Booking a cruise is not an easy activity. You might start searching around the web, and before you know it, you’ve looked at a dozen different websites without finding a great deal. Knowing where and when to search for the best cruise deals could mean lots of savings. Are you an early bird, and like to book your cruise right when the brochure is published, or do you bide your time until two weeks before sailing?
Find here some of our favorite tips for finding cheap cruise deals, and making the best choices for your next sailing trip.
Reservations for cruises open mostly around 18 months before the departure date. So, if you know exactly where and when you like to go, booking well in advance can be the best choice, because it gives you the largest options on choosing your preferred itineraries, cruise dates, and cabin categories. As well, you’ll get early booking discounts, which sometimes is even 50% off the listed price. You also avoid restrictions that cruise lines apply closer to the departure date, such as limiting cabins to just two passengers. So, if you travel in high season, need a family stateroom where you and your kids can sleep together, or have a strong preference for an itinerary, it is best to book your cruise around 12 months out.
When cold and snowy weather hits most parts of the world, you might want to consider a vacation in a warm and sunny destination. Also for cruises – especially for Caribbean sailings – the period between January and March (also called the ‘wave season’) is the most popular booking period where you may find good offers. So, if you plan a winter break, be sure to be online in wave season!
A different region, a different preparation time
Destinations with a limited cruise season and remote locations tend to fill up fast. The farther the place you want to go is located, the further out you should book your cruise trip. So, if you are fascinated by an icebreaker cruise in Alaska, dream about traveling to an exotic destination like the Galapagos Islands, or plan to visit popular European destinations like the Mediterranean book on time to be sure to find your favorite cabin (with a view) and get a good deal on the airfare. Other cruises that tend to fill up quickly and therefore require booking at least six months ahead are European River Cruises, Baltic Cruises (especially the ones that include St. Petersburg) and launch trips of new ships, which offer the latest features that cruise gurus are eager to try out.
If you are not restricted to a specific travel date and can be flexible, you could get significant savings. At times, booking a cruise one week earlier or one week later can get you a promotional tariff or substantial discount. So, check a couple of dates before and after your planned travel date to be sure not to miss a great deal.
If the price of your cruise is the most important aspect for you, or if you are a real price hunter, you might go for a last-minute. About two months before a sailing, when cruise lines are looking to fill empty cabins, you can find deeply discounted fares. The downside, however, is that you might not be able to choose a cabin type or location. This because many all-time low fares are connected to so-called “guaranteed” cabins, which are not specified when you book. Be aware that the money you save on a last-minute sailing might be absorbed by an increased airfare of your last-minute flight.
Book when you find a rate that makes you feel happy
Trying to find the best deal can be stressful, but don’t let it get you. The first thing to do is some research to know which cruise itineraries are offered and for which price. Once you get a better picture of the cost, you can have a good idea if you are getting a good deal. As soon as you find a (promotional) rate that you think is fair go ahead and just book it. There is no sense in waiting and watching to see if the price will fall more, particularly as it could also rise. You may consider, however, not to pay in full, but to put down the lowest deposit allowed (see more in tip #7). Keep in mind that in case of a last-minute booking, you often must pay the full price of your cruise trip at the time of booking.
Monitor price drops
If you are tracking the price of your cruise after your booking, you may run across a price drop. Contact than the cruise line company and ask to get compensated for the lower fare. This is where having put down only a deposit — and not paying in full — buys you some leverage. You’ll have a good chance that the cruise line is willing to work with you even though they sometimes are not obligated to do so. They can refund the difference or offer onboard credit to make you pleased.