The biggest question everyone asks is, “when is the best time to book a cruise to get the best price.” The truth is, the time you book a cruise and the cruise’s departure date can be the difference of hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
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 in advance of the departure date. By booking early you can also take advantage of price protection in case you find a better deal later on.
Unfortunately, we can never know the precise best time to book a cruise. 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.
The Best Time to Book a Cruise: As Far in Advance as Possible
When is the best time to book a cruise? While most people believe that last-minute cruise deals will get them sailing at the best rate, the data suggests that it’s a much better idea to book as far in advance as possible.
Many cruise lines allow reservations for their sailings from up to 2 years prior to the sail date. If you have decided precisely when and where you want to sail, it is best to book as far in advance as possible. Cruise lines usually have their best deals, up to half off, when sailings first go on sale and ship reservations are empty. As more people book and the ship sells out, prices tend to rise. This price trend is especially true with luxury cruises and mainstream cruise lines with huge demand and initial bookings up to 2 years in advance.
In addition to low fares, cruise lines offer extra perks for early bookers, such as exclusive discounts, complimentary upgrades, drink packages, free airfare, or onboard credits.
By booking early, you also get the first choice of cabin location. By booking as soon as possible, you avoid restrictions that cruise lines enforce closer to sailings. Sooner to the sail date, cruise lines may begin limiting cabins to just two passengers when the ship is at its capacity.
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.
One risk with booking far in advance 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 If Prices Fall
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 should call the cruise line and request a refund equal to the difference in price. Taking advantage of price protection has personally saved me thousands of dollars on my cruise vacations and is one of the primary reasons I try to book as far in advance as possible.
Many last-minute cruise fares have their prices locked. What you pay is what you get. And if the price drops, you are out of luck.
If you book in advance, usually 90 days or more, you can get a price fare guarantee included with your cruise fare. Each cruise line has its own rules to determine whether your fare is eligible to get a partial refund if the price drops, which is why it is always a good idea to read the fine print before you buy.
Is There a Best Month/Season to Book a Cruise (Such as Wave Season)?
As we have mentioned before, if you want the lowest prices, most available cabin choices, and price protection, you should always book as early as possible.
What about the actual date you book your cruise? Is there a best time of year to book for the lowest rates (known as the “Wave Seas”)?
The wave season generally ran between January and March, where cruise lines would have the lowest rates for their cruises, especially for a Caribbean cruise. The expansion of Europe and Alaska as cruise destinations has broadened the booking period. And as a result, there isn’t much price difference in the month you book, and the “Wave Seas” n” has largely vanished.
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, fewer people will purchase cruises throughout the year. It is for this reason that cruise lines run great deals throughout the year.
If you want the best savings on your cruise, it is always best to book as early as possible. And the number one factor impacting cruise price isn’t when you book; it is when you sail.
Best Time to Sail for Cheap: Use flexibility to your advantage
Now that you know when to purchase your cruise, it is essential to learn when to sail. When it comes to saving money while cruising, the date you sail has a more significant impact on the cruise fare than when you purchase your cruise.
As a rule of thumb, cruise prices are lowest when school is in session.
When school is in session, it is difficult for families to take vacations which means cruise lines will offer cheaper cruises to attract more people. You will find that the least expensive time to sail on a cruise is in the fall and winter when school is in session.
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.
You will find the highest fares during the summer, spring break, and the Thanksgiving and 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.
If you are not confined to a date and can be flexible, the best time to take a cruise if you want the lowest price is when school is in session. If you have to sail during the summer or around holidays, expect to pay a premium.
What About Waiting for a Sale to Book?
There is one final thing to mention – cruise line sales. 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 it is a price drop or incentive to book and receive onboard credit, it seems cruise lines are always running a sale. The truth is, 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 that 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 as possible, try to sail when school is in session. These two factors have a more significant impact than the cruise line’s sale of the week.
Book Last Minute to Get a Deal
If price is a crucial factor, you can sometimes find deeply discounted last-minute cruise fares by booking your trip 45 to 90 days before sailing. Cruise lines will sometimes offer a lower price to fill empty cabins before the ship departs. However, even the last-minute deals might not be as low as the early-booking price, which is why we always recommend booking as early as possible.
The downside of last-minute booking is that you may not have much choice when it comes to choosing your cabin location or class . In addition, you will have to be flexible with ship selection and cruise itinerary, as last-minute bookings tend to be less frequent, and ships often sell out months in advance of the sailing date.
If you decide to book a last-minute cruise, check for recent cancellations. It is possible to find incredible discounts this way, but be warned, the money that is saved on the fare may be lost booking 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.
The only time we recommend booking a last-minute cruise is if you live in a port city. If you live in or near a cruise port, you can safely book your last-minute cruise without worrying about the cost of airfare or hotel stay.
When to Book Shore Excursions
Just 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. If you have your heart set on a particular shore excursion, book it as early as you can.
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 most expensive 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
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 give passengers the opportunity 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 the idea of 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?
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 have access to 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!
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 who live close to a homeport and 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!