When to Book a Cruise for the Best Deals

You’ve finally landed the cruise you want to take – maybe it’s a winter expedition to Norway to see the Northern Lights, or maybe you’re keen to cruise around the Galápagos to see the islands’ impossibly curious animals – but now the question is, when should you book? Is it better to secure reservations far in advance, or do you have a better chance of getting an appointment if you wait?

We asked travel advisors who specialize in cruises to better understand when is the best time to book a cruise. Here’s what they had to say.

When is the best time to book a cruise?

While there isn’t necessarily a wrong time to book a cruise, there are times when travelers can take advantage of discounts and promotions.

Besides during holiday periods like Black Friday, Cyber ​​Monday and Labor Day, when there may be some flash sales, January and February are particularly good times to fire up the booking engine, as the first two months of the year are considered the “surge season” in the cruise industry . This is when companies look to baseload their ships for the year.

“The surge season is when cruise lines announce incredible promotions in an attempt to sell as much unsold space for the year as possible,” explains Jeremy Hall, a travel advisor at Cruise Vacations International.

These promotions could include free cabin upgrades, heavily discounted cruise fares, deposit discounts, free sailings for children, free airfare and discounted beverage packages, among other offers.

The best “wave season” deals in 2023

As we’re in the heart of wave season, here are some of the best cruise deals we’ve spied during this enticing promotional period:

  • AmaWaterways: Complimentary two-, three- or four-night pre- or post-cruise shore package on select sailings in Europe and Egypt in 2023
  • American Queen Voyages: Up to $2,500 off per cabin and free return flights in economy class on selected 2023 voyages.
  • Azamara: Save 40 percent on select cabins and receive a $300 onboard credit on select sailings departing between February 28, 2023 and April 3, 2024 (such as a nine-night Mediterranean cruise for $937 or a seven-night cruise along France’s coast for $939).
  • Emerald Cruises: Up to $1,000 off per couples on European river cruises in 2023 (including those on the Danube, Douro and Rhine).
  • Holland America Line: A free balcony upgrade and up to 30 percent off select sailings (such as a 14-day Indonesia odyssey for $2,099 and a 13-day Japan circumnavigation for $2,349).
  • Hurtigruten Expeditions: Up to 40% discount to Galapagos; up to 30% off for Alaska, Iceland and South America; and up to 25% discount for Antarctica.
  • Lindblad Expeditions: Lindblad offers a discount on another sailing with “poles” – if you book an Arctic expedition (most of which take place in the summer), this company will give you a 20 percent discount on an Antarctic sailing (which takes place in winter ). Both departures must take place between January 2023 and March 2024, with reservations made no later than April 30, 2023.
  • MSC Cruises: Kids sail free, up to $200 in onboard credit and cruises starting at $119 per person (such as a four-night Bahamas tour and a three-night sailing to see Saudi Arabia and the Red Sea, both for $119) are all on offer from MSC.
  • Quark Expeditions: Up to 45 percent off an Antarctic sailing and up to 35 percent off an Arctic sailing
  • Seabourn Cruises: Save up to 25 percent on expedition cruises and 15 percent on ocean voyages for select sailings in 2023 and 2024.
  • Star Clippers: Guests who book any sailing (such as a seven-night Costa Rica and Panama sailing or a week-long Greece and Turkey voyage) between now and November 2024 will receive a $230 credit per person, which can be used on drinks, Wi-Fi packages, spa services, excursions or items from the gift shop.
  • Uniworld: Save up to $1,500 per person on select 2023 voyages (like an eight-day cruise to see castles along the Rhine or 11 days on the rainforest rivers of Peru).
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How far in advance should you book a cruise? Is it better to order early?

Travelers who are less concerned about deals and more focused on a specific destination or making sure they get optional accommodations may want to take a different approach to booking a cruise. Cruise companies open up bookings for sailings two years in advance. Although that may sound like plenty of time to think about sailing, says William Kiburz, travel consultant at Coronet Travel. the earlier you order, the better especially when it comes to expedition-style or specialized cruises, as well as sailings to Alaska, as these are itineraries that often sell out more than a year in advance.

Samantha Robichaud, a travel consultant and owner of Fabulous Adventures Travel Company, says booking early also means travelers have more choices when it comes to travel dates, cabins, specialty restaurant reservations at preferred times and shore excursions.

Todd Smith, owner of AdventureSmith Explorations, says that if you want to go on an expedition cruise, which typically involves a smaller ship, booking early is imperative.

“Booking last minute also means you get what’s left, rather than the best tour, ship, cabin and program for you,” says Smith.

Another reason to try to book early: the cabin price is usually lower.

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“Cruise prices tend to increase as the time before departure approaches,” says Hall. “Even if you see a new promotion announced for the cruise you booked six months ago, chances are you got a better deal because the cruise price more than likely went up before the new promotion was announced.”

There are often perks for guests who book early. For example, Holland America Line offers an early booking bonus that allows guests to enjoy all the benefits of the standard “Have It All” package, including shore excursions and specialty dining credit, plus included gratuities, a low-cost guarantee, and upgrades to premium Wi-Fi and a “elite” beverage package which includes all premium spirits, beers and wines.

Is it possible to get last minute cruise deals?

If prices are more important than preferred accommodations, travelers may choose to wait until closer to the departure date to see if they can take advantage of last-minute deals. It’s a bit of a gamble – you risk the ship being sold out. And at the eleventh hour, flights to the port can be more expensive.

To find deals, travelers can sign up for email newsletters from various cruise lines, as the companies often send out updates on flash sales. You can also search the cruise lines’ websites – some, like Holland America and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, have pages on their website dedicated to last-minute deals.

Hall says his company typically sees more last-minute deals on river cruises than ocean cruises. He also noted that last-minute deals usually involve extra amenities or a waived single supplement rather than a discounted price.

Will working with a travel advisor get me a better deal?

“There are so many ways to get a great deal on a cruise, and no one knows better than an experienced travel advisor,” says Hall. “There are so many promotions, amenities, loyalty programs and pricing structures these days – it makes finding the best deal a daunting task. Your Travel Advisor knows exactly how to narrow down the search field to find the right cruise and deal for you.”

Robichaud echoes that sentiment, saying travel advisors can leverage relationships with cruise lines to get discounted rates or free add-ons. And Smith notes that agencies that book a lot of cruises often receive freebies upgrades for their customers as an incentive by cruise lines aiming to build a loyal network of travel advisors who sell and book their cruises.

Are there better times for families or groups to book a cruise?

Only certain ships and expeditions offer accommodation large enough to fit three or four people, so groups and families wishing to stay in the same cabin should book as soon as possible, as options may be limited.

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As Robichaud notes, rooms that can accommodate more people tend to fill up quickly during holidays and school breaks; if travelers have a particular sailing in mind, it is important to book early.

Judy Perl, president of Judy Perl Travel, adds that for parents looking to travel around school schedules, it’s worth noting that spring break is often the cheapest for cruising, and summer vacation offers more destination options. The holiday season is always significantly more expensive, she says.

How to bid on a cabin upgrade

Just as some airlines offer the option to bid on a business or first class seat upgrade, many cruise lines offer travelers the option to bid on cabin upgrades.

Some cruise lines will email confirmed customers prior to their voyage, allowing them to offer a higher class cabin at a heavily discounted rate. Travelers propose a rate they are comfortable with, and if the cruise line accepts the offer, guests will be charged the amount of their bid and receive an updated reservation with their new room information. Robichaud says she just got back from a Virgin Voyages sailing where she was supposed to have a Sea Terrace cabin but won her bid for a Mega RockStar Suite (complete with daily spa access, a bottomless in-room bar, a personal butler and access to a members-only sun deck). Similarly, some companies, such as Uniworld Boutique River Cruises and Celebrity Cruises, have dedicated landing pages on their websites where guests can bid.

When bidding for an upgrade online, please note that you cannot cancel your bid once it is accepted (but you can cancel or change the offer before acceptance).

Upgrades are also available after you board the ship. Perl recommends that people wanting a larger room go to the purser’s office and inquire about cancellations or no-shows. “When the ship leaves the dock, it is typically no longer under revenue management control back at headquarters,” explains Perl. “The ship can make their own pricing decisions about what to pay to maximize the yield on their available inventory.”

What is it worth and what is not in terms of cruise surcharges?

Amenities such as beverage packages, on-board credit, Wi-Fi, laundry and included gratuities only have value if you want to use them. Someone who only drinks a glass of wine every day or someone who likes to disconnect from technology on vacation might find some value in an unlimited drinks package or premium Wi-Fi, respectively. It is important to know the value of these items to you and buy accordingly.


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