Use your Avios to enjoy a cheap ‘repositioning cruise’

Cruising does not fall under the usual remit of Head for Points – there are specialist blogs and forums such as CruiseCritic or Duckling Cruises dedicated to the subject if you are interested.

However, Head for Points readers are obviously interested in travel and in getting a good deal, so I was interested when reader Tim contacted me to tell me about the ‘repositioning cruises’ he regularly enjoys.

For the cruise companies, time is money.  Any day when the ship is not full of passengers is a day when they are losing money.  However, it is occasionally the case that a cruise will finish in a particular port and the next cruise is to due to depart from somewhere else.  The ship needs to get back to Britain or wherever the new cruise starts, but the cruise line does not want it to travel empty.

MSC Cruises

The solution is the ‘repositioning cruise’ – a cruise which takes in a slightly odd routing, from an often odd starting point to an odd destination, but with all the usual on-board service and benefits.  And sold to you for a bargain price.

Repositioning cruises are especially interesting for solo travellers, or those travelling with friends who prefer separate cabins.  Cruise lines often reduce their sole occupancy supplements sharply for these cruises.  MSC Cruises, for example, will charge NO single occupancy supplement when a repositioning cruise first goes on sale, compared with their usual 100% premium.  If the cruise is 50% of the standard daily rate for that ship, a solo traveller is effectively getting their trip for just 25% of what they would otherwise pay.

However, for a lot of people, taking a repositioning cruise is difficult.  By default, you only need a one-way flight to wherever you will join the ship.  And most airlines still do not sell cheap one-way long-haul flights.

This is where Avios can come in very handy.  Most frequent flyer schemes, including Avios, allow one-way redemptions.  And even economy redemptions – usually a bad deal because of the taxes charged – look like a good deal when you compare them with the cost of a one-way cash ticket.  (Or indeed the cost of buying a return cash flight and throwing away the return half.)

Tim believes that such cruises offer real value:

The current bargains are all with MSC.  Their (UK-only) pricing on repositioning cruises is £25 / £35 / £45 per night for  inside / outside / balcony cabins with zero solo-occupancy supplements. Flights are never offered and these would otherwise work out pricey – a one-way to South America is often the same or more than a return.

The MSC loyalty scheme is called the MSC Club and after just two cruises, I now get 8% off their cruise fares so have paid just £230 for the 10-night repo from Sharm el Sheikh to Venice.

Travel agents are (illegally) not allowed to discount MSC cruise fares so the best place to find fares and book is probably with MSC’s own website. Here is the list of repo cruises in price order.  2014 availability is currently being loaded.

For other cruise lines U.S. fares are usually the lowest and so here is a list of repos of all lines in strict “cost-per-day” (actually cost per night) order.  You will see that, unlike MSC, the lowest fares are short-notice and the current lowest is under $22/night.

This post is obviously only a basic introduction to the subject.  However, if it whets your appetite for a few days at sea, there are plenty of other online resources out there.

(You can, by the way, also experience the Queen Mary II on short, cheap post-engineering cruises.  The Queen Mary II undergoes its routine maintenance work in Hamburg, after which it needs to sail back to Southampton to start its next cruise.  Cunard sells tickets for the 2 day cruise from Hamburg (which itself is easily reached with an Avios Reward Flight Saver ticket).  This one, for example, starts at £259 per person.)

(Want to earn more Avios? Click here to see our latest articles on earning and spending your points and click here to see our list of current Avios promotions.)

750 Clubcard points (1800 Avios points) with Tesco Wine
1,500 free Avios points for switching on auto-convert from Tesco Clubcard. Good deal or bad deal?
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  1. I took one of these MSC repositioning cruises last year from Italy to Brazil. I paid £25/night (plus 10% fees, plus any extras e.g. wifi internet) for an inside cabin on the cruise, which I thought was an absolute steal. This did not include flights, but as you say Avios comes into its own, especially from Brazil, where the only tax I paid on my one-way flight back to London was the departure tax of approx. £22.

    • Sadly now the exact opposite is true – Avios would be the least attractive FF scheme to use as BA are the only airline that charge fuel surcharge from Brazil.

      • Good point! Not the best example for me to pick …..

      • Thanks, I didn’t realise – sad to hear. Is that also the case with Iberia?

        • Iberia taxes are substantially lower than BA anyway, if you book via Iberia Plus.

          However, your Iberia account must be ‘active’ before you can transfer Avios across, which means you must earn an Avios in it. This means crediting a flight, hotel stay or car rental. Not sure if buying Avios via Iberia Plus counts.

  2. Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

    How does catering work on these trips? Included or extra? Sensible prices or captive market? £350ish to the Caribbean is tempting, but not if they make it back on the extras.

    • The £25/night I paid with MSC included food; choice of a breakfast, lunch and dinner either sit-down waiter service experiences or informal buffet affairs. The quality is not 5* but it was fine for me. You pay extra for drinks, which can be pricey, although you can get various drinks packages such as £20 extra per day for “all you can drink”, including soft drinks and alcoholic beverages. Internet, spa sessions, and trips/excursions are ways they make their money on their captive market, but these are all optional.

  3. Keith Jenner says:

    This is actually how I got involved with collecting Avios.

    In two weeks I’m going on a cruise from Southampton to New York (not particularly cheap as it’s a new ship on it’s first proper journey). When I started looking at return flights, I found that it was going to cost significantly more for the flight back than the cruise itself.

    I signed up for the BA Amex and used the signup bonus Avios to get the return flight for about £250 plus 20,000 Avios. Shortly afterwards I cancelled that and have upgraded to CW (£290 plus 40,000). Most of the other people on the same cruise, who I am in contact with via cruise critic have either paid over £1,000 or are on routes via Iceland etc to keep the prices down, and they’re all in economy.

    Answering Andrew’s question, I can only answer relating to the cruise line I use (NCL), but they are all relatively similar.

    Meals are included in the price, although many lines offer “speciality restaurants” which will cost extra (maybe $20-30).

    The main extra costs would be: Drinks (packages are often available), tips (many lines charge a daily “service charge”), excursions (unlikely on a transatlantic), casinos and other things like spa services. We usually budget for around $1,000 a week for 2 adults and one child, but other spend considerably more and many spend hardly anything.

    • Eileen says:

      Keith are you on the Breakaway? A few of my cruise critic friends are on that cruise as well, one of them has set up a facebook page for the cruise

      • Keith Jenner says:

        Yes Eileen, the Breakaway.

        My first Transatlantic, and it’s just me, so a week to just relax with a few drinks, some good books and hopefully make some new friends.

  4. Daniel says:

    Excuse my ignorance, but is it a given with most cruise lines that ‘buffet’ style food is included in the price of the room?

    There seems to be absolutely no mention of food on the MSC website and when you look at the link above that Raffles has posted to the available cruises it just says ‘Include: Cruise’. Using Google to search ‘Price of food on MSC cruises’ brings up no useful results, so I’m starting to think that it must be included as standard??

    Also, has anyone done one of the super short cruises such as UK to Hamburg, or UK to Lisbon? I’m a bit wary about going on a ‘proper’ cruise for the first time, particularly investing a fair amount of money and a big chunk of annual leave at work not knowing whether it’s the kind of thing I would enjoy or not. So one of these 2 night re-positioning cruises could be perfect just to get a feel for it. However, I can’t imagine they fill these short ones up and so would everything be open and available to use on-board, or would there be a reduced service compared to what you’d have available on a full cruise?

    • Keith Jenner says:

      I know nothing about MSC, but it is a given that with most cruise lines not just “buffet” style food but also the food offered in the main dining rooms is included in the price of the room.

      • Quick note – Tim, who knows all these answers, is travelling at the moment. I am sure he will pick up these points, but it may be later today or even in a day or so.

    • Having been on an MSC repositioning cruise last November I can absolutely state that food is certainly included in the cost, although drinks (including water) are extra. You have the choice of a sit-down multiple-course meal or a buffet.

      The MSC website is frustrating in that although cruises show, there may not be the availability you desire, partcularly for solos. It’s a bit like BA redemption availability in that nothing is there one day, and then next they will shove a load on the site. I tried to book the Dover-Hamburg and Dover-Kiel cruises earlier in the year and there was no availability for a solo traveller, only for two sharing a cabin, but that might have changed. There is no reason to believe a “short” cruise would be a reduced service; in fact the Dover-Hamburg hop might be a part of a longer repositioning journey (from e.g. South America) but just advertised individually.

  5. Eileen says:

    Transatlantic cruising is our holiday of choice, we collect avios solely for our one way flights. Something worth noting is if you book your cruise through avios you collect 10 avios for every £1 spent. We did this for our last cruise and paid no more doing it this way.

  6. I did a MSC report from Dover to Hamburg, via Amsterdam, last weekend for £89 per person.

    The one way from Hamburg to Heathrow was £47 with BA.

    All food is included, buffet and main dining room.

    We bought an additional beer package which was £40 for 21 beers.

    They have 2014 Transatlantics on sale from about £300 for a couple of weeks.

    • In addition to above, what we’ve done in the past is use a return award to cover 2 repos from the same point.

      e.g. Royal Caribbean, San Juan to Barcelona in May, and the return in October. One return flight LGW-SJU.

      It makes for a bargain couple of fortnight holidays.

  7. Yes Raffles, here I am (currently in Turkey). MSC in common with all mainstream cruise lines include all food. This is not just buffet and you can have breakfast, lunch and dinner in one of the main dining rooms with waiter service. Dinner on MSC is seven courses! Then you can go to the buffet which is open 20 hours per day. Drinks are extra, though most MSC itineraries offer an all-inclusive package to include unlimited wine, beer, spirits, cocktails, coffes, ice creams, smoothies etc. everywhere on the ship except the extra-charge speciality restaurant(s) for £20 per day.

    I transferred my Avios to Iberia Plus for a business class flight to Brazil which was 50,000 Avios plus around €55 in taxes. Ryanair connected me from Manchester to Madrid for £30 which was as convenient as connecting in Heathrow when I had the Iberia lounge waiting.