Caribbean or Mexico? River or open sea? Land excursions or lazy days onboard? Planning a cruise vacation is a thrill until it’s time to pull out the credit card: That’s when things get serious. What if a better price is right around the corner—or you’ve just missed it? Fortunately, if you know the best time to book a cruise and what you want from your vacation, you can feel confident you’re getting a good deal.
Wave Season, Early Bird, and Last-Minute Cruise Deals
Most cruise lines participate in what’s called "wave season” from January through March, when they offer special promotions like free drink packages, onboard credit, and fare discounts. Sound good? Use the December holiday break to finalize travel plans and get ready to reserve your cabin when that perfect deal appears.
But getting the best price on a cruise isn’t limited to wave season. “Sometimes a year ahead is when you’ll get the best deal,” says AAA Vacation Expert Brenda Campos, particularly since some cruise lines offer early bird incentives—think complimentary upgrades, onboard credit, or even free airfare. Booking early also means you’ll have more options on things such as cabin types and dining times. Not only that, Campos says, “popular or unique sailings sell out quickly, so those have to be booked far in advance.”
On the flip side, last-minute bookings have their advantages, too. For flexible travelers who don’t mind interior cabins and aren’t picky about where they go, waiting until a month or two before the cruise departs can mean steep discounts if a cruise line needs to fill a ship.
Tracking Cruise Prices
Tracking cruise prices can be time-consuming, and unfortunately, there isn’t a great way to keep up with dropped fares unless you’re getting emails from the cruise lines. But the rewards may be worth the extra effort if you’re able to snag a lower rate down the line, and if you work with a AAA Vacation Expert, you’ll have extra help.
“I have clients who book way in advance and get a good cabin. Then, if prices are lowered, we adjust a few times before the cruise date,” Campos says, adding that she always checks the price one last time at final payment to see if it’s gone down. She also encourages her clients to let her know if they find out about a lower price. “It’s a team effort.”
The bottom line is that while there are certain times of year when many experts agree travelers often get better deals on cruises, there are plenty of exceptions, too. And a great price may not result in a great cruise (if, for instance, the only cabin left is in earshot of the noisy dance club and you’re a light sleeper), so balancing low prices with the amenities you need is important. Do your research and stay informed—either on your own or with the help of an expert—to keep track of your specific priorities, whether that’s price, cabin style, destination, or cruise line.
As Campos notes, “The best time to book a cruise is when you’re ready to book.”