You're ready for a vacation and you decide that a cruise appeals to your sense of a good, relaxing time. That's great! But you might be running into a timing dilemma. When is the best time to book a cruise? Is this a vacation that needs to be planned out months in advance, or can you cash in your time off work and take a cruise whenever you want? It's a good question and is just one of many considerations you have to make when you decide to take a cruise. Don't worry - we've got you covered.
When Is the Best Time to Book a Cruise?
Early booking or late booking? When is the best time to book a cruise if you want a good deal? In general, the best time to book a cruise is when cruise itineraries are announced, which is usually about a year to 18 months ahead of time. You will get the best deal from cruise lines with early booking.
However, some people are staunch supporters of late booking. And make no mistake: "late" booking is still months ahead of actual departure. Late booking typically happens from three to two months before departure since a lot of cruise lines announce sales on unsold cabins about 90 days ahead of time. It is possible to get a great deal with late booking, but you can be sure that the amenities you will recieve won't be as impressive as with early booking.
So, when is the best time to book a cruise? Cruise lines and trip planners recommend early booking; your family and family recommend late booking. Both ways can save money and score you a great deal. Which should you chose? Here are a few considerations to keep in mind if you're trying to decide when is the best time to book a cruise.
Early Booking vs Late Booking
Your vacation is important, but so is making responsible purchasing decisions. Cruises are as pricey as any other vacation, especially if you opt for a luxury cruise line. When you're booking a cruise, it is inevitable that you will be planning this trip in advance. Cruises aren't a last-minute vacation option. But there is a difference between what early booking and late booking will get you.
You can save hundreds of dollars with early booking. There is no getting around the fact that all cruise lines encourage early booking with lower prices in the first several months after a cruise has been announced. When a cruise itinerary is released, cruise lines usually offer affordable deals for the cruise, including a few extras we'll talk about later. Early booking means a fair price.
But on a rare blue moon, it is possible that you will find extremely discounted prices through late booking on a cruise. We're talking the cost of the cruise slashed by huge percentages within three months of cruise departure. In some cases, late booking will save you more money than early booking. But as we said before, the things you get when you book late are not the same things you get when you book early.
As a bonus, early booking also means price protection on many cruise lines. When you book early, your price is locked in and your deposit for the cruise is refundable if your plans end up changing. Late booking usually does not offer either of those protections.
Cruise Destination and Duration
This is one of the main factors that becomes a tipping point between early booking and late booking. The cruise destination and the duration of the cruise helps determine the price of the cruise overall, so it makes sense that it will also factor into the best time to book your cruise.
For destination, if the cruise will be circling a continent or gliding around the Caribbean, booking earlier means that you will have more choices available to you. On popular destination cruises, the accomodations and activities are reserved quickly, so booking as early as possible will make sure you get what you wand. On smaller cruises, like river cruises or cruises that run up the coast of Alaska, late booking might be a better option. For duration, the length of time the cruise will be running might also sway your decision. Weekend cruises are friendlier to late booking than week long or multiple-week long cruises. For longer cruises, you are encouraged to book early.
Cabins and Suites
First come, first serve. It's the way of the world and the way of cruises. When you book early, you get a lot of choices, including which cabin or suite you get to book. Many people get great deals on entire suites with early booking, which is great for many reasons.
Suites are bigger than cabins and more private. Depending on the cruise line, a suite can be multiple rooms for a family or simply a larger bedroom with an adjacent living area with its own bathroom or small kitchenette. Suites can also come with extra services, such as laundry. Cabins, on the other hand, are smaller rooms on the lower decks; usually just big enough for a bed or bunk bed and your luggage. Of course cabins are also drastically cheaper than suites, and it might be the case that you prefer a small cabin over a huge suite.
All that said, when you book late you usually lose the opportunity for a suite. Cruise lines report again and again that the first rooms to sell out are always suites. When you book a cruise late, you will typically end up with a cabin that needs to be sold, which means it might be in a noisy part of the ship. If you want your choice of cabin or suite in a prime location, then early booking is going to be your best friend. If you will settle for any room as long as you're on the cruise, then it's reasonable to wait for late booking times.
Most people assume that when you book a cruise you will be able to do whatever you want on any of the decks at any time. But that isn't the case. Part of the booking process for many cruises includes reserving first-choice times for dining and other activities. It's all part of the first come, first serve appeal. The earlier you book, the better your chances are for a reservation at the fancy dining restaurants and the nighttime entertainment on board. Late booking might mean that those choices aren't available to you at all.
Usually, daytime activities on a cruise follow the same rule. While you are obviously free to walk the decks, swim in pools, participate in games, and use the public dining areas during mealtimes, there are other daytime activities that might need to be reserved ahead of time. Cruises with spa options will require reservations. Cruises that also dock to shore for exploring foreign cities or for ocean activities might also require reservations.
Best Tips for Booking
Aside from the advantages and disadvantages you will find with early booking vs late booking, you might be wondering if there is a secret formula to scoring the best deal. When is the best time to book a cruise based on time of year? We have a few tips that can make planning your trip even better.
Tip #1: Departure Date
We already know that early booking will get you the best guaranteed price and the most choices. However, as long as you are booking early, there isn't a best season or month in particular where cruise lines offer the best price. Instead, you will find the best price based on when the cruise actually departs. As long as you are booking early, you might as well book during a time of year that works best for you - vacations aren't only for summers unless you have children.
Tip #2: School Year
Summer, by the way, is the most popular departure date for families. If you want a cruise with fewer children aboard, book a cruise that departs during the school year. Reserve a departure date for early fall or late winter for the best deals.
In the end, when is the best time to book a cruise? Overall, your best bet for a good deal is early booking for a cruise that departs between September and November or January to March. Early booking for cruises that depart during the school year is the best strategy to saving money on your vacation. Early booking also means you get a lot of choices for your accommodations and activities over the duration of the cruise. You might also need to consider the destination of the cruise and the duration of the cruise when looking for the best deal. Ultimately, the best time to book a cruise depends on what you want.