How to squeeze the most out of your purchases on a cruise ship

The temptation of merchants on cruise ships is difficult to resist. But you have to know how to buy to avoid ruining your personal economy.

The bigger a cruise ship is, the more it looks like a floating city. And as such, it has several shops such as jewelry stores, souvenir shops and duty-free shops that, if some precautions are not taken, can ruin the vacation budget.

Photo: Ben o Bro
Photo: Ben o Bro

Although it is obvious, it should be remembered that stores are the third source of income for cruise companies, after beverages and gambling.

The more they sell on board, the more profit for the company, so businesses will always be willing to seduce travelers with juicy offers, but they also play with the confusion of tax exemption, the temptation of shop windows and consumer desire.

What you can find on a cruise ship

This is well known to luxury brands, which opened exclusive stores on high-end cruise ships, such as the boutiques of Michael Kors, Hugo Boss, Bvlgari, Kate Spade and others.

Apple products can also be found in the computer rooms of Celebrity cruise ships, and even bars can sell glasses and cups themed with the ship’s coordinates.

The busiest stores are those that sell souvenirs, personal hygiene kits, sweets, electronic gadgets such as memory cards and clothing.

On the latter, they usually offer T-shirts, caps, jackets, sweaters and accessories with the shipping company logo. Is that why they are cheaper? Not at all, the company plays with the sense of belonging, and in the process, gets the consumer to advertise for free. But don’t expect too much variety of sizes.

There are boutiques that bail out at a gala dinner and even rent tuxedos for men.

Some stores have more sophisticated garments, which can get you out of trouble at a gala dinner. In fact, tuxedos are also rented in several shops.
Duty-free, tax free or what?

Just because a store is duty-free doesn’t mean they have discounts. These are found at airports or inside cruise ships, and since the product does not enter the territory, but leaves again along with the consumer’s luggage, it does not pay import taxes.

Near the port you can find shops that are promoted as ‘duty-free’, although in reality they are not.

So when the cruise enters territorial waters these types of shops have to close their doors.

But it is possible that near the port there are shops that are promoted as duty-free, although in reality they are not. If they are outside the boarding area, the products are taxed like any other neighborhood business.

Buy without VAT

When making purchases abroad you have to remember that in many countries you can claim a VAT refund. This is tax-free. For example, if a citizen of America or Asia buys in Spain, he can claim the percentage of VAT on the consumption he has made from 90.16 euros.

Each country has its own rules in this respect, and it is advisable to seek advice before making purchases.

Find out and compare

To know if it is good or bad business to take advantage of duty-free, you have to do your homework before leaving. Or during the cruise. If you saw an interesting article in the cruise store, a quick search on the Internet will let you know how much it costs in your country of origin and how much in the next stopover.

Hence the benefit of buying a watch at a jewelry store on land taking advantage of the VAT refund is greater than the price paid on the boat.

Attention to discounts

If stores can only open while in international waters, how do they make their profits? Appealing to temptation. In the hours when they are operating, they advertise products with discounts, which, if you know how much it costs on land, might be advantageous for your pocket.

It is possible that thanks to the VAT refund on the scale a greater profit will be obtained than buying in the duty-free cruise.

These discounts and promotions are also announced in the newsletters that each shipping company delivers or uploads to the Internet in the mornings. It’s a matter of being attentive.

Avoiding the temptation of the first day

Don’t rush to shop the first day. Nor the second. Even if you have a limited amount of products in stock, not all of them will sell out quickly. A cruise ship is not the best place to find bargains like the first day’s sale at a clothing store.

Therefore, the closer you get to the end of the cruise there may be more and better discounts on products.

Consulting with those who know

Many times the shipping company informs which are the trades and big surfaces of a port with the best opportunities of purchase. Let’s remember that these places pay to advertise among the passengers, like any other advertising.

Therefore, a tip is to consult discreetly with a member of the crew, who may know which shops have good prices or offer more exclusive products or have a differentiated value.

The Cons of Duty Free Shopping

It’s not always good business to buy at duty-free. If you want to drink that Scotch whisky or smoke those cigars you just bought from the boat shop that you know won’t be possible.

Shipping companies have very strict rules about the consumption of alcohol on board: you can only drink the alcohol you buy in their bars and restaurants. Drinks and tobacco will be stored and delivered when you disembark at your final destination.

Buying with caution

Alcoholic beverages may be cheaper at duty-free, but the difference is no longer as great as it was a decade ago. Passengers returning home by plane should remember to check in the bottles with their luggage.

Don’t expect to find big discounts on perfumes and fragrances, either.

Alcoholic beverages and perfumes don’t have the attractive discounts they had a decade ago.

Buying souvenirs for children is feasible, but in addition to having a T-shirt with the logo of the shipping company or a scale boat, perhaps a handcrafted toy purchased on some scale will be better.

Unless for some emergency one needs a new mobile phone, it is not recommended to buy electronic products on board. The savings are minimal, and in case of breakdowns is a complicated procedure to manage the return or repair.

Legal limits

In Spain you can import items purchased abroad, or inside the cruise for that matter, for up to 430 euros. The franchise allows to enter without declaring a liter of a drink with a graduation higher than 22%, and two units if it is lower than that percentage.

In tobacco, you can enter without declaring 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars.

It should be remembered that items such as watches or jewellery pay import duties. It is a question of taking numbers and knowing if it is worth buying them on the cruise, even if the duty-free advertising is very tempting.

Autor: Juan Pedro Chuet-Missé, Cerodosbe