The best time to book a cruise

Gemma has been saving for a South Pacific cruise and she wants to know when is the best time to book. Today, in Travel SOS, Leon shares his tips.

Q: Gemma
I’ve been saving my money for a cruise and, as I’ve never been on one before, I have no idea when is the best time of year to travel and when I should book to get the best deal. I’m thinking about doing a South Pacific trip, maybe to Vanuatu, Fiji or Hawaii. Can you help me?

A: Well Gemma, there are a few theories on this one, so let’s get the time of the year out of the way first. Most travel agents say that it’s best to steer clear of school holidays. So, February and November would be the best months weather-wise. If you’re not too fussed about a slightly cooler cruise, then March is also a good time to go.

October may be the best time for you to cruise, because the dry season in the South Pacific runs from May to October. You may also get a killer cruise deal in October, because it’s Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Cruise Month. CLIA’s annual Plan a Cruise Month is a global initiative and. throughout October, travel agents and cruise lines showcase cruise holidays to suit every style and budget.

Now, as far as saving you money: most agents say that you’ll get the best deal as soon as a cruise is announced. And before you start to thinking “sure, that’s what they would say”, here’s the rationale: the sooner you book the more likely you are to get exactly what you want. You’ll be able to book the early dining times, the best staterooms and the best location on the ship. So, if getting what you want is a priority, then 12 to 18 months out is the sweet spot.

There are still some advantages to booking closer to a departure date, and if you don’t mind risking a room under the nightclub, you can save a bit by doing so.

When a cruise is announced, some agents will bulk buy several staterooms and offer them at a competitive price, maybe bundling them with upgrades, onboard credit, spa treatment vouchers or beverage packages. But if these agents don’t sell their allotment, some will have an arrangement with the cruise line that they can give the rooms back. This usually occurs 90, 60 and 30 days out from the departure date. So, these are good dates to watch.

And even if you’ve already booked and put a deposit on your cruise, keep an eye on these dates and the resulting deals. Sometimes it can be cheaper for you to forego your deposit and rebook a cruise at a lower rate. And, if you see a better deal and you still haven’t paid your deposit, some cruise lines will reduce your fare to the new low rate. Also, last-minute bookings usually come with some pretty nifty upgrades, because a loaded boat is better than a half-empty vessel.

Another date to watch is around six to seven weeks before the departure date, as this is when final payments are due.

And if you’ve had fun on your cruise, watch out for booking agents onboard the boat. Sometimes the best deals are made directly from the cruise lines, who want your repeat business and will offer you incredibly low cruise fares, room upgrades, reduced deposits, significant onboard credits, cut-priced excursions and gratuities. 

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