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Cruising for first-timers – when to book for the best deals

Do you book early and try to get an ‘early-bird discount’?

These discounts often represent savings between 25 per cent and 50 per cent. You also get to book the best itineraries, dates, and cabins. Even better, if you have to fly to your destination you can also book your flight early ensuring you get the right dates and potentially lower air­fares.

Note: If you paid an early-bird fare and the cruise line lowers the price even more before you have made final payment on your cruise, you might be able to get an adjustment to your rate. Some lines will do this and some won’t, but it’s worth asking.

Or do you wait until the 11th hour and try to get lucky with a fantastic one-off deal?

About three to four months before departure, cruise lines have a pretty clear picture of bookings. At this point, if there’s still a lot of space to fill on a ship, this can result in last-minute discount fares.

The prices are then usually the lowest you can get – even better than early bird discounts and last-minute prices a couple of weeks before.

What factors influence my timing?

The best time to book can vary depending on the ship you want to sail on, your destination and itinerary, what time of the year you are travelling and the number of people in your group and the accommodation needs of the group.

Book early if…….

You are travelling with your family during the peak summer holiday period (July and August in the Northern Hemisphere and January and February in the Southern Hemisphere), and needing a ‘family suite’ (two staterooms with a connecting door). In this case you really need to book early, as family suites are in short supply and demand is high, mainly because of the increasing numbers of families taking up cruise holidays.

If you miss out on a family suite, three to four passenger staterooms are more plentiful but still limited in number and quite popular, so it still pays to book five or six months in advance.

If you have a big crowd, you can get a group discount. But if you want, say, eight or more adjoining cabins you must book these at least six months in advance, as a) group discounts are usually withdrawn by cruise lines between four to six months before departure, b) it gets harder to arrange adjoining cabins and c) prices will increase as availability tightens.

And finally, if you want a specific ship on a specific departure date you may also want to book early so you don’t miss out on your dream holiday.

Book late if……

You are flexible about the specific ship and the date you want to travel.

BUT if you need to fly to your departure destination you must make sure you can get connecting flights before you book the cruise – and where you save money on the cruise may be more than out-balanced by last-minute exorbitant air fares.

It pays to make a decision straight away if you see a good deal or it will slip away, leaving you with no cruise holiday at all!

Last but not least

It’s also worth looking out for special promotions and senior discounts such as:

  • Kids cruise free deals
    • Cabin category upgrades
    • Two-for-one fares
    • Free or discounted air­fare, shore excursions, and/or pre and post-cruise hotel stays
    • Shipboard credits (the equivalent of spending money to use on­board)
    • Discount coupons for use on the ship
    • “Guarantee” cabins (you pick a category and if it sells out you get an automatic upgrade).
    • Senior discounts. If you’re 55 or older, some lines will take five per cent off the top on select sailings.
    • Military discounts. Cruise lines sometimes offer savings for active or retired military personnel.
    • Repeat passenger. If you’ve cruised before you may be able to get five per cent to 10 per cent off as a repeat cruiser with a particular cruise line.
    • Third and fourth passenger. Cruise prices are based on two people sharing a cabin. If there is a third or fourth person in your cabin their fare will typically be 30 or 60 per cent off the double occupancy rate.