How to find the best value cruises

Are you dreaming of embarking on a remarkable cruise vacation without breaking the bank? The best cruise deals can be hard to find, but they’re out there if you know where and when to look. 

Book early for a balcony

Securing the ideal cabin for your cruise can require careful planning, particularly if you have specific preferences such as a balcony, aft cabin or suite. Booking early, ideally six to 18 months prior to departure, is almost crucial, especially during peak periods such as school holidays. 

But don’t fret, booking early doesn’t have to mean exorbitant prices. Numerous value-added deals exist, enticing you to secure your spot ahead of time without breaking the bank. According to Brett Dudley, founder of online travel agency, this is particularly crucial on P&O ships, where balcony cabins are limited. The earlier you book, the greater your chances of securing your preferred cabin.

Last-minute balcony deals may increase with more cruise lines introducing new ships, but at the moment, waiting is considered a gamble.

According to Royal Caribbean, securing deals on balcony cabins, which are highly sought after by repeat cruisers, is a rarity even three months prior to departure. If you have a specific stateroom in mind, it’s crucial to get ahead of the competition by booking as early as 12 months in advance. This is especially true if you’re looking for interconnecting family rooms, which are highly desirable.

Take your time for an inside cabin

Booking early may not be as essential if you are satisfied with an inside cabin and have flexibility with your cruise dates.

To stay informed about market deals, a great strategy is to check the travel sections of Australia’s weekend newspapers, particularly on Sundays. These sections often feature special offers from cruise lines aiming to fill additional cabins. These offers can range from straightforward discounts to extras such as drink packages and spa treatments.

Additionally, many online travel agents specialising in cruises offer alert services that notify you when prices drop, or send newsletters that showcase the best deals. Websites such as Cruiseabout, Cruise Guru, Expedia, Clean Cruising and Ozcruising are worth exploring for these up-to-the-minute sales and deals.

Cruise Critic also provide a ‘Deals of the Week’ section that can keep you up to date on the latest deals and promotions.

If you’re pressed for time, a travel agent can take on the responsibility of monitoring prices on your behalf. Technologically advanced agents often provide email lists featuring the latest deals, ensuring you stay informed.

Book last minute if you’re super flexible

Cruise lines often emphasise the risks of waiting until the last minute, especially if you have limited flexibility or specific cabin preferences during peak periods. In such cases, their concerns are valid.

However, if your main goal is to experience the excitement of a cruise – any cruise – without time constraints or concerns about specific ships or itineraries, there are indeed bargains to be found last minute. It is not uncommon to come across discounts of up to 50 per cent or more. By being open to various options, you can take advantage of these attractive deals.

According to Ryan Tailbel, P&O’s director of sales, the cruise market has tens of thousands of available beds, with more being added each year as cruising gains popularity in Australia. As a result, there will always be late deals available.

P&O Australia and Carnival Cruise Line cater to those who like to book last minute with their Pack ‘n’ Go packages. These packages are specifically designed for those who are comfortable booking with short notice, sometimes just a few days prior to departure. While these deals guarantee a specific cabin type, the final cabin allocation occurs 30 days before the cruise. However, it’s important to note that Pack ‘n’ Go packages have limited availability and are only offered on select cruises close to the departure date. Therefore, the choice of itineraries and cabins may be somewhat limited.

“If you’re not concerned about the cabin or the cruise or the destination, it’s worth keeping an eye out for the last minute deals that can pop up with travel agents and on cruise line websites,” Mr Tailbel says.

Best months to book

The prime period for selling cruises departing from Australian ports between October and April is during the previous January and February. These two months are commonly referred to as ‘wave season.’ This is often when cruise lines intensify sales efforts and offer some of the most enticing deals.

Similarly, in June, July, and August, companies unveil their programs for the following year and present a wide range of early booking deals.

However, these deals don’t necessarily translate to significant price reductions. Cruise lines are increasingly focused on adding value to their offerings. This includes benefits such as onboard credit, cabin upgrades and free drinks packages.

Remember to compare cruise packages 

If you want to save money on a cruise, one of the most important decisions you can make is choosing a cruise that leaves and returns to Australia, as this will automatically knock out the price of airfares required to start your journey. If you live in a major capital city, you can look for a cruise that departs and returns to your home port to save money on domestic airfares as well.

Visit the websites of different cruise lines and compare their cruise packages. Pay attention to the duration of the cruise, ports of call, onboard amenities and included services. Look for packages that offer a good balance of value and experiences that interest you.

On some liners, gratuities, special restaurants, activities and onshore excursions cost extra, while on others they’re included in your base fare. So it is important to make sure that you are comparing like with like.

Do you have any tips for finding the best cruise deals? Why not share them in the comments section below?

Also read: First-time cruiser mistakes to avoid

Ellie Baxter
Ellie Baxter
Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.
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