The cheapest time to book a cruise

Q. I see all these cruise deals and I was going to book one for mid 2024. But a friend told me I should wait until closer to the date, because it will be cheaper. Is this true?


A. Okay, your friend may have a point but there are some solid arguments for and against that theory.

Cruisewatch research revealed that, for average savings of up to 59 per cent, when travelling with a major cruise line, you should book within 70 days of departure.

The same research showed that, when booking within a week of departure, it was possible to save more than half the cost on major lines such as Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Holland America Line. The best savings on lines including Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean and Azamara Club Cruises were found when booking eight to 10 weeks ahead.

So, if you’re travelling on a budget but want to experience high-end cruising, it may be worth holding out to book with operators such as Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Lines, that have higher launch fares but great time-sensitive discounts.

Gareth Evison from Cruise1st, told Cruise Passenger back in 2019:  “If you don’t care when you travel, where you travel to, and there are no flights involved, you can often get a better deal closer to departure.”

How that advice has aged post-COVID, well, that’s your call. It may ring truer for those who have a local port, but if you need to fly to the cruise departure location, things may not be so straight forward.

As cruise prices drop the closer to any departure date, flight fares are most likely to increase.

“If you are looking for the best deals for international packages, my advice is to sign up to the cruise agencies newsletters as you never know when a cruise line and an airline release deals at the same time,” says Mr Evison.

“This could be 11 months out, nine months out or six months out, but when they do, and everything lines up, you can often get an incredible deal. This, to me, is the best time to book.”

If you have an adventurous spirit and a flexible calendar, it may be worth postponing booking. It may just land you the discount cruise of your dreams. But then cruise lines such as P&O and Carnival Cruises often have reasonable fares from the get-go with their ‘Pack’n’Go’ packages. These deals cater to spur-of-the-moment decision-makers, but you’ll likely have limited options concerning itinerary and cabin choice.

Traditionally, cruise lines do advocate for early bookings. They’ll say it’s the best chance of you getting a good cabin (and they’re right) and it’s also how they can avoid offering discounted fares later on.

Keep an eye out for “wave season” (January and February) and the winter months of June, July, and August. This is when you’ll find promotional sales for voyages slated between October and April of the following year, as well as enticing incentives such as onboard credits and cabin upgrades. Sometimes this is worth more than price reductions.

Repositioning cruise deals can also be a budget-friendly option. You can get low cost-per-night rates as ships transit between regions. Shoulder season deals also offer good value, avoiding peak tourist influxes but often during ‘less ideal’ weather conditions.

“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,” says Ryan Tailbel of P&O.

Waiting until the last-minute is a gamble, but if you’re prepared to roll the dice and choose the best cruise available at the cheapest price, you can win big. Just prepare to be flexible and adjust your expectations.

“There will always be cut-price availability on cruises a handful of weeks prior to departure, but that doesn’t mean it represents the best value option,” says Monique Van Gelder, national marketing manager for cruise specialist Cruiseabout.

“But choice will be relatively limited. Be smart, be alert, and watch out for those value-add deals.”

Also read: Travel SOS: What is a line cruise?

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