We have gathered here our best tips and advice to save you money on your charter cruises. This is the result of dozens of charters done by us as well as many other charterers, all over the world.
Before Booking Your Charter
The Cruising Grounds
That is usually the first thing you will decide upon. That decision involves 2 players.
The charter company and the airline.
The Charter Company
OK, I give you that: a cruise in Tonga or Tahiti sounds really cool. However the airfare will probably be very expensive -not to mention that you will have to stay longer just because it takes almost 3 days (in real time) to travel back and forth. With the same airfare money, you can probably double your charter time on a closer destination, like Florida or the Bahamas.
Charter companies constantly offer deals on some destinations where their bookings are low, on real-time basis, exactly like airlines. You might not go exactly where you wanted to, but hey!, a 10-day charter for the price of a seven-day (a charter companies' favorite) is worth a look. Directly check charter companies' web sites, as charter brokers will not necessarily tell you this.
Regardless of the cruising grounds, you also want to check on 2nd Tier charter companies. Many offer older but very decent boats at substantial discounts.
Lastly, and most importantly, you need to check the ultimate saving avenue: chartering directly from a boat owner in a charter fleet, with discounts up to 50% on regular charters! Read all about it and how it works.
Nowadays, all airfares are very competitive, but not cheap any more. Those days are over.
Rates are very confusing, and from one day to the next, you will find (or not) great deals on domestic or international fares, all changing constantly. One thing is not very well known: Large charter companies (like Dream Yacht Charter, Moorings and Sunsail) have in-house, full-fledged travel desks and they offer non-published discounted rates on some airlines. It is definitely worth checking.
TIP: Try to fly mid-week; it is usually cheaper, especially to the Caribbean. Two additional benefits by doing so: a) You will escape the dreadful week-end connection in Puerto Rico, during which hordes of cruise ship passengers literally jam the airport. And b) you will also escape the very busy weekend charter starts at your charter base. Charter base managers say that Tuesday / Wednesday departures are best.
Of course, it is nice to go to the Med. in July or to the Caribbean in December. However, do you know it is as nice and much, MUCH cheaper, i.e. 30 to 60% off, and by the way, way less crowded, to go to the Med in May/June or September, or to the Caribbean in October/November or May/June?
As much as possible, try to book your charters at either edge of the high season. For example, if the high season ends on April 20, book your charter for the beginning of May. You will enjoy large discounts, half-empty harbors and anchorages, cheaper restaurants, and much better service everywhere.
Less known is the fact that in the Med, May/June enjoys spectacular weather and half the mad crowd of July or, worse of August. Similarly, I personally had many great charters in the Caribbean in July, as the real hurricane season realistically starts in August.
This is another wide-choice area. What counts is the number of berths and heads (bathrooms). You will find large rate differences between similar boats and specifically for similar boats in different charter companies.
As an example, 3 cabin-boats range from 34Ft. to 46Ft (in the Beneteau line). The difference is in the number of heads. So ask yourself if you really need 3 heads on a 46-Footer, or if 1 will do on a 34-footer. Of course, the overall space is not the same. On the other hand, the savings are significant.
Some rates found, for May charters for 3 stateroom boats: 34/35Ft: $1,905 p.week - 40Ft: $2,655 p.week- 44Ft: $3,100 p.week. Some spread, uh?
When you shop a charter company, check carefully what is included and what is not. Items to check: dinghy, insurance, local cruising permits, outboard (in Europe), turn-around fees for cleaning, taxis to and from the base, cell phone and Internet connection, fuel, water, ice, water toys, snorkel gear, wind funnels, hand held GPS, etc.
A seemingly inexpensive charter rate can dramatically change when you slap on all that stuff on it. So make sure you compare apples with apples.
TIP: I personally always bring my own snorkel mask and tuba (not the fins though) because I am not crazy about sucking on a tube used by 200 people before me. Even if it was cleaned.
I long have given up on hotels at charter bases. Most charter companies offer sleep aboard and/or "evening starts". This has several benefits:
- It's cheaper than a hotel, especially if your party includes 2 or 3 couples. Typically, charter companies will charge 50% of the day rate for a sleep aboard.
- You are already on the boat and you can unpack, get acquainted with the boat's equipment, and possibly store your provisions. You may also get done with the chart and boat briefing. That way, next morning, you can be up and ready, and leave early to enjoy a full day sail. By personal experience, when staying in a hotel the night before the charter, I have never cast off before 11AM or even noon, by the time everything is said and done.
Charter companies incite charterers to buy their provisioning packages, plus what they call "Staples", i.e. paper goods, salt, pepper, sugar, etc. Well, while this is convenient - the provisions will be delivered right at your boat slip - it is also rather expensive - up to $25 per person/per day + beverages+ about $20 per person per week for the "staples".
On a 6 pax/7 day charter, this will amount to $1,170 not including beverages. We contend that one can do a helluva grocery shopping for that kind of money, and therefore, we advise you to... yes, bring your own food. As strange as it sounds, it is perfectly doable. We use a large duffel bag or a large cooler that we check at the airline counter. We shop everything at our favorite discount store and freeze everything (like rock hard) before leaving. Upon arrival, everything is still frozen, and we never had a problem. The only things we buy upon arrival at the base (or order in advance from the charter company) are beverages (too heavy to carry) and some fresh produce. But we even bring our own coffee!
Here are the benefits of doing this:
- You get exactly and only the food you like and need. Usually, when buying the provisions from a charter company, we were always left with tons of stuff we did not use. Lots of waste.
- You get exactly the quality you want and are accustomed to.
- You do not pay the expensive prices charged by charter companies. Trust us, the savings are very significant.
- You do not waste time and energy locating the local super market and shopping your food - for way more money than at home anyway.
During the Charter Cruise
Your main expense on charter is the restaurants you will have dinner at. So be careful about the tourist traps, and ask questions on the numerous Internet boards. Avoid having cocktails at restaurants before dinner, because they are usually outrageously expensive. Have them aboard the boat before leaving.
In the BVI, you can save $25 per day by anchoring out instead of paying for a mooring ball. I usually take a mooring only twice a week during a charter, so it allows me to have a good night sleep as I don't have to get up 2 or 3 times during the night to check on my anchor.