Best Time to Book a Cruise? (Late vs. Early Booking)



Victoria Ridley

I love to travel, see new places, and meet new people. I have been lucky enough to travel on multiple continents, as well as several cruise lines. I am passionate about sharing my experience with readers.
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The biggest question everyone asks is, “when is the best time to book a cruise for the best price.”

Passengers love to debate whether you can save money by booking early or booking late.

So when is the best time to book a cruise?

The best time to book a cruise is as early as possible. Prices are lowest when reservations first go on sale, typically 1-2 years before departure. You can also take advantage of price protection if prices drop by booking early.

Girl Beside a Pool best time to book a cruise

Unfortunately, we can never know precisely when cruise prices are their lowest.

But we can offer some advice to help you make the best decision based on your budget and flexibility to help you save more money when booking your cruise.

When is the Best Time to Book a Cruise?

While most people believe that last-minute cruise deals will get them to sail at the best rate, you’ll save more money by booking early.

Many cruise lines allow reservations for their sailings from up to 2 years before the sail date. If you don’t mind waiting, you’ll often get a better price when you book early.

Cruise lines usually have their best deals when sailings first go on sale.

They raise the prices as more passengers book and the ship sells out.

This price trend is especially true with luxury cruises and mainstream cruise lines. They have a huge demand for sailings and open initial bookings up to two years in advance of the sail date.

Three young friends toasting with cocktail drinks on a cruise ship

Additionally, cruise lines offer extra perks for early bookers, such as exclusive discounts, complimentary upgrades, drink packages, free airfare, or onboard credits.

Another benefit of booking early is that you get the first choice of cabin location and dining time.

If you are worried about the cost of booking so far in advance, most cruise lines only require a small deposit to hold your cabin. So if your plans change, you can cancel without a hassle.

The biggest risk with booking early is the possibility of itinerary changes. You might need to be flexible when booking early because cruise lines have the right to alter the itinerary at any time, even mid-sailing.

Another Reason to Book Early: Price Protection

There is another crucial reason to book your cruise early. When you book early, you can often get price protection if prices fall.

Although early prices are usually the best, cruise prices can move up and down over time. If you book a cruise and see the price drop later, you can call the cruise line and request a refund equal to the difference in price.

Taking advantage of price protection has saved us thousands of dollars on cruise vacations and is one of the primary reasons I prefer to book early.

Many last-minute cruise fares have their prices locked.

If you book within six months of sailing, you might not qualify for price protection on your cruise fare.

What you pay is what you get.

Each cruise line has rules to determine whether your fare is eligible for a partial refund if the price drops. It’s always a good idea to read the fine print before buying.

Booking early is a win-win because you’ll either purchase your cruise fare at the lowest price or receive the discount later.

The only downside is that you’ll have to watch the cruise prices to take advantage of any price changes.

Best Month to Book a Cruise? Black Friday? Wave Season?

(Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean International)

The best month to book a cruise is the month of November. In the weeks leading up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, cruise lines offer sales and bundles.

Are you guaranteed to find the best deal?

Unfortunately not!

Cruise lines are known to inflate prices before running a sale. So when you see offers of 30% or 50% off, it’s usually not as good a deal as you think.

Norwegian Prima sailing to Amsterdam for christening ceremony
(Photo Credit: Norwegian Cruise Line)

The biggest benefit of booking in November is cruise lines’ bundle packages.

The bundles and sales vary each year, but you might find reduced deposits, free wifi, drink package discounts, and onboard credit.

“Wave Season” is another time of year when cruise lines run sales.

Wave Season runs from January to March, when cruise lines offer some sort of spring sale.

In our experience, there’s no difference between booking during Wave Season or any other time of year.

And it makes sense why cruise lines wouldn’t want to participate in a wave season.

If customers know prices always drop during a particular month, people would wait until wave season to purchase their cruise – meaning less consistent revenue for cruise lines.

Instead, cruise lines run sales throughout the year to encourage year-round bookings.

Bottom Line: We recommend booking early for the lowest prices, the most available cabin choices, and price protection.

And if prices drop later, you can take advantage of price protection to get the same deal.

Best Time to Sail on a Cruise

Aerial View Of Spectrum of the Seas by Royal Caribbean in sunny day.

Now that you know when to purchase your cruise, it is essential to learn when to sail.

When saving money while cruising, the date you sail has a larger impact on your fare than the time you purchase.

As a rule of thumb, cruise prices are lowest when school is in session.

Families are the largest market for cruise lines. And when schools are in session, it’s difficult for families to take a vacation.

Family eating at American Diner on Norwegian Encore
(Photo Courtesy: Norwegian Cruise Line)

With less demand for cruise vacations, cruise lines offer lower prices on off-season sailings.

The cheapest time to book a cruise is in the fall and winter.

The cruise fare for identical itineraries can be as much as 50% lower during the off-season.

If you are flexible with your time, you will save the most amount of money sailing between:

  • January and February
  • September to Thanksgiving
  • Between Thanksgiving and Christmas

As a bonus, if you sail during the off-season, you will find that the ships are less busy and all-around quieter than sailing during peak season.

Cruise fares are highest when school is out and families are able to vacation:

  • Spring break
  • Summer
  • Thanksgiving
  • Christmas holidays

How much more can you expect to spend sailing during peak season? The same ship with an identical itinerary will typically be double the price to sail during peak season.

What About Waiting for a Sale to Book?

If you’ve begun researching for your next cruise vacation, you may have noticed that every cruise line seems to be running one deal or another. 

Whether offering a price drop or an incentive to book and receive onboard credit, it seems cruise lines are always running a sale.

The truth is that cruise deals run so often that cruises seem to be on sale 365 days of the year. That means it won’t matter whether you purchase this sale or wait for the next one.

Overall, the price you pay tends to be the same, regardless of the current sale.

Bottom line – if you want to save money on your vacation, book early and sail when school is in session. These two factors have a more significant impact on the cruise line’s sales of the week.

Book Last Minute to Get a Deal

Last minute cruise booking sign

You can sometimes find deeply discounted last-minute cruise fares by booking your trip 45 to 90 days before sailing. When ships don’t fill up or face unexpected cancellations, cruise lines will drop the price to fill the empty cabins.

However, even the last-minute deals might not be as low as the early-booking price.

But, on rare occasions, you might mind last-minute cruise fares as low as $40 per night.

The downside of last-minute booking is that you may not have much choice regarding your cabin location or class .

Additionally, you’ll have to be flexible with ship selection and cruise itinerary. Ships often sell out months before the sailing date. If you have your heart set on a specific itinerary, it could sell out if you wait for a last-minute deal.

Virgin Voyages Opens Its New Cruise Terminal V in Miami

To find rates that low, look for deals on sailings less than 90 days before departing.

Though rare, it is possible to find incredible discounts this way.

But be warned.

The money you save on the fare may be lost when you book a last-minute flight.

Quite a few last-minute cruisers make the mistake of booking their trip at a rock-bottom price, only to find out later that the money they saved will be put towards the last-minute airfare.

We recommend booking a last-minute cruise only if you live in a port city. This way, you can safely book your last-minute cruise without worrying about the cost of airfare or hotel stay.

When to Book Shore Excursions

white pass and yukon route railroad passing through a forest with a snow capped mountian in the background

Like buying your cruise ticket, we recommend purchasing your shore excursions well before your cruise departs.

Shore excursions can fill up before you even step foot on the ship. It’s always best to research your ports of call in advance. Book it as early as you can if you have your heart set on a particular shore excursion.

Many cruise lines will even provide price protection when you book early. So if the price drops after you purchase your tour or excursion, you might be able to get the difference refunded.

In our experience, the price of shore excursions is highest once you are on the ship. So if you want the best deals, do yourself a favor and book early.

Get a Deal on Your Next Cruise

the Silversea cruise ship Silver Shadow arrives on the Greek island of Corfu

One of the lesser-known options is to book your next cruise while on your current cruise. Almost every cruise ship has a “Future Cruise Desk” to allow passengers to book their next cruise before they step off the boat.

The Future Cruise Desk typically offers valuable incentives when you book through them, including special discounts, onboard credit, and low deposits.

Many people dislike being pressured to purchase another cruise vacation while onboard, but in my experience, I’ve never felt pressured when speaking to the Future Cruise Consultants.

And the best part, even though you are booking directly through the cruise line, many will allow the booking to be made under the same profile of your current cruise. That means the travel agent or booking provider will remain the same.

Do You Save Money Booking Through a Travel Agent?

Norwegian Jewel Cruise Ship from Norwegian Cruise Line leaving the Canada Place cruise terminal in downtown Vancouver for a seven-day Alaska cruise vacation

Booking your cruise vacation through a travel agent might help you save money. Of course, you can book a cruise on your own, but a good travel agent can provide more than just a booking service.

A good travel agent can help you save money through deals and discounts that may not be apparent. Moreover, travel agents can access group pricing and special promotions that aren’t available to regular travelers.

Beyond saving money, a good travel agent can provide you with knowledge and experience to help make the most of your vacation.

And, if an issue arises or a billing discrepancy occurs, having a travel agent is worth it every time. When there is an issue, travel agents have your back and are the ones that deal with the cruise line instead of you.

Most importantly, it shouldn’t cost you anything to use the services of a travel agent. Cruise lines pay travel agents a commission for booking guests on one of their cruises, so you have nothing to lose!

Bottom Line

Book early if you want to lock in a great rate, secure price protection, or have your choice of ship or itinerary. Especially when booking a popular cruise line that sells quickly.

Book a cruise late if you want the lowest possible price and don’t mind being flexible about your cruise ship and itinerary. This strategy is best for cruisers living close to a homeport who don’t have to rely on last-minute airfare or hotel stays.

Finally, if you miss out on booking early and can’t risk a last-minute cruise, you can usually find low prices in between.

Keep an eye out for cruise line promotions, and book when you see an offer that satisfies your budget. It might not be the absolute best price, but a good deal for a great time is well worth the money!

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About the author

Victoria Ridley

I love to travel, see new places, and meet new people. I have been lucky enough to travel on multiple continents, as well as several cruise lines. I am passionate about sharing my experience with readers.

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