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The Best Time to Book a Cruise, According to Travel Experts

Get the best deal on your next cruise by making sure you book at the right time.

Maybe you've always wanted to make your way around the Mediterranean, or perhaps you can't stop thinking about sipping cocktails on a Caribbean island. Whatever the case may be, cruises are a popular vacation choice for a reason, but there's one thing almost all of them have in common: They aren't exactly cheap, especially now. As ticket sales skyrocketed following the COVID pandemic, cruise lines raised their prices, CNBC reported at the end of last year. But you might not have to spend big to get the cruise vacation of your dreams. To help you out, we talked to several travel experts to get their insider knowledge. Read on to discover the best time to book a cruise, and how you can make sure you're actually getting a good deal.

RELATED: 8 Cruise Secrets From Former Ship Directors.

When Is the Best Day to Book a Cruise?

Man using a laptop and smartphone for booking hotel online. Tour reservation, Screen graphics are made up.

When it comes to booking a cruise, there is one day of the week that seems to stands out among the rest: Thursday. At least, that's the case according to 2018 study conducted by the search engine CruiseWatch. The platform analyzed over 600,000 cruise price reductions for the year prior and found that prices dropped the lowest on Thursdays.

On the other hand, prices went up the most on Wednesday. According to the study, 34 percent more price hikes happened on this day compared to any other day of the week.

Of course, there's more to it than simply booking on the right day (or avoiding the wrong day).

"Cruise prices fluctuate with demand and supply," Britta Bernhard, cruise enthusiast and co-founder of CruiseWatch, said in a statement accompanying the study. "Most people do not realize that they can save massive amounts of money by booking at the right time."

What Month Are Cruise Tickets Cheapest?

A young man and a woman came to the travel agency. They want to go on a trip during their holidays. The agent gives them tickets.

With over 15 years of experience in the cruise industry, Michael L. Moore, cruise expert and founder of the Disney-based travel website Countdown to Magic, tells Best Life that the holiday sales period in November is "prime time" for cheap cruise tickets.

"Cruise lines want to fill ships during more costly peak season, so just like retail stores, they dangle Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals you can't refuse," he shares.

In fact, Moore reveals that he once booked a family of five on a seven-night Alaskan cruise for just $1,500 total using Thanksgiving week sales.

"That's $300 per person for a peak season adventure in a balcony room—unheard of outside the holidays," he notes.

RELATED: 11 Clothing Items You Shouldn't Wear on a Cruise.

What Is the Best Time of Year to Book a Cruise?

people walking on the pier with three cruise ships in the background

But don't discount the perks that come with booking your cruise earlier—especially since the holidays can be a very expensive time of year.

The cruise industry's "wave season" occurs annually from January to March, which is the time period in which most cruise lines "unleash an avalanche of offers to incentivize early bookings," according to Moore.

"We're talking about free cabin upgrades, unlimited drink packages, and hundreds in onboard credits—you name it," he says. "During Wave Season 2022, I scored a Caribbean cruise with $600 in onboard credit plus free WiFi for my clients. That's on top of an already deeply discounted fare!"

When Should I Wait to Book My Cruise?

Tourist girl with backpack and hat standing in front of big cruise liner
Zigres / Shutterstock

It is often recommended that you book cruises at least nine months in advance (and at least 15 month in advance for luxury cruise lines), according to travel expert Alexandra Dubakova.

"Booking early is considered the best because it ensures availability and there are often special promotions for high-demand cruises," Jay Ternavan, travel expert and founder of Jayway Travel, explains. "Cruises also typically raise the price as more guests join a voyage, which makes booking early beneficial for specific regions and new ships."

But you could still be able to snag good deals even if you don't book early.

"For people who are more relaxed with their time and can wait for the last moment to book a cruise, it is possible to save considerable amounts of money because cruise lines have certain sections of their fleet called 'shadow' that must be filled up until the time of departure and, therefore, they offer heavy discounts or extra services," Ternavan reveals.

In fact, Moore advises his clients to be on the lookout about 90 days before a cruise is set to sail. This is usually when "desperation deals kick in and your flexibility can pay off," he says.

During these last-minute deals, late bookers can typically "find inside cabins at incredibly low rates, sometimes as low as $50 per person per night," notes Ravi Parikh, travel expert and founder of the booking engine RoverPass.

You may even be able to land outside and balcony cabins at a better price than you would have months prior if you wait to book.

"This is because some people who might have booked early could end up cancelling their booking at the last minute," Parikh explains.

RELATED: The 7 Best Cruises to Book If You're Over 60.

When Is It Smart to Book a Cruise Early?

close-up view of young woman holding a smartphone with booking room app on screen. All screen graphics are made up.

But if you're dead set on the type of room you want, it's probably best not to chance it. In this case, Annie Jones, luxury travel advisor and owner of Telos Travel, says it's a smart idea to book earlier "so that you have the best options available for cabins."

"Cruise lines generally release their schedules 18-24 months in advance," she shares. "The most desirable cabins often book up first since there are fewer available, so the earlier you book, the better choices you will have for type of cabin and location on the ship."

Booking a year or more out is especially important if you're booking an expedition cruise, which are usually done "on smaller ships to remote destinations like Antarctica and the Arctic," says Mary Curry, voyage product director and trip planner at Adventure Life.

"Many of the cruise lines release their schedules and information on new itineraries and new ships well in advance, and you'll almost always get the best price if you book early," she notes. "Many of the lines offer early booking discounts and a handful offer last-minute deals. And while those last-minute fares might look better percentage-wise, they're often on more expensive cabins that haven't been booked yet so the overall cost is higher."

Don't forget to think about any excursions you might be interested in booking with your cruise, too.

"Add-on excursions like kayaking among icebergs are often available on a limited basis and can fill up well before your cruise departs," Curry cautions. "So for the best price and the best availability, it really is important to book early."

Didn't get around to booking your add-ons before they were all filled up? Don't give up hope. Dubakova says it's important that people know they can also book shore excursions independently.

"Although it may be more convenient to book through the cruise, it is often more expensive," she warns. "Search for similar tours at the destination and book to secure your spot."

RELATED: The 8 Best Adults-Only Cruises for a Stress-Free Vacation.

How Can I Know If I'm Getting a Good Deal on a Cruise?

man portrait on mediterranean cruise.

Cruise prices can vary widely depending on a number of different factors, including "cruise itinerary, ship age, and timing of the booking," according to Ternavan. So, how can you determine whether or not you're getting a good deal? Many experts recommend using monitoring and comparison websites, even during times when promotions aren't regularly known to happen.

"It is possible to monitor fares to look for discounts with the help of various programs such as the Shipmate app or Cruise Critic," Ternavan says. "With regards to promotions, promotions are expected during wave season or in January, February, and March, but prices can drop randomly at any time."

Moore adds, "My best advice is identify your must-have criteria, but keep an open mind. Sign up for sale alerts and be ready to pounce!"

One more tip you should take note of to make sure you're getting a good deal involves booking your next cruise while you're already on a cruise, according to Jones.

"The cruise line may offer percentage discounts, reduced deposits, perks, or upgrades if you book with their onboard sales desk. Sometimes, you may even receive an onboard credit applied to the cruise you are currently on (and possibly your future cruise)," she shares. "Even if you're working with a travel advisor, these onboard bookings can often be transferred back to your advisor so they can still assist with the new booking, confirm all the information is correct, and ensure that everything runs smoothly for you."

And don't worry about flexibility.

"Booking on board also typically means that you can change your options for itinerary or cabin later on if you change your mind," Jones explains. "But you'll want to check with the cruise line for their company-specific rules."

Wrapping Up

That's it for our expert-backed guide on the best time to book a cruise. Be sure to check back with us soon for more travel tips that can make all the difference when it comes to getting the best deals on your upcoming vacations.

Kali Coleman
Kali Coleman is a Senior Editor at Best Life. Her primary focus is covering news, where she often keeps readers informed on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and up-to-date on the latest retail closures. Read more
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