Finding a cruise deal is often a combination of timing, planning, and just good luck. What constitutes a deal is often a matter of perception. Sometimes it's just getting a free cabin upgrade to a higher deck on the ship or moving you to an ocean view or balcony cabin because you have booked a cabin category guarantee.
Cruises are much like any other product--you get what you pay for! Much like hotels, cruise ships range from basic accommodations and school lunchroom-style food to ultra-luxury pampering and gourmet cuisine. Cruises can cost anywhere from less than $100 per day per person to over $1000 per day per person, depending on the amenities, the size of the ship, and space. So, a cruise deal on an ultra-luxury ship might be $500 per day, a 50 percent discount, but still too steep for many travelers' budgets.
If you have never cruised before, do research on cruises and become knowledgeable before planning your cruise. Then, find a travel agent who specializes in cruise travel. Once you have selected a destination and a cruise travel budget, many cruise travel agents (either online or in your hometown) can help you find a cruise deal that fits your needs and desires.
Let's look at some ways to get a cruise deal.
Book a Cruise Early - Several Months in Advance
Cruise lines like to sell their "berths" (cabins) as far in advance as possible. If you plan and book your cruise more than six months in advance, you will often get the best deal. Some cruise lines also offer "low price guarantees", so if the fare drops after you book, you will get the lowest price. If you book far in advance, continue to monitor the fares, and report any price changes to your travel agent, who should be able to either get you a refund or a cabin upgrade.
Booking your cruise far in advance may also help you to use frequent flyer miles for your airfare to the cruise embarkation port.
Book a Cruise Late - Just a Few Weeks (or Days) in Advance
Cruise ships do not like to sail with empty berths. Any revenue from an unfilled bed is lost forever. In addition, many mainstream cruise lines bring in as much revenue from onboard expenditures as they do from fares. Many who cruise spend more on shore excursions, wine, specialty dining, and in the shops and casino they do on the cruise fare! In addition, empty cabins do not generate tips for the crew, leading to unhappy workers.
If you can be patient, cruise lines will sometimes offer extremely good last minute deals on upcoming cruises sailing in the next few weeks (or days). This tip works best for those who (1) can take off without much notice from their jobs, (2) are retired, or (3) live close to an embarkation port since last-minute airfares are often very expensive.
Book a Repostioning Cruise
Many experienced cruisers book repositioning cruises to get the best cruise deal. It's all a matter of supply and demand. Cruise ships sailing in destinations like Alaska or northern Europe must move (reposition) to warmer locales in the winter months. Repositioning cruises include many sea days and are usually longer in length, so they might not be right for you.
Since many people do not like many sea days or cannot take two weeks off for a cruise, the demand is not as high, so cruise lines often offer great cruise deals on these cruises. Cruise lines also offer good deals on repositioning cruises since more sea days results in higher onboard revenue.
Cruise in the Off-Season
Like all products, supply and demand contribute significantly to the cruise fare. If you can travel in the off-season, your price will be lower since fewer travelers are competing for the same cruise ships. For families with children or those who work in education, this is often impossible since vacations have to be taken during school holidays. The most expensive cruises are during the December holiday season, spring holidays, and the summer school holiday months.
Many travelers are reluctant to travel to the Caribbean in September and October because it is still hurricane season. However, since hurricane warnings are usually days in advance, cruise ships will modify their itineraries to bypass the storms. Don't forget, your safety is their most important goal. Plus, they have hundreds of millions of dollars invested in their ships.
Even traveling at the beginning or end of the season (called the shoulder season) will get you a discount. For example, traveling to Europe in March through May or September through November is always cheaper than in the summer. The weather might be a concern, but it rains in the summer too. And, it's hot!
Cruises to Alaska are usually a better deal if you can travel in May or September. One good thing about booking in September -- all the shops have fantastic "end of season" sales!
Cruise Where the Supply of Ships Is High
The Caribbean continues to be the most popular cruise destination. There are dozens of ships sailing to the Caribbean each week. Therefore, competition among the cruise lines is high, and they are constantly offering better cruise deals for the Caribbean than for anyplace else in the world. Since North Americans do not have to travel as far to their embarkation port, the air cost is not as much as other cruise destinations.
Note that Europe is also a very popular destination, and the cruise season is year-round in some places like the Mediterranean. European cruises often cost about the same price per day as a Caribbean cruise. For Americans, the issue is the airfare, but for Europeans, the total cost can be less than the Caribbean.
Do Your Research
The Internet has opened the ability to do in-depth travel research to all who are willing to spend the time and effort. This time invested in researching cruise lines, cruise ships and cruise destinations will pay off with a better cruise vacation.
Even if you get a terrific cruise deal, it won't be worth it if the ship or ports of call don't meet your expectations. Check out the cruise lines' websites, read general tips on planning a cruise, read about the cruise ships and destinations, set your cruise budget, work with a travel agent, find a cruise that matches your interests, and GO!