When is the best time to book a cruise?

by John Roberts

When is the best time to book a cruise?

by John Roberts

Whether you’re new to cruising or you’re a repeat cruiser who can never visit enough new ports of call, one of the top things you probably want to know is: When is the best time to book a cruise? Saving money on a cruise isn't just about when you choose to travel, it's also about when you choose to book your vacation. Timing can be critical when selecting your sailings, and you can save hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars by being a savvy shopper.

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Great Stirrup Cay / NCL
Norwegian Breakaway's Sundeck
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1. Book during wave season.

The so-called "wave season" is the big promotional period during which cruise lines offer their best booking deals. Traditionally extending from January to March, wave season can be the best time to find discounted early-bird fares, two-for-one deals, and other enticements, such as onboard credits, included gratuities, and drink and meal packages.

The so-called "wave season" is the big promotional period during which cruise lines offer their best booking deals. Traditionally extending from January to March, wave season can be the best time to find discounted early-bird fares, two-for-one deals, and other enticements, such as onboard credits, included gratuities, and drink and meal packages.

Silver Galapagos on Seymour Island
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2. Book early.

Prices are at their lowest when the ship is empty. Many cruise lines offer big discounts for booking early, according to Margie Hand, a travel agent with Andavo Travel in Birmingham, Alabama. Because fares tend to rise as the sailing date approaches, Hand suggests booking at least six to nine months in advance to get the best deals. And if you're thinking about a voyage to a place with limited sailings, such as the Galapagos Islands or Alaska, book 12 to 18 months ahead of time.

Prices are at their lowest when the ship is empty. Many cruise lines offer big discounts for booking early, according to Margie Hand, a travel agent with Andavo Travel in Birmingham, Alabama. Because fares tend to rise as the sailing date approaches, Hand suggests booking at least six to nine months in advance to get the best deals. And if you're thinking about a voyage to a place with limited sailings, such as the Galapagos Islands or Alaska, book 12 to 18 months ahead of time.

Oceania Veranda Stateroom
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3. Book late.

If you're flexible about both destination and timing, you can snag rock-bottom prices. Up until around 90 days from a scheduled sailing date, cruisers can cancel a reservation, so lines with available cabins within 60 days before departure will start slashing prices in order to fill those staterooms.

If you're flexible about both destination and timing, you can snag rock-bottom prices. Up until around 90 days from a scheduled sailing date, cruisers can cancel a reservation, so lines with available cabins within 60 days before departure will start slashing prices in order to fill those staterooms.

Celebrity Reflection's Reception
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4. Book while on board.

Cruise lines work hard to make you a repeat customer, so your loyalty can pay off. The best deals may be found while you’re already on board a sailing; visit the ship's cruise desk to see how the line will entice you to reserve your next trip. Deals typically include a lower cruise fare, reduced deposits, and significant onboard credits, which you can put toward things like drinks, excursions, and gratuities.

Cruise lines work hard to make you a repeat customer, so your loyalty can pay off. The best deals may be found while you’re already on board a sailing; visit the ship's cruise desk to see how the line will entice you to reserve your next trip. Deals typically include a lower cruise fare, reduced deposits, and significant onboard credits, which you can put toward things like drinks, excursions, and gratuities.

National Geographic Sea Bird in Alaska
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5. Book during a promotion.

Cruise lines run promotions several times a year, so be ready to pounce on deals during holidays like Black Friday, Memorial Day, and Labor Day. Here's a good strategy: Make an early booking to get the best available price, then monitor your sailing for price drops and special promotions that pop up. Be prepared to cancel your sailing (within the allowable period) and rebook with the new, better deal. You can work with a travel agent who specializes in cruises to do this, and they in turn may score onboard credits for you.

Cruise lines run promotions several times a year, so be ready to pounce on deals during holidays like Black Friday, Memorial Day, and Labor Day. Here's a good strategy: Make an early booking to get the best available price, then monitor your sailing for price drops and special promotions that pop up. Be prepared to cancel your sailing (within the allowable period) and rebook with the new, better deal. You can work with a travel agent who specializes in cruises to do this, and they in turn may score onboard credits for you.

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