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This Is the Best Time of Year to Book a Cruise

Wallet-friendly ship deals for every season

Veteran cruisers know all too well how haphazardly fares can fluctuate. Just when you think you found the perfect cruise—at a bargain-bin rate—the price goes up the next day, and you wonder if you're out of luck. Fortunately, you're not. Cruise fares are determined by several factors including seasonal demand and itinerary popularity, holidays and peak events, and how soon the embarkation date is approaching. For your best shot at snagging a sail sale (sorry, we couldn't help it), read on for some expert tips to help you book your dream cruise deal. But first, make sure you know the 27 Mistakes to Avoid Before Booking a Cruise.

Wave season (January through March)


If you've ever found a great discount early in the year, that's likely thanks to "wave season," which is the Cyber Monday for cruises. Between January and March, cruise lines offer extremely low rates to encourage early-bird bookings. In addition to promotional fares, it's common to find booking incentives like prepaid gratuities, cabin upgrades, and onboard spending credit. During this year's wave season, Norwegian Cruise Line offers savings of up to 30 percent off and a remarkable $50 deposit option, alongside their famous promotions including free open bar, specialty dining, excursion credit, and more. Also during this year's wave season, Holland America has been running a reduced deposit promotion, waived gratuities for suite bookings, and free sailings for kids.

Plan a cruise month (October)

Couple on a cruise looking out at the sunset

Yes, there actually is an official month celebrating the joy of cruising. Specifically, this is when cruise companies ramp up promotions for their upcoming season. Make sure to watch for discounts in cruise email newsletters or targeted online ads. According to the experts at Carnival Cruise Line's blog, fall has some of the best prices of the year. Think: steep discounts, increased incentives, and the unveiling of new itineraries.

Immediately when new ships are announced

a cruise ship sails into the sunset

Cruisers often want to be among the first to celebrate a new vessel, so if you have your heart set on a shiny ship, prepare to book as soon as itineraries become available. Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas debuts in 2021, allowing people to sail the Asia Pacific in one of the largest ships in the world. There's already a sign-up form available for passengers who want to know when sailing dates are announced. If you don't mind waiting out the initial rush, though, you'll find great deals just a few months after a new vessel launches. Norwegian Encore just debuted in November 2019 and already has amazing rates for sailing the Caribbean from Miami. Meanwhile, now is an excellent time to save on winter 2020 sailings aboard Carnival Panorama, which first embarked from Long Beach in December 2019. Wondering which cruises offer the best views? Check out The World's 5 Best Sightseeing Cruises.

Seasonal sales on airline credit cards

stack of credit cards

One of the most exciting ways to book a cruise is through an airline vacation portal like Delta's Skymiles Cruises. Guests can combine cruise line loyalty offers alongside specific Skymiles bonuses, so you could walk away with a free beverage package or included gratuities while also earning up to 10,000 Skymiles. It's especially smart to book a cruise with Skymiles during seasonal sales—like wave season or Black Friday—when you can often triple the miles on sailings. Earning 30,000 Delta Skymiles just might add up to a free flight for another vacation!

Future deposit double days

iced drink on cruise

If you're loyal to a particular cruise line, perhaps you've been tempted by the future cruise credit option offered onboard, where you make a small deposit on an as-yet-undecided sailing, while earning onboard credit. If you invest in a future cruise credit, hold onto those certificates until you see opportunities to apply more than one to a future sailing. For example, Norwegian offers DoubleUp! promotions routinely throughout the year with their CruiseNext deposits. This promotion gives guests the option to redeem two future deposits on one sailing of six days or more, and the limited time offer is combinable with additional promotions. Keep an eye on DoubleUp! promotions taking place during wave season, holiday sales, and late spring.

Year-round flash sales

Aerial view of cruise ship

While cruise deals are a given during Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Memorial Day, the rest of the year isn't always as predictable. Bottom line: To make sure you get the best vacation for your buck, subscribe to your preferred cruise line and airline cruise portal email alerts to keep up to date on flash sales. To make sure you know more about these astounding ships, check out the 27 Amazing Facts You Never Knew About Cruise Ships.

Lori A. May
Lori A. May lives out her suitcase most of the year and her articles have been published in Best Life, Business Insider, Houston Chronicle, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and Time Out. Read more
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