When you book your cruise and when you set sail can greatly affect the cost of your cruise. As you plan your vacation, here are five time-sensitive factors you should take into account to help you get the best value on your trip:
- Early-bird specials: Most lines provide early-booking discounts, which can be an incentive to book the more expensive cabins before they sell out. Plus, you'll have first choice on dinner seating and cabin location.
- Last-minute specials: You can often get great discounts a few weeks to a few months before a cruise embarks, since the cruise lines will heavily discount unsold cabins. See our last-minute deals for Carnival and Expedia. However, you will be subject to whichever rooms and categories are left over, so you run the risk of getting the smallest or noisiest room on the ship. Plus, last-minute airfare to your departure port can be pricey.
- Repositioning cruises: If you're more interested in the ship than the ports-of-call or are looking for an unusual itinerary, a repositioning cruise can be a great way to get a deal. This type of cruise refers to the end-of-season journey when a ship travels from one region of the world to another to prepare for the next cruising season. These cruises begin and end in different ports, and often include more days at sea than in-season itineraries. They also have some of the lowest per-night rates of the year.
- Shoulder season: Cruise prices often vary due to demand, and shoulder-season itineraries are often priced lower as the weather isn't ideal (though it's often quite favorable) or the destinations are in a low-tourism season. For example, try Europe cruises in April or November, Alaska in September, the Caribbean in the fall, or other destinations just before or after their peak seasons.
- Wave season: The cruise industry typically sees the highest volume of cruise bookings from January through March, a period agents have dubbed "wave season." Some travel sellers, such as Expedia and Travelocity, offer discounts or other incentives for booking during this period.
For repeat cruisers, developing a preference for one line over another can lead to some great discounts. Most cruise lines have membership clubs, similar to airline frequent flyer programs, which give repeat cruisers access to special perks and substantial discounts.
(Editor's Note: SmarterTravel.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Expedia.com.)