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When Should You Avoid Booking a Cruise? These Are the Worst Times

Don't waste your money by making these mistakes when booking your next cruise.

Any seasoned cruise lover knows that not every ship is created equal. There are thousands of types of cruises, meaning you have to be smart about capitalizing on deals tailored specifically for the kind of at-sea experience you have in mind. Dreaming of floating down a river in Europe? Don't shop for staterooms in the summer. Want to get away for the holidays? Skip trip planning in early fall. Read on for more expert tips on when not to book a cruise, and you'll be sailing in no time.

Worst time to book a big ocean cruise: Early November


While you'll find all sorts of promotions and deals throughout October, thanks to the industry-wide celebrated "Cruise Month," most sales taper off by early November. There's a brief window between Halloween and Black Friday where cruise prices probably won't dip much in fare, and you certainly won't see as many freebie incentives. Hold off booking until the next round of deals pop up from Black Friday through Cyber Monday. That's when you'll find reduced cabin fares, free sailings for kids, and incentive beverage packages. While Black Friday sales are offered directly with cruise lines, don't forget about the bonuses available through airline partners like Delta's SkyMiles Cruises. During that early November slump, don't count on too many perks, as Black Friday is when you'll typically see air miles bonuses on top of what you can already earn booking with SkyMiles Cruises.

Worst time to book an Alaskan cruise: Late spring

alaska cruise ship deck overlooking mountains

Alaska has a relatively short cruise season, and many travelers book Alaskan itineraries a full year before sailing. That means there are simply fewer cabins and options available for last-minute bookings. Warmer months are most popular, so if you want to sail during June or July, plan to book your Alaskan cruise between six months to a year in advance. Sure, there may be a rare scenario in which you luck out and grab a great fare a few weeks before embarkation, but chances are waiting until late spring may mean you miss the entire summer season. Plus, if you want to combine a Yukon or Denali adventure, like Holland America's Land+Sea Journey, you'll need a little more planning time.

Worst time to book a holiday cruise: September


Once the leaves hit the ground and your kids are back in school, it's natural to start fantasizing about holiday travel. If you're thinking a twinkle-lit cruise may be a perfect getaway to avoid the winter blues and ring in the New Year on the seas, it's best to plan ahead. Holiday sailings are high in demand and tend to fill up early thanks to a limited number of offerings. The pros at Princess Cruises suggest guests "try to schedule as far in advance as possible, especially if you want a certain voyage at a particular time." Attempting to book in September for a December holiday cruise may not garner the deals you'd like, so start reviewing holiday itineraries at least a year in advance for the best fares and promotions.

Worst time to book a river cruise: Summer

rive cruise in the douro river valley in portugal

For those dreaming of exploring the Danube or the Douro by boat, you don't want to book in the summer, when prices are at their peak and itineraries have already sold out. (Note: Cabins fill up faster on river cruises because they're much smaller and more intimate than the gargantuan ocean ships.) The key here is to book as far in advance as possible. Late fall and early winter—specifically the months of November and December—are the most affordable times to book a river cruise for the next year because companies tend to offer promotional packages after the summer rush has died down.

Worst time to book an impromptu cruise: One month in advance or sooner

Couple on a cruise looking out at the sunset

So, you've just learned you have a few extra days off work next month and the idea of sailing away sounds perfect. All the power to you if you find a dreamy ship with availability at a price that can't be beat. The reality is, though, last-minute cruises are often hard to come by if you're looking for a deal. Impromptu bookings can work if you live close to an embarkation port and have flexibility in your schedule. That will allow you to monitor price drops and jump on a great fare. Search for sales around 60 to 90 days prior to embarkation as that's when companies cut their rates to fill empty cabins. Some cruise lines, like Norwegian, make it easy for guests to know the lowest possible rates for sailings. Plus, you can always sign up for sale alerts from your favorite cruise line to never miss a deal.

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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