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6 ways to get a deal on a cruise

Oct. 17, 2022
8 min read
Holland America Alaska
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.


If you've been looking for an affordable cruise vacation, you may have noticed a lot of last-minute cruise deals this fall for soon-to-depart sailings. But prices for cruises next year remain relatively high at many lines — higher in some cases than they were in 2019, the last normal year for cruising. So how do you get the best cruise deal if you're trying to book a cruise for next summer and beyond?

To start — don't panic. Even if fares for the coming year don't come down soon, you can find ways to save when booking a sea vacation.

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Below, we’ve assembled six of our top tips for finding a bargain on a cruise. These are travel hacks that can work any time — not just when fares are rising. Combine a few of these strategies, and you are sure to find the best cruise deals available on your next sailing.

Cruise during the off-season

You’ll pay less to sail on popular ships such as Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas during off-season months such as September, October and November. ROYAL CARIBBEAN

As is the case for resorts on land, the floating resorts that are cruise ships can be significantly less expensive during the “off-season” travel months of September, October and November.

These are months when kids are typically back in school and family travel drops off, resulting in diminished demand for many types of travel, including cruises.

In the Caribbean, it’s also hurricane season, which keeps some people away from both land resorts and cruise ships in the region.

Related: Read this before booking a cruise during hurricane season

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In addition to the fall months, the off-season period for cruising generally includes parts of January and February, but it varies by region.

Traditionally, the summer months of June, July and August have been high season in many cruise destinations like the Caribbean, Europe and Alaska. The periods around major holidays — such as Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day — also are considered the busy season for cruising and bring higher prices.

Book early

It’s a growing truism of the cruise world: the earlier you book, the better price you’ll get.

Cruise lines often open departures for bookings with the lowest prices at which they want to sell the trips. Then, as the departures start filling up, they slowly raise prices on the remaining inventory.

To get the very best price on any particular sailing, your best bet in many cases is to book right when the sailing opens for sale. This means planning way in advance, as many cruise lines open their reservations for sailings two or even three years before departure.

Booking far in advance can pay off in more ways than one. One big advantage to booking ahead of time is that you’re far more likely to get the exact cabin type you want. On many ships, the least expensive cabins and most expensive suites often sell out first and quickly.

Related: How to pick the perfect cruise line for you

Worried you might miss out on a deal by booking a cruise super far in advance? Here’s the good news: if, for some reason, the cost of your cruise drops at a later date, you usually can get your fare reduced to match the lower price. This is often the case until the last few months before the sailing is set to begin, when the cruise enters what’s known as the “final payment” window. At that point, the fare you’ve paid is locked in.

Note that not all fare types allow for changes after booking to the fare you’ve paid. It’s important to read the fine print for the fare category you’re booking.

Book late

As noted above, cruise lines typically offer their lowest fare for any given sailing just after it opens for booking — often two or even three years before it’s scheduled to begin.

Generally, the fare then will only go up as the sailing date approaches. But in some cases, cruise lines will drop the price of a cruise significantly at the last minute. This can happen when the line finds itself with a lot of unsold cabins for a voyage.

If you’re flexible and can travel on short notice, you sometimes can find a last-minute deal for cruises where the line is scrambling to fill berths.

A key thing to know here is that last-minute discounting isn’t as common as it used to be. Cruise lines have become much more savvy about revenue management over the years.

You’ll also have to be flexible to take advantage of these deals. If you have a specific cabin type on a specific sailing on a specific ship that you’re eyeing for a vacation, you can’t count on it being available — especially not at a rock-bottom rate.

Sail on an older ship

Fares for older Royal Caribbean ships, such as the 2,191-passenger Jewel of the Seas, often are significantly less on a per-day basis than fares for newer Royal Caribbean vessels. ROYAL CARIBBEAN

At many big lines, you’ll find that the newest, most amenity-filled cruise ships sell at a premium price. Older ships come with a discount.

The older ships are, of course, older, and they sometimes don’t have quite as much to offer on board as the newer ships. But if you’re looking for a deal, they can bring great value.

Use a travel agent

Are you a go-it-alone type of traveler? We get it.

But even if you book all your land trips on your own, you might want to use a travel agent who is a specialist in cruises to book your next voyage.

One big reason for this is that cruise-selling travel agents often have access to lower bulk fares for sailings that are not available to the general public. Big travel agencies will block out large chunks of cabins on ships soon after they open for booking to lock in such group fares, then sell them over the coming months.

In addition to lower fares, cruise travel agents also sometimes throw in extra perks like onboard credit or amenities when you book through them.

Travel agents specializing in cruising also will be able to guide you through the many types of cabin categories on some cruise ships and steer you away from cabins to avoid. Plus, they’ll be there for you when things go wrong on a cruise.

Consider a repositioning cruise

Some of the best bargains in the cruise world are the voyages that cruise ships make as they reposition from one part of the world to another.

This is because cruise lines often have trouble selling these trips, which typically have somewhat oddball itineraries with very few port calls and lots of sea days. They also tend to be a bit longer than standard weekend getaways or weeklong voyages. They have to discount the trips to fill the ships as much as possible.

Related: The ultimate guide to repositioning cruises

Among the most common repositioning cruises you’ll see are sailings between the Caribbean and Europe in the spring as lines move ships to the Mediterranean for summer. Similarly, there’s always a wave of repositioning cruises between Europe and the Caribbean in the fall.

You’ll also find some repositioning cruises every year between the Caribbean and Alaska, and between the West Coast of the U.S. and Asia.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured image by HOLLAND AMERICA
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
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  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

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    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more