Chris Daley has a strategy for finding cheap cruises. The 47-year-old checks rates about once a week on cruise line websites or others, such as Vacations To Go.
Daley, who cruises two to three times a year, generally opts to go at off-peak times and scans Facebook and Reddit for mentions of low prices. When a fare catches his attention, he “may stalk it for a while,” the New Jersey-based software developer told USA TODAY, or consult with friends who also cruise.
The system pays off. Right before Thanksgiving, Daley found a deal on a Norwegian Cruise Line sailing over New Year’s to Bermuda and the Bahamas. “It’s gone up since then like $1,000 or more,” he said.
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When it comes to finding cheap cruises, it helps to be vigilant. But even travelers who have not developed their own strategy like Daley can save money on their next sailing. We gathered tips from travel experts on how to find cruise deals.
What is the cheapest month to book a cruise?
Travelers will find the best cruise deals for the year during “wave season,” which typically starts in January and runs through March, according to Theresa Scalzitti, Chief Sales Officer at travel agency franchise network Cruise Planners.
“I would say to try to make their booking sometime within that wave window because they’ll get a fantastic deal,” she said.
When kids are in school, travelers can likely find deals, too, said Susan Guthrie, an independent travel agent with Travel with Sparkle. “Those peak times when they have school vacations and summer, obviously the prices are much higher,” she said.
Maurice Smith, a luxury travel adviser and founder of the travel agency Eugene Toriko, added that when it comes to booking lower fares, “the earlier, the better,” noting that many people plan cruises at least a year ahead. For the planners out there, some cruise lines already have itineraries available through 2025, Scalzitti said.
What if I book before a new deal?
Travelers – or their travel agents – can also keep an eye out for price changes for their sailing. If the cost for the stateroom category they booked goes down before their final payment due date, Guthrie said, passengers can rebook at the cheaper price. Final payment dates range, on average, 70 to about 120 days before departure, Scalzitti said.
Passengers who book a fare with a nonrefundable deposit may lose it if they switch, according to Guthrie, though cruise lines may give them the difference in onboard credit.
Can I get a deal on a last-minute sailing?
Even those who wait to book may not be out of luck. If a line is looking to fill space as a sailing gets closer, travelers might be able to find deals then, too. “I’ve seen last-minute bookings where the rate may be lower than when they actually first launched that itinerary,” Smith said.
Take caution, though: Guthrie noted that some of those remaining cabins may be less desirable.
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What is the cheapest cruise fare?
The cheapest cruise fares are going to be those with no perks or add-ons included, according to Scalzitti. However, cruise lines may offer deals that bundle extra items – such as Wi-Fi or a beverage package – with their fare, offering a better value than if they were to add them a la carte.
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Travel to and from the ports can also raise the cost of a trip, but Smith said some cruise lines offer promotions that allow passengers to get credit toward airfare as part of their booking, which provides savings on flights.
How else can travelers find cruise deals?
Travel experts shared a number of other tips to save money on a cruise:
► Repositioning cruises – when cruise lines move a ship from one region to another for a new season, such as from Europe to the Caribbean – are often a bargain, Scalzitti said. “They’re usually on a per-day basis, probably the lowest cost to people,” she said.
But many of those days are likely to be spent sailing, she noted, because repositioning cruises often have a high number of sea days.
Guthrie said those cruises tend to be in spring and fall, and travelers can find them via the cruise lines’ websites labeled as such or through a travel agent.
► Members of cruise line loyalty programs get offers that can save them money, such as discounted fares or free laundry service, Guthrie said, along with other perks like early embarkation and disembarkation.
► For those who like to gamble, Guthrie said, passengers can accrue benefits when they play in the casino. Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Players Club, for instance, allows guests to earn rewards such as free or discounted rooms, according to the line’s website. Guests are automatically enrolled when they use their Sail & Sign card in the casino.
► Scalzitti also encouraged cruisers to book their next sailing while still on board, as they can get deals and perks, such as reduced deposits. “Especially if you really love the cruise line, rebook it while you’re there wherever you want to go next and you’re going to get some great discounts on your next cruise,” she said.
► Passengers can get discounts on add-ons such as Wi-Fi or specialty dining by paying for them ahead of time, Scalzitti said. Norwegian, for example, sells basic and premium options for one, two, and four devices, starting at $25.50 a day if guests buy online and about $30 a day if they buy on board, according to its website.