Find your best Antarctic deal

A trip to Antarctica is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so you really want to know you have made the right choice.

Simon Mustoe

Simon Mustoe

Writer, photographer and founder of Wildiaries

For most people, a trip to Antarctica is absolutely a once in a lifetime thing. So it’s a decision you want to get right as there is no turning back once you’ve committed.

When you leave, you're always wondering if this is the last time you'll see Antarctica. Anyone who visits will feel it ... a sort of emptiness. You get very emotional when you leave ... to think you may never return, is a strange thing. There's something missing when you remember the days and the light, the late evening when the ice glows pink and blue - boy, you'll never experience this again unless you make the effort. 

– Brett Jarrett, author, The Complete Guide to Antarctic Wildlife

Why take a small ship cruise in the first place? 

This is the most important question of all. 

Ships can’t land more than 100 people at a time on the continent. So if you want to step onto Antarctica, you presumably also want to maximise the time you spend there.  Many ships have a capacity over 200 passengers.  This means you share 50% of shore time with the other half of the guests.  Smaller ships with 100 capacity or fewer mean you get 100% of the time on shore. 

If you’re considering larger ships, you need to consider whether they would land at all.

Obviously taking a small ship costs a bit more ... but for the vast majority of once-in-a-lifetime visitors, it’s worth the extra expense. It’s the same concept for all other variables. When you’re looking at prices you need to compare ‘apples with apples’. 

What does it cost to go to Antarctica?

Your idea of the perfect trip is different to someone else but you’re also looking for the best value for money.  So there is no easy answer. The first thing to ask is, what do you want to get from your trip? Then you can start searching for the best price. Cost depends on things like:

  • what tier cabin you book;
  • the time of year you go;
  • the type of vessel you choose;
  • The length of trip you do; and
  • How early you pay a deposit.

What about last minute deals?

If you’re thinking it’s a good idea to wait for a last-minute deal then READ ON! 

You might get lucky. There are a few. However, last minute deals are mostly the cabins other people didn’t want and by then, your flights will have shot up in price too. 

If you book early, you can get deals as good and often better but in the style of your choice. Also, extension tours like Patagonia won’t be fully booked.  

Cabin Tier

The ‘from price’ on most websites (Tier 1 cabins) are often quad or triple share. This is fine for families or groups of friends. 

Some of the luxury vessels don’t have quad or triple share. The difference in cabin price from Tier 1 to 3 is about 23% and from Tier 1 to Tier 6 is 52%.

Time of year 

This is another key variable that impacts on price and what you want to see and do. On average, trips are priced highest in January and December. 

By February and March average prices have dropped by 13% and 33% respectively. These tend to be the more specialist or extended trips. 

November is a great month for wildlife, especially for breeding Elephant Seals in rookeries on South Georgia and Falkland Islands. 

In November, trips also cost, on average, about 20% less. 

Type of vessel

The next variable is the type of vessel you choose. There are primarily two levels: luxury and expedition (broken up further into ice-breakers, research, luxury-expedition etc). 

The average price for a luxury vessel is about 35% more than an expedition vessel. 

Expedition ships are just as seaworthy and comfortable but some are more advanced than others. Luxury vessels tend to be more like floating hotels. However, at the luxury end, some ships are more about the ship and less about the outdoors, others are a balance of both. 

You can’t really be expected to know the difference by reading about this online. 

The best way to tell, is to talk to one of our cruise specialists - staff who have experience to match your needs and expectations to a vessel. 

Trip duration

Price does vary with trip duration but only up to a point. 

The shortest trips are six days. These include some of the fly-cruise options. It’s worth noting that it takes a couple of days to cross the Drake Passage, so if you’re even doing a 10-day trip, you can spend almost half of this in open ocean. 

The price then increases quite rapidly up to about 16 days duration but then begins to plateau. This is partly due to some of the longer, more specialist trips, being later in the year.  

If you’re thinking of doing South Georgia and Falklands, then your trip is generally going to be about 20 days. In terms of price per day, it’s better value for money than the shorter trips (which also tend to be more popular). 

South Georgia and Falklands is in most people’s minds eye when thinking about Antarctica and not visiting, is among the number one regrets that people have, that can force them to return a second time. 

Ship size

You would think price would increase with smaller size ships but that’s not the case. It’s quite variable. It does tend to be harder to get early bird specials though, as smaller ships fill up much faster with less need to market their spots than other ships.

Travelling alone

As a side note, only some ships operate single supplement policies. Some, especially the expedition ships, are normally happy to allocate you a cabin to share with someone else. It’s a little bit harder with the luxury ships but there are sometimes special offers. 

Again, it’s best to ask your small ship consultant. They will know about these offers often a long time before you do.

Know your special offers!

If you’re prepared to book early and know what you want, there are some remarkable deals to be had.

There are two components to savings, earlybird discounts and flights. Book early enough and you might get a 20% price reduction on an average-cost twin share cabin. If you book early, the savings are enough to pay for another holiday, or an extension e.g. a Patagonia tour.

You'll need to buy 18 months in advance.

If you're serious, don't even consider buying until next season's departures are released. This is usually around the middle of the year for the end of the following year. Any other approach will see you paying more for less.

A very limited market

There are very few ships working in Antarctica.

Consider this. 

They have a total passenger capacity of about 2,000 people and an average 14 day trip duration which means 20,000 people world-wide get the luxury of traveling to Antartica every year. Roughly 25% of the annual market are Australians.

So it’s very competitive from a customer perspective. This is a sellers market ... and the deals and offers disappear fast.  

There are roughly three types of special:

  • Early bird (fixed price or date)
  • Dynamic pricing
  • Last minute 

Dynamic pricing is used by companies like Ponant ... rather like airlines do, they release early offers, sometimes up to 35% off and as these are used up, the next tier of reductions comes in, until the last cabins are all full price - no exceptions.

Most operators issue either a fixed number of discounts or a strict expiry date. The amount can be a percentage, added value (e.g. flight) or some other concession.   

Small ship cruise regulars know how this works and get exceptional deals. 

Few companies offer last minute offers. These are rarely much of a substitute in terms of price and are often confined to certain cabin types that are still available. By then, airline prices will also have increased.    

About the Author
Simon Mustoe

Simon Mustoe

Writer, photographer and founder of Wildiaries

Simon is CEO of DeluxeLife. He is also an ardent conservationist and has been studying and observing wildlife for over 40 years. He's written a book called Wildlife in the Balance. He loves taking his worldwide travel experience to help people discover new and exciting places to visit,as well as contributing to science and conservation.

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