How risky is it to wait for a last-minute deal?

by Fran Golden

How risky is it to wait for a last-minute deal?

by Fran Golden

Cruises can go on sale as much as two years in advance (hello, spring break 2018!), and there are great deals to be had if you plan ahead and book far out. But if you are a procrastinator — or really need to get away RIGHT NOW — jaw-droppingly low fares can be found just weeks before the ship sets sail. So what's the catch? First, know that cruise lines consider a ship full if there are at least two people in every stateroom. About 90 days before a sailing, a cruise line will start to panic if there are lots of empty cabins and begin slashing prices, and keep lowering the fare as the sailing date gets closer.

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Do your research / iStock / Jacob Ammentorp Lund
Balcony cabin on Pride of America
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1. You may not get a prime cabin.

One of the downsides to waiting until the last minute: Those who booked early got first dibs on staterooms and the most coveted cabins in each category were likely snapped up already. Some last-minute fares will also be for "guaranteed" cabins, which means you don't get to book a specific stateroom (as the early-birders likely did). Rather, the line guarantees that you will get a cabin in your category or better. If you're lucky, you'll get bumped up; if you're unlucky, you may find yourself in the dregs (a case of you got what you paid for).

One of the downsides to waiting until the last minute: Those who booked early got first dibs on staterooms and the most coveted cabins in each category were likely snapped up already. Some last-minute fares will also be for "guaranteed" cabins, which means you don't get to book a specific stateroom (as the early-birders likely did). Rather, the line guarantees that you will get a cabin in your category or better. If you're lucky, you'll get bumped up; if you're unlucky, you may find yourself in the dregs (a case of you got what you paid for).

Venice's Grand Canal
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2. Your perfect sailing date could be gone.

Last-minute fares are not the way to go if you are eyeing a specific sailing at a specific time of year. There are more deals during shoulder seasons when the weather is likely not ideal, and for less popular itineraries. Another scenario? A large number of early bookers changed their mind. For example, if there is a geopolitical situation, as there was in Europe this year, more last-minute spaces become available as timid cruisers decide to delay their trips or change their itinerary altogether.

Last-minute fares are not the way to go if you are eyeing a specific sailing at a specific time of year. There are more deals during shoulder seasons when the weather is likely not ideal, and for less popular itineraries. Another scenario? A large number of early bookers changed their mind. For example, if there is a geopolitical situation, as there was in Europe this year, more last-minute spaces become available as timid cruisers decide to delay their trips or change their itinerary altogether.

Harmony of the Seas' Splashaway Bay
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3. Your choice of ship will be limited.

The larger the ship, the more cabins to sell, so many bargain-basement deals are for the least-desired cabin categories on bigger ships. Ditto for older ships in a fleet, particularly when a line has brought out a new ship and is busy promoting the latest and greatest. Royal Caribbean also announced earlier this year it was ending discounting 30 days out.

The larger the ship, the more cabins to sell, so many bargain-basement deals are for the least-desired cabin categories on bigger ships. Ditto for older ships in a fleet, particularly when a line has brought out a new ship and is busy promoting the latest and greatest. Royal Caribbean also announced earlier this year it was ending discounting 30 days out.

At the airport
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4. Other aspects of your travel could be more expensive.

If you don't live within driving distance of a major cruise port, last-minute airfare to, say, Miami or New York will suddenly make that last-minute bargain cruise a major splurge. Ditto for hotel fares in small ports, since everyone else on your cruise has already booked their pre- and post-cruise stays, sending the number of available hotel rooms plummeting and room costs soaring.

If you don't live within driving distance of a major cruise port, last-minute airfare to, say, Miami or New York will suddenly make that last-minute bargain cruise a major splurge. Ditto for hotel fares in small ports, since everyone else on your cruise has already booked their pre- and post-cruise stays, sending the number of available hotel rooms plummeting and room costs soaring.

The Lotus Spa on Caribbean Princess
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5. Forget about snagging a coveted reservation on board.

Savvy cruisers know that the first thing to do after booking a cruise is to arrange all of the reservations they want for specialty restaurants and spa treatments. If you are booking one of the last cabins on board, chances are you've missed out on sea day massages and the most coveted dinner seating. 

Savvy cruisers know that the first thing to do after booking a cruise is to arrange all of the reservations they want for specialty restaurants and spa treatments. If you are booking one of the last cabins on board, chances are you've missed out on sea day massages and the most coveted dinner seating. 

At Vancouver's cruise terminal
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6. You can't change your mind.

With last-minute deals, rather than putting down a deposit and having months to pay off the balance, you will be required to pay the full fare at the time of booking — and it's completely nonrefundable. Be sure that this is the vacation you want to book, and then jump on it.

With last-minute deals, rather than putting down a deposit and having months to pay off the balance, you will be required to pay the full fare at the time of booking — and it's completely nonrefundable. Be sure that this is the vacation you want to book, and then jump on it.

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