6 ways to get a deal on a cruise

Jan 16, 2022

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.

These are tough times for cruise fans looking for a deal.

With demand for cruises scheduled to depart over the coming year surprisingly strong and the supply of available cabins smaller than in the past, cruise lines in recent months have been able to hold the line on pricing and even raise fares in many cases.

Still, the good news is that you’re not completely out of luck if you’re looking for a deal on a cruise. There still are lots of itineraries and specific departures out there with very reasonable fares.

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 during times like this when demand is outstripping supply.

For more cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG’s new cruise newsletter.

In This Post

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. (Photo courtesy of 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.

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

Viking already is taking bookings for its new Mississippi River ship, Viking Mississippi (shown here in an artist’s drawing), for departures in 2024. (Image courtesy of Viking)

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.

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. (Photo courtesy of 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.

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.

For more cruise coverage, check out our 2022 Cruise Extravaganza.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured image courtesy of Holland America.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
17.24%-26.24% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.