Should you book your cruise early or wait for a last minute deal? Ah, the age old conundrum…
Accepted wisdom is that if you hold your nerve and wait for a last minute bargain you’ll always get a great deal but over the years the team have seen many cruisers end up in deep disappointment after living by this advice.
Sometimes, to get the very cheapest bargain, the best thing you can do is book as absolutely early as possible. It’s with that thought in mind we’ve put together our blagger’s guide to booking a cruise early…
How Early is Early?
The first thing you need to decide is just how early to book your cruise. The earliest you’ll ever be able to book is around April time each year. This is when cruise lines put their new season on sale and normally when they offer the best deals as well.
If you’ve ever read a cruise brochure, you’ll have seen that all cruises have a ‘brochure fare’ but unless you’re incredibly unlucky or booking some kind of ‘niche’ cruise, there’s never any reason to pay this price.
Typically when a cruise first goes on sale there’ll be a discount of anywhere from 25% to 50% off the brochure fare. This price will then slowly increase as you get closer to the cruise date (or quickly depending on availability) before you’ll see another big drop a month or two before the cruise when all the last minute prices are released.
Shouldn’t I Wait For a Last Minute Deal Then?
Waiting for a last minute deal can (and does) work for some people but it’s important you realise what you’re giving up by waiting so long.
You’ll lose a lot of flexibility in terms of where you go, what ship you go on and what kind of cabin you stay in; it’s a last minute bargain so you’re stuck booking what’s left.
You’ll also have to pay for the cruise all in one go; you won’t be able to just put a deposit down, so you may well bag yourself a great price but will it be for something you want?
OK, I’ve Decided to Book Early– What Do I Do Now?
The first thing to do is to compare what is on offer from all the different cruise lines- this is the point where you’ll need to decide what is most important to you.
Are you looking to try a new ship that’s just been launched? You’ll need to check where it’s going to see what you like the look of.
Are you looking to go to a particular destination? Make sure you shop around amongst all the different cruise lines to see who’s offering the best itinerary and deal!
Once you’ve settled on what you want make sure you investigate all the launch offers that will be available. As well as reducing their prices, many cruise lines will throw in extras like kids cruise free, cabin upgrades, free drinks packages or pre-paid gratuities etc. You’ll need to figure out (or get your specialist cruise consultant to figure out for you) which is most beneficial to you and then make sure you book that particular offer.
How to Guarantee Yourself the Best Deals
To appreciate the chaos of the cruise lines putting their cruises on sale all in one go, you really need to have worked in the travel trade before (or tried to book something yourself on launch day).
It is notoriously hard to get through to the cruise lines, and it’s for that reason that some cruise travel agencies will actually allow you to ‘pre-book’ your cruise before it goes on sale.
Before anything goes on sale, the cruise lines will release the itineraries with expected prices (fluctuations both up and down do happen on the day though). This means you can sit down with your travel agent and discuss prices you’re willing to pay, cabins you’d like to book etc. and then on the day, as soon as it goes live they can grab the cabin you want for you.
This tactic is particularly useful for things that are likely to sell out fast like top graded suites, inside cabins, four berth cabins in the school holidays or new ships etc.
Make Sure You Get All the Discounts You’re Entitled To!
Just because you’re already getting a big early bird discount doesn’t mean you can’t squeeze the cruise line for a few extra discounts as well!
There are several discounts that people are entitled to that many don’t even realise and of course- if you don’t ask you don’t get…
Did You Know: Many cruise lines offer a senior discount for the over 55’s! Several cruise lines offer military discounts to anyone who has served in the armed forces (or their family). Again just ask you’re specialist cruise consultant to see if you’re eligible. Almost all cruise lines will offer discounts, upgrades or additional benefits to returning guests but you need to have registered for them first – don’t miss out for the sake of filling out a quick form online!
What if I Miss Out on My Early Bird Discount?
Relax- although April will normally get you the biggest discounts (assuming you’re not hunting for a last minute bargain) the cruise lines will periodically offer discounts throughout the year. The two biggest, known as Wave Season in the trade, will be in October and January so if you miss out in April for whatever reason it may be worth hanging on till then.
We could give you advice on securing the best cruise deal till the cows came home but the bottom line is you only really need one piece of advice – pick the cruise you like, if you’re happy with the price pay it, if not try and find something else. Everything else is just haggling over the price!
What are your best tips for getting an early cruise deal? Do you wait till last minute or are you one of the first in there? Leave us your comments!
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