There’s nothing better than a great vacation — except maybe a great deal on said vacation.
And it’s no different when it comes to cruising. In fact, a week spent on board a floating city, unwinding by the pool with a good book and a cocktail in hand sounds about as relaxing as life could get.
And if you’re looking to get that experience at a discount, your best bets are to book very far in advance or aim to go during the shoulder season, Colleen McDaniel, the editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic, told Travel + Leisure.
“The way cruises traditionally had worked [was] you can book a cruise and you can cancel it penalty-free, up to about 90 days out,” McDaniel said. “What happened in the past was that people would cancel, say 90 days out… and the cruise lines all the sudden had more cabins. And that’s when you started to see more sales.”
“We have seen less of that in the past couple of years, in part because cruise lines feel strongly that they want to maintain pricing integrity,” she added. “A lot of cruise lines, they have really stopped doing that drastic discounting.”
That said, there are still ways to save some money on your dream cruise.
Book far in advance
McDaniel said that booking during the initial offering — which can vary from about a year and a half to two years in advance of the sailing — may be your best bet at securing a good deal. Even if the rooms aren’t on sale, she said, the cruise can usually offer another benefit like free alcohol or free internet if you book early.
Book early in the year
Cruises tend to offer the best deals during the beginning of the year, McDaniel said, especially from January through March.
Book during a holiday
Black Friday isn’t just for electronics. Cruise lines tend to run sales during the holidays as well, McDaniel noted. “If you’re looking last-minute, look around the holidays, [like] Labor Day,” she said. “They tend to offer deals and specials during the holidays.”
Track the cruise you want
McDaniel said that one of the easiest ways to make sure you get the best price is to track the cruise you want. On cruisecritic.com, you can sign up for price alerts, and can search by destination, ship, month, or departure port.
“Prices change even throughout a day,” she said. “Pricing is constantly in flux for cruising.”
Travel during the shoulder season
Traveling during months like April or November, especially to the Caribbean, can save you some money. That’s when kids are back in school and the weather — while still fairly nice — isn’t summer nice, McDaniel said.
And if you’re willing to travel during hurricane season, you could get an even better deal. McDaniel said that while it’s a bigger risk (she recommends travel insurance for those sailings), ships are mobile by nature and can usually move away from storms when necessary.