Make your dream cruise vacation a reality with these money-saving tips. 

By Evie Carrick
December 15, 2019

Saving money feels good — almost as good as sitting on the top deck of a Caribbean-bound cruise with a cocktail in hand. But why not have both? Saving money on that Caribbean cruise (or any cruise for that matter) is easier than you think. You just need to know how the cruise industry works — the best time to book a cruise, when you can score an upgrade, and how to get the cruise you want without breaking the bank.

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Cruise pricing fluctuates based on itinerary, the ship’s age, the type of cruise, and how soon the ship is scheduled to sail. But the best time to book a cruise depends heavily on you: when you want to travel, what you want out of the experience, and how comfortable you are waiting until the last minute.

When to Book Early

If you have your sights set on a high-demand sailing — a new ship or school holiday dates — the best time to book a cruise will be as soon as fares are released. This is the only way to guarantee a spot (and secure a particular cabin location).

Cruise Critic explains that many popular sailings offer their best rates when fares first go on sale and then increase prices as the ship fills up. This rule is especially true for luxury itineraries, Disney cruises, and new cruise ships.

When to Wait

If you’re not interested in high-season travel or experiencing the latest cruise ship, you can play the waiting game and pounce as soon as fares drop. As any seasoned traveler knows, you’ll often find lower rates or free add-ons as the departure date approaches and the cruise line works to fill the ship.

While holding off may result in a once-in-a-lifetime deal, keep in mind that your cabin and category choices will be minimal and there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to book at all.

Tracking Fares

The only way to really know the best time to book a cruise is to track fares — which is not an easy task. Luckily, rate tracking on the Ship Mate app and on CruiseCritic.com make the task a bit more realistic. They’ll let you know if there’s a price drop, and if you’ve already booked, you can request a refund or on-board credit from the cruise company.

The Best Time of Year to Book a Cruise

The best time of year to book a cruise is often January through March. During this period — also known as wave season — industry-wide sales occur and the price of that cruise you’ve been dreaming of may drop significantly. It’s also a good time to find booking promotions, like free upgrades, prepaid gratuities, or onboard spending money.

Understanding When and Why Cruise Prices Drop

Wave season may be a popular time to find cruise deals, but not every cruise company releases their best deals and promotions during that period. Sales (or lack thereof) are often based on what is and isn’t selling. If a cruise is filling up quickly, the company has no reason to release a sale to entice customers. But if a cruise’s departure date is fast approaching and the ship is only half booked, the prices will drop and the free add-ons will increase — resulting in some happy customers.

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