Why now’s a great time to book a cruise, even if you don’t plan to travel for many months

Jan 6, 2022

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The surge in COVID-19 cases across the globe in recent weeks may have you thinking twice about taking a cruise — or going on any other type of trip — in the coming weeks.

Given some of the disruptions to sailings that positive cases on ships have caused of late, you may even be at the point where you want to steer clear of cruise ships for many months.

But even if that’s the case, I have some advice for you, assuming you’re a cruise fan: You should take a hard look at locking in a cruise (or two or three) right now for further out on the calendar — either later this year or even as far out as 2023 or 2024.

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It may be an iffy time to be on a cruise. But it’s not an iffy time to book one for the future. In fact, this may be the best time you’ll find all year to put down a deposit on a voyage that will take place many months from now, when the omicron surge, in theory, will be far behind us.

After being completely shut down for a good chunk of the past two years due to COVID-19, cruise lines are eager for your business — so eager that they’re rolling out some truly alluring promotions on sailings scheduled to take place not just in the coming months but as far out as two years from now.

A wave of deals

Cruise lines always roll out major promotions in January for what is known as Wave Season — the three-month period at the start of the year when bookings for cruises traditionally surge. But this year, some of the January promotions are even better than usual.

The Wave Season deals this year include lots of two-for-one fares, free fares for the third and fourth passengers in a cabin, free kids fares, gratis airfare, complimentary pre-cruise hotel stays, cabin upgrades, onboard credit, beverage packages, included gratuities, free Wi-Fi and more.

Among the promotions that have caught my eye — and may move me to open my own wallet in the coming weeks — is the latest incarnation of Princess Cruises‘ “Best. Sale. Ever.” The Wave Season deal gives customers who book select seven-night voyages up to $695 in add-ons for free. The freebies include a free premier beverage package, complimentary Wi-Fi, included gratuities, a cabin location upgrade and a gratis meal in one of your ship’s specialty dining venues.

That’s a lot of included extras.

Being a lover of off-the-beaten-path “expedition” voyages to places like the Arctic, I’m also eyeing a new Wave Season deal from Hurtigruten Expeditions that brings up to $2,900 in savings on select 2022 voyages to the Galapagos, Antarctica and more.

Related: A beginner’s guide to picking a cruise line

Even better, if you want to push off cruising for a year or even two, is a second Hurtigruten offer that brings savings of up to 30% on sailings as far out as 2024. This second offer includes voyages to Iceland, Greenland, Spitsbergen, South America and other destinations.

Both of the Hurtigruten deals will be available through March 31.

Reduced deposits

Some lines are offering an additional sweetener to cruise fans who lock in a far-off voyage now: reduced deposits.

Unlike airlines, cruise lines don’t require customers to pay in full at the time of booking. Many only require a small deposit to lock in a cabin on a sailing far in the future. As part of their Wave Season deals this month, some lines, such as Holland America and Cunard, are reducing these deposits even further meaning if you act soon, you won’t have to put down all that much money to reserve a room on your preferred itinerary.

Luxury line Seabourn, for instance, usually requires customers to put down a 25% deposit on a cabin within three days of making a booking. As part of its Wave Season promotion this month, it’s cutting that necessary deposit in half.

For cruises lasting 31 days or fewer, the balance of payment for a Seabourn cruise isn’t due until 90 days before sailing. With seven-night Seabourn sailings in 2023 starting at $3,999 per person, that means you can lock in next year’s vacation right now for just $500 and not owe another penny on the trip for nearly a year.

Like many cruise lines, Seabourn opens its sailings for bookings more than two years advance — much further in advance than airlines open flights for bookings. As of today, you can book Seabourn sailings as far out as May 2024. That’s two years and four months from now. By then, hopefully, the days of significant COVID-19-related travel snarls will be long past.

In addition, some lines have extended the time between putting down a deposit and making that final full payment. For sailings through May 31, 2022, Royal Caribbean has pushed its final payment date from 90 days before sailing to 30 days. If the pandemic drags on, the line might extend that policy to summer cruises or beyond.

Flexible cancellation policies

If the idea of booking a cruise at a time when COVID-19 continues to cause travel disruptions still has you worried, here’s one more key thing to know: Many lines continue to be far more flexible than normal about cancellations.

Take cruise giant Carnival Cruise Line. Its current flexible cancellation policy allows passengers to cancel as long as a public health emergency remains in effect and receive 100% of the cruise fare paid in the form of a future cruise credit. Passengers are also able to cancel if they test positive for COVID-19. (Proof of a positive test result is required.)

Other lines, such as Crystal Cruises have made their cancellation policies more flexible by decreasing the amount of advance notice you must give the line in order to recoup more of your money. For 2022, Crystal will give you a full refund if you cancel more than 60 days before you sail; normally, it’s 120 days. You’ll lose the entire amount only if you cancel a week or less before embarkation day; however, for a 2023 cruise, you’ll forfeit the entire fare if you cancel 30 days or fewer before sailing.

For cruisers considering an early 2022 sailing, Norwegian Cruise Line just this week extended its pandemic-era Peace of Mind policy to allow passengers to cancel any sailing taking place between now and May 31.

For now, the cancellation needs to be done by Jan. 31, and the refund would come in the form of a future cruise credit to be used on any sailing that embarks through Dec. 31. That means you could call the line right now to back out of a cruise that is just days away. In normal times, you’d lose all your money if you backed out of a seven-night Norwegian cruise with fewer than 31 days notice.

Don’t forget to use a points card

Given TPG’s origins as a points and miles website, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you to maximize your credit card points if you do put down a deposit on a cruise in the coming weeks. The way to do this is to use a credit card that offers extra points for travel purchases such as cruises. This could be the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which offers 3 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on travel and dining (excluding the annual $300 travel credit). There’s also the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which brings 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on travel and 3 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on dining.

Bottom line

With COVID-19 cases surging, there’s an argument that we’re once again in a period when it’s not a great time to be traveling. But even if you’re pressing pause on travel right now, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be eyeing trips for later this year or into 2023 or 2024.

If cruising is what you love, you’ll find some wonderful deals on future sailings this month and into the next month or two as cruise lines put their best foot forward for Wave Season — as well as stronger safeguards for your travel investment.

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Featured image courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line.

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