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Can a Middle-Class Family Really Afford a Cruise to Alaska?

Part 1. Can a middle-class family really afford a cruise to Alaska?

Part 2. Visiting Alaska with the help of miles and points

As I’ve mentioned a few times, next May we are going north to Alaska. And we are doing it via cruise ship, the best way to go IMHO. Alaska is an amazing place, and I’ve dreamed about visiting it while growing up in Belarus and reading Jack London’s novels. BTW some in Russia still feel like America should give it back.

Anyway, I’ve already been there once, but not my husband or kids. So, this will be an opportunity to cruise Inside Passage as a family. As you can see, I broke the post down into 2 parts. Today, we will focus on cruising aspect and some ways  to cut costs.

So, how much?

Cruises to Alaska aren’t cheap. The season is very short, so understandably, it’s an issue of supply vs. demand. If you are looking for a cheap short cruise (to test the waters), I recommend you go to Bahamas or Western Caribbean (see my trip report). Of course, there are occasional deals. I recommend you book as soon as you have your airline tickets secured because you can always rebook if the cruise price goes down. A good time for snagging a cruse deal is Cyber Monday, so keep an eye out during that period.

To start the process, I recommend you go to Cruise.com Once you pick a winner,  check out CruiseCompete  You put in your details and travel agents send you their lowest bid. It’s unlikely to be much cheaper than what you would find on normal booking sites, but every little bit helps.

In our case, we’ve settled on booking through Discover Shopping portal because it turned up the best deal. The downside is that I’ll have to use Discover card for final payment. Get ready because it wasn’t cheap, y’all! Look at “vacation total” part, not the highlighted number.

alaska cruise

I told you it wasn’t cheap. But I do feel that it’s important to show actual numbers, so readers  know what to expect. I like transparency and would hate to mislead folks into thinking that we travel free. We don’t. In fact, travel is probably our biggest expense each year.

So, why this price? Well, we booked a balcony, so that upped the cost considerably. If it were up to me, I would have gotten an inside cabin (much cheaper). But my husband really likes  balcony staterooms because, well, he doesn’t like people. So, that way, he can just hang out in his domain away from the crowds.

We chose Norwegian Cruise Line due to the fact that they had “3rd and 4th guests cruise free” promo. Only my son will be staying with us in the cabin, my daughter will be with her aunt. So, basically, he only ended up costing us extra $208 (tax and port charges). Well, for that particular trip, we actually paid $10k out-of-pocket for his birth, so he was by no means a cheap baby.

As you can see, we should get $210 cash back bonus from Discover after the cruise. Another perk, not shown here, is $75 excursion credit per port. Since we do plan to go on tours, this will save us some money. Of course, we will also have to cover tips, which will add up to a significant amount for 4 people. Norwegian Cruise Line charges $13.50 per person/per day (see FAQ section on NCL for other considerations).

This particular itinerary includes sailing through Glacier Bay National park.

kayaking alaska

It’s absolutely spectacular, and I strongly recommend you pick a cruise that goes there. Some sail through Hubbard Glacier, which I haven’t personally visited. That said, my research indicates that it’s considered a “poor man’s Glacier Bay.” Since this might be our only cruise to Alaska as a family, I don’t want to cheap out and settle for second best. Does that make me sound like a snob? Hey, I like to save money but sometimes, it’s just not worth it.

Credit card bonuses that can help you pay for your cruise

First, the bad news. You will have to cough up a good chunk of your savings. Unless you are willing to work hard and accumulate cash back via manufactured spending, credit card bonuses alone probably will not cover it. There are a few offers that could be a good fit: Barclaycard Arrival Plus, Capital One Venture Rewards and Wells Fargo Propel cards. Those bonuses can give you flat rebate against travel purchases.

You can also sign up for cards like Citi Thank You Premier and Chase Sapphire Preferred. The bonus from both is redeemable towards cruises, and you get 1.25 cents per point. You will have to book through their respective travel partners, but the price is usually comparable to what you would find via regular travel websites. Read more on all these offers in my page Best credit card deals for family

If you do decide to apply for any of the mentioned cards, I encourage you to contact me first because bonuses change constantly, so it’s very hard to keep up with various links. And frankly, sometimes I just forget to update the list. If you email me, I’ll be happy to search for a non-affiliate offer on the same product. I’ve directed my readers to non-paying links on numerous occasions.

You could use one card to make a down payment, and another for the second (final) part. Also, as I’ve mentioned earlier, you can also use bonus for your tips because they should be coded as travel purchase.

If you don’t live near Seattle or Vancouver, you will also need airfare. Fortunately, this one is a bit easier to cover via bonuses. Most major airlines, including Southwest, fly to Seattle. Vancouver and Anchorage (if you don’t do a  roundtrip cruise from Seattle)  will be a bit tougher since you will be limited to traditional airline programs.

Here is a comment from reader Tyler:

Another, albeit not for everyone, way to cut costs if your cruise leaves from Vancouver is to fly into Seattle and drive across the border.

-southwest flies into Seattle and you can use your companion pass
-use autoslash to rent a car from Seattle to Vancouver one way, it is inexpensive and can be a scenic drive depending on route, this plan adds more stops and days, but that was the point for us when we went
-children under 18 who do not have a passport can transit via car (NOT flight) into Canada without getting one, saving the cost of a passport. (At the time our kids didn’t have passports)
-you can fly back to Seattle or other west coast cities from anchorage at the end of the cruise on Alaska airlines for 7,500 avois and then again use southwest and your companion pass to get home.”

I wrote about redeeming  AAdvantage miles for 4 first-class tickets from Tampa to Seattle. In this particular case, IMO it made sense to go this route. Don’t get spooked, this is a blog for a normal family. I’m a cheap, not a fancy momma. Though, I have no problem with the latter. To all of you fancy mommas, I’m a little jealous! In fact, I think of myself as a luxury loving gal stuck inside  cheapskate body.

Bottom line

Cruises to Alaska aren’t cheap. This hobby can help you somewhat, but you’ll still have to save money  in order to pay for it. Let’s say you end up needing $3,000 total (cruise, tips and excursions) even after redeeming your sign-up bonuses. That’s $250 per month or around $8 per day. Skip a daily latte and pack your own lunch, and voila. OK, that’s easier said than done, I know. But you get my point. Set up an account, and contribute to it regularly, so you will be able to pay it off without going into debt.

A couple of things you can do to cut costs: Settle for an inside (cheaper) cabin, which should end up costing less than two thirds of what the balcony would run. Go at the end of May if your school allows you to take the kids out a bit early. Book as far ahead as possible because you can always get the cost adjusted as long as the price drop happens before your final payment.

But what if Alaska cruise isn’t something you can swing financially? My second part will focus on ways to visit Alaska and specifically Denali National Park while mostly using miles and hotel points. Stay tuned.

Image courtesy of Liz Noffsinger at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

17 thoughts on “Can a Middle-Class Family Really Afford a Cruise to Alaska?

  1. Another, albeit not for everyone, way to cut costs if your cruise leaves from Vancouver is to fly into Seattle and drive across the border.

    -southwest flies into Seattle and you can use your companion pass
    -use autoslash to rent a car from Seattle to Vancouver one way, it is inexpensive and can be a scenic drive depending on route, this plan adds more stops and days, but that was the point for us when we went
    -children under 18 who do not have a passport can transit via car (NOT flight) into Canada without getting one, saving the cost of a passport. (At the time our kids didn’t have passports)
    -you can fly back to Seattle or other west coast cities from anchorage at the end of the cruise on Alaska airlines for 7,500 avois and then again use southwest and your companion pass to get home

    • @Tyler You made a very good point. My sister-in-law actually did something along these lines: She flew to Seattle and took a bus to Vancouver (where the cruise departed from). Overall cost was significantly less that way.
      Companion pass definitely makes a good case for doing just that. I will add it to the post. It’s a bit of a hassle with kids, but the savings would surely add up. The passport angle is an interesting one as well. I do recommend everyone gets it though, just in case. As commenter Stephanie mentioned, it would be a headache if you didn’t have it and needed to fly to US. Thanks for your insight!

  2. We took our family of four on a Disney Alaskan Cruise in June 2014 — it was one of the best trips ever and we would love to go again. However, it was the most expensive trip we have ever taken. I will only sail Disney so I know I will have to pay a premium again, but it’s on the bottom of our vacation list since there are so many other places we would love to visit. I do suggest always having a passport for the children as if there is a medical emergency, I want the option of flying our family back into the States. We flew into Seattle and took AMTRAK from Seattle to Vancouver — it was a fantastic experience, and I would recommend this for all families. We did one way as I wanted to fly home from Vancouver. If we do this trip again, I would try to save up enough points to fly from LAX to Vancouver to help with costs, but seeing Alaska was worth the cost, and it’s the most beautiful place I have ever seen.

    • @Stephanie I loved Alaska too! We are doing roundtrip from Seattle, but I kind of wish we added a land portion to see Denali. It was an incredible place, so much wildlife.
      I’ve heard good things about Disney cruises, but haven’t had a chance to sail on that line yet. I’m sure my kids would go crazy for it, though. They absolutely love all things Disney. As you’ve mentioned, it does cost more compared to NCL and such. And Alaska cruises are just super expensive, period. Not much you can do about that.
      I’ve seen last-minute specials, but if you need airfare, it’s hard to just find 4 award tickets within weeks of sailing. I hope this expense will be worth it! It is a LOT of money, I’m having a bit of buyer’s remorse looking at the bill. But my husband’s whole family is coming, and even if the kids won’t remember it (which they probably won’t), we will treasure the experience.

  3. I can’t wait to see pictures of your Alaska cruise! We are saving up for a Disney Alaska cruise for 2017. We’ve looked at a lot of lines for Alaska, but any way we slice it, it’s still way expensive for a family of 5 since we need to get 2 staterooms. At least with miles and points we will hopefully fly (almost) free to Vancouver and stay a few nights for free before the cruise. 🙂

    • @Shoesinks Yeah, I’m really looking forward to it! It’s a huge splurge, no question. But I’m hoping it will be worth it. Cruise for 5 is tough. Even if you could fit that many in one cabin, it would be very tight for everyone. Honestly, even 4 is a stretch, so I’m happy that SIL is taking my girl.
      We are using miles for flights and hotel points for overnight stay before cruise. That definitely helps!

  4. Ok. I checked on a cruise and like you, found that the price is the same from Cruise compete as the Discover deals. So using discover gives me 5% back. How did you get the credit for the shore excursions from Norwegian when you booked through discover?
    thanks for always being so helpful. truly enjoy your posts.

    • @Hilde Thank you so much for your kind words! I’m happy to help, so don’t ever hesitate to contact me. When you book through Discover travel agent, they will offer whatever specials NCL is running at that time. Not sure what deals they are offering at the moment. You may want to wait till Cyber Monday.

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