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

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Girl Beside a Pool best time to book a cruise

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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.

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?

The Cozumel sign with enchantment of the seas and rhapsody of the seas in the background

The best time to book a cruise is as early as possible to get the lowest price on your cruise vacation.

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

Cruise lines offer the lowest rates when tickets first go on sale. As more people book, cruise lines raise prices.

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 before the sail date.

You’ll also find extra perks like exclusive discounts, complimentary upgrades, free WiFi, drink packages, or onboard credits when you book early.

Another benefit of booking early is getting the first choice of cabin location and dining time. You get the first choice of cabin selection to avoid the worst cabins on a cruise ship.

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. Cruise lines can alter the itinerary at any time. If your heart is set on a specific port of call, the cruise line may remove it from your itinerary.

Another Reason to Book Early: Price Protection

A first time cruiser planning a cruise ship vacation

Price protection is another crucial reason to book your cruise early. When you book early, you get a lower price if your cruise fare drops.

Although early prices are almost always the lowest, 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 price difference.

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.

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.

Why You Shouldn’t Wait for a Sale to Book a Cruise

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.

Your price tends to be the same regardless of the current sale.

The only exception is Black Friday cruise deals, which often bundle several perks with your cruise fare.

What About Wave Season?

holland america line koningsdam docked in Vancouver, Canada

In our experience, prices during wave season aren’t any better than the rest of the year.

Wave season in the cruise industry refers to a period typically spanning from January to March each year. This season is considered the busiest time for booking cruises, with a surge in consumer interest and booking activity.

The term “wave season” originates from the observation that after the holiday season, many people begin thinking about and planning their vacations for the year, leading to a “wave” of bookings. This period is particularly crucial for the cruise industry, as a significant portion of their annual sales can be generated during these months.

According to popular belive, travel agents and cruise lines offer deals to take advantage of the wave of bookings. But we’ve never seen this come true. Prices are the same during wave season as the rest of the year.

Last Minute Discounts on Cruises?

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. Cruise lines will drop the price to fill the empty cabins when ships don’t fill up or face unexpected cancellations.

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 your heart is set on a specific itinerary, it could sell out while you wait for a last-minute deal.

You can find out if a cruise ship is full with a couple of clever tricks. If there’s a lot of availability, you might get incredible deals on last-minute cruises.

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 rock bottom, only to find out later that the money they saved will be put towards the last-minute airfare.

We only recommend booking a last-minute cruise 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.

Other Ways to Book Your Cruise

The next cruise area on a royal caribbean cruise ship

Visit The Next Cruise Desk

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,” allowing passengers to book their next cruise before they step off the boat.

The Future Cruise Desk typically offers valuable incentives, 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.

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 as your current cruise. That means the travel agent or booking provider will remain the same. So, if you like your travel agent, they’ll get credit for the sale.

Use a Travel Agent

Booking your cruise vacation through a travel agent helps you save money.

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 unavailable to regular travelers.

Beyond saving money, a good travel agent can provide you with knowledge and experience to help you 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!

When to Book Shore Excursions

Kayaking Shore Excursion on Chilkoot Lake

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 possible if your heart is 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 book early to get the best price.

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.

Watch 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!

Marcello De Lio
Marcello De Lio

Marcello's been cruising since he was 12 years old. He loves the freedom that cruising provides, meeting new people, and exploring amazing new ships. Marcello created High Seas Cruising to share his passion for cruising and travel with readers and grow a community of passionate voyagers.

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