your My Princess Circle Savings account.

The best things about Princess Future Cruise Deposits

Princess FCDs are fully refundable. If not used within two years, they are automatically refunded to the purchasing credit card. Purchases can be made in person at the Future Cruise Office on board or via a drop-off form.

Fine print

When Princess says “fully refundable,” it means prior to final payment on your chosen cruise. Once final payment is made, standard cancellation policies kick in, and your deposit may not be refunded. Also, FCDs may not be applied to world cruises or any world cruise segment.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Onboard Savings program

The Veranda Deck on Regent Seven Seas Splendor. REGENT SEVEN SEAS

Any Regent Seven Seas cruise you book from 30 days prior to an upcoming cruise until the final day of a current cruise is eligible for savings of up to $4,000 per suite, along with $200 in shipboard credit, which can be applied to the current cruise or to the one you book. You’ll also pay a reduced deposit, as low as $500 per person.

The best things about Regent’s Onboard Savings program

That 30-day advance window is something you won’t find elsewhere. Just when you’re getting antsy to get on board, you can book the next trip and be rewarded with savings. You are also allowed a one-time change of your advance booking.

Fine print

Waitlisted cruises are not eligible for the Onboard Savings Program.

Viking Cruises’ Past Guest Travel Credit

Aquavit Terrace. VIKING

Viking cruise ships have cruise consultants on board who can help you book any cruise across the line’s ocean, river and expedition fleets. These consultants often have low deposits and discounted fares to offer.

But in a new twist on future cruise bookings, Viking offers repeat customers travel credits for all bookings within two years of their last sailing. Reserve your next cruise within one year of your last and you’ll earn $200 in credit. Book within two years of your most recent cruise and you’ll earn $100.

The travel credits are not onboard credits; they can only be applied to the purchase of a Viking cruise.

The best thing about Viking’s Past Guest Travel Credit

All recent cruisers have the opportunity to participate, and you aren’t limited to booking on board to be rewarded for your loyalty to the brand.

Fine print

The travel credits may not be combinable with certain offers, so read the fine print carefully.

Holland America’s Future Cruise program

The Retreat on Rotterdam. HOLLAND AMERICA

Book your next cruise with the future cruise consultant on board a Holland America ship and you will get onboard credit and pay a reduced deposit. Amounts vary based on length of the booked cruise and cabin category.

Cruises of 3-10 days in length earn $50-$150 in onboard credit per person; cruises of 11-21 days earn $125-$250; cruises of 22-50 days earn $225-$375; and cruises of 51-plus days earn $350-$500.

Reduced deposits start at $100 per person for cruises up to 21 days, $300 for cruises of 22-50 days and $1,000 for cruises of 51-plus days.

You can put the booking under your travel agent’s name, so you can work with them leading up to the sailing.

The best thing about Holland America’s Future Cruise program

Holland America has one of the most extended expiration dates on its onboard booking perks. The deposit you make on board is valid for four years (and you must apply it to a booking for a cruise departing within four years from the deposit date).

If you choose to put down an open-ended deposit, rather than choosing a specific sailing at time of booking, but don’t manage to choose a cruise within four years, the deposit amount will be refunded.

Fine print

The onboard booking perks do not apply to cruises shorter than three days, world cruises, Grand Voyages or segments of those longer sailings. If you need to cancel the cruise you booked on board, you can apply the deposit to another voyage but you’ll forfeit the onboard credit.

MSC Cruises’ Future Cruise program

A balcony cabin on MSC World Europa. IVAN SARFATTI/MSC CRUISES

Book your next MSC cruise on board a ship, and you’ll receive $20 to $200 in onboard credit per cabin, based on the length of the sailing booked and the cabin category. You can also earn double points with the MSC Voyagers Club loyalty program.

Cruisers can switch their future cruise deposit to a different sail date at any time before final payment without penalty; however, you would be responsible for any difference in fares.

The line claims that if you find a lower price advertised by MSC Cruises on the same sailing after you book on board (but before final payment), you can request a one-time price match.

The best thing about MSC Cruises’ Future Cruise program

No other cruise line offers extra loyalty program points for booking on board. With this perk, not only does booking on a ship earn you some extra shipboard spending money, but it helps you fast-track your rise up the elite status ranks, should you be a devoted MSC cruiser.

Fine print

The Future Cruise bonuses are combinable with other MSC Cruises offers, including Voyagers Club offers exclusive to loyalty program members.

Bottom line

If you find yourself enjoying the cruise you’re on, one way to save on your next vacation at sea is to book it on board your cruise ship or, in some cases, immediately upon returning home.

Not only will an onboard booking almost always involve a lower deposit to hold the cruise, but it likely will get you the best available promotional offer and earn you valuable onboard credit. Savvy cruisers often max out onboard opportunities by booking all their cruises on board or by paying open-ended deposits on future cruises they can book at their leisure.

As long as you read the fine print and are aware of any restrictions or limitations, you may find yourself swimming in an ocean of cruise discounts and onboard credit that can help pay for all those cruise extras.

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