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Repositioning cruises: Save money and enjoy ship time with these unusual itineraries

April 02, 2022
8 min read
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Looking for a cruise where you can truly kick back and take advantage of onboard amenities without getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of a different port of call every day? Consider a repositioning cruise.

Repositioning cruises are the name for one-way sailings that bring the ship to a new home port or a different part of the world to kick-start a new cruise season. Because these sailings often cross oceans, you’ll likely experience ports in more than one cruise region — and have ample sea days to take advantage of the spa, dining and entertainment options on board.

All the major cruise lines offer the occasional repositioning cruises, typically on ships that usually sail in destinations with shorter seasons, such as Alaska or the Mediterranean. Here, we answer all your questions about repositioning cruises.

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What is a repositioning cruise?

Cruise ships chase warm and sunny climates, so they often move, or "reposition," from one part of the world to another when chilly weather sets in. Cruise lines don’t want to sail a ghost ship, carrying only crew and no passengers, across the ocean because it’s wasting an opportunity to earn money. They have figured out that by discounting rates they can fill the cabins on these oddball itineraries.

Repositioning cruises are never round-trip sailings. Your origin and destination cities -- or, in cruise-speak, embarkation and disembarkation ports -- will not be the same. You might sail out of Florida and arrive in Barcelona, Spain, or Southampton, England, allowing you to explore two continents on one vacation. Or, you might simply sail from Boston to Florida or from San Diego to Vancouver, British Columbia.

You might start your trip in one port, like San Diego, and end in another, like Vancouver, British Columbia. (Photo by Paul Biris/Getty Images)

While repositioning cruises are known for having a greater-than-average number of days spent at sea, it’s not as if you never get off the ship. On a transatlantic sailing, port stops could be in Spain’s Canary Islands or Portugal’s Azores Islands. A repositioning cruise from southern California to Vancouver, before the Alaska cruise season might sail up the Pacific Coast and visit cities like San Francisco and Astoria, Oregon.

Related: How to avoid seasickness on your next cruise

Another aspect that makes a repositioning cruise different than a typical sailing is that many of these itineraries are longer than a week. (This is by design: It takes longer to sail from Florida to Europe than it does to and from the Caribbean.) Still, there is a lot of flexibility just as with booking any cruise: The shortest you’ll find is four or five days (for example, southern California to Vancouver) and the longest around 28 nights (yes, almost an entire month, usually between continents).

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Where and when do repositioning cruises take place?

The good news is you can book a repositioning cruise nearly six months out of the year, spanning mid-spring and mid-fall months, which are the cruise lines’ shoulder seasons.

Because repositioning cruises are not all tied to the same destination, this only widens your options in terms of geography. To envision where these will sail and when, you need to know a destination’s cruise season.

Take Europe as an example. The majority of Mediterranean and Baltic sailings take place in the spring through the early fall. The Europe-based ships flee the region during the winter, spending November through March in the warm Caribbean. Therefore, a ship will need to travel from the Caribbean to Europe in spring and return to the Caribbean by fall. Look for transatlantic repositioning cruises during those changeover months.

Related: TPG's favorite fall cruise itineraries

Some ships stay in the Caribbean year-round and only reposition when the cruise line chooses to move them to a different home port. However, ships sailing short seasons in Alaska, South America, Canada/New England and Europe will always be repositioning at least twice a year.

Due to increased cruise itineraries in the Middle East and Asia over the last decade, you may also find a repositioning cruise departing or returning to either of those regions. For example, MSC Cruises offers cruises from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates to Genoa, Italy in April prior to sailing European itineraries in the spring and summer. Just be prepared to be away from home for a long time. The aforementioned sailing is 21 days — it's a long trek through the Suez Canal, connecting the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, by way of Egypt.

What’s it like on a repositioning cruise?

On many repositioning cruises, you will not get off the ship as often as you might on a typical sailing because there are no ports in the middle of the ocean you’re crossing. These itineraries often feature a string of sea days, so be prepared to spend more time and money on board.

Some people love port-intensive cruises, so they can quickly check off a list of countries and only unpack once. But if the allure of sailing, to you, means leisurely, lazy days then a trans-oceanic repositioning cruise might be your ticket to utopia. This huge stretch of time is a great opportunity to crack open books you’ve been meaning to read, launch into a knitting project or finally have time for daily workouts.

If you want a more low-key cruise experience, a repositioning cruise may be perfect for you. (Photo by Daniel Piraino/EyeEm/Getty Images)

Related: 16 mistakes cruisers make on cruise ship sea days

Programming such as comedy nights, fitness classes, boutique shopping, art auctions, wine tastings and evening shows are as much a part of a repositioning cruise as any other sailing, only you may be able to take in a whole lot more than you normally might. Some cruise lines organize themed sailings or invite guest lecturers on board for extra sea-day activities.

You also might want to consider springing for a cruise line’s all-inclusive beverage package on a repositioning cruise. You’ll get better value than usual from the price because you’ll be ordering most of your drinks on board due to fewer port stops.

Another worthwhile splurge is a balcony cabin. You’ll get easy access to fresh air without the top deck crowds and can enjoy the romance of gazing out at the seemingly endless ocean. Just be sure to pack a sweater or sweatshirt, because shoulder seasons in these climates are not necessarily sunbathing weather.

How to score repositioning cruise deals

More often than not, a repositioning cruise is a good deal because it costs much less per night than a typical sailing. This is because the one-way, sea day-heavy itineraries are less desirable to the majority of cruisers and they take place during slower travel seasons.

Take, for example, Celebrity Beyond, one of Celebrity Cruises’ newest ships, launching in April 2022. Its 12-night sailing to Italy, Turkey and Greece during high season (May 15, 2023) starts at $2,999. Compare that to its 12-night Spain, France and Canary Islands transatlantic repositioning cruise (October 12, 2022), which starts at $1,299 – a whopping $1,700 less.

Related: 6 ways to get a deal on a cruise

Travelers who live near the embarkation or debarkation ports can save even more by only having to buy a one-way plane ticket rather than a full round trip.

Repositioning cruises can be tricky to find on booking sites. They may be referred to as repositioning cruises or transatlantic or transpacific cruises. When ships reposition between ports in the U.S. and Canada, the one-off, one-way itineraries might not be labeled anything special beyond Caribbean or Pacific Coast cruises.

Not all of the cruise line or online travel agency booking pages have an option to check a box and search for repositioning cruises. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, do an online search for the term and the cruise line you wish to sail. Even better, call a travel agent or the cruise line’s booking staff directly and they can help you find the repositioning cruise that's best for you.

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Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

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  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
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  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023