Somewhere out there is a seven-night cruise from $299, a luxury sailing at 75 percent off and an empty cabin on the "sold-out" sailing you wish to book. Knowing where and when to search for the best cruise deals could mean the difference between unearthing that low fare or compromising on price and itinerary.
You probably have a tried-and-true method of searching for cheap cruises. Perhaps you wait for missives from your trusty travel agent, or maybe you're a tiger when it comes to prowling the Internet for low fares. You might book your cruise right when the brochure is first published, or you might bide your time until two weeks before sailing. But have you explored all possible ways of nabbing that steal?
Let us share some of our favorite tips for finding cruise deals. While some might be old hat, others may catch you by surprise. Use them all, and you'll be ready to pounce on that cheap cruise when the right promotion comes along.
1. Tweet Your Way to Savings. Tech-savvy shoppers can try Twitter for last-minute cruise bargains. Just about every agent and agency - including Cruisedeals.com (@cruisedeals), Cruise.com (@cruisecom) and Best Travel Deals (@cruisedealsbtd) - is tweeting its best cruise deals. The cruise lines have gotten into the game as well, posting about their latest promotional offers on their official feeds. Take it a step further by customizing a list of deal tweeters using Twitter's list function, in essence creating your own deals aggregator.
2. Send Deals to Your Inbox. The vast majority of cruise lines and agencies still rely on eletters to help fill cruise ships. Major cruise lines, such as Celebrity, Norwegian, Carnival and Royal Caribbean, offer deals emails with ongoing promotions in addition to last-minute deals and short sales. And, of course, there's Cruise Critic's own "Cruise Sails, " a weekly rundown of inventory, priced to sell, from a variety of our advertisers. For the hardcore deal-seekers who don't want e-deals cluttering up their personal inboxes, we suggest setting up separate accounts just for bargains mailings.
3. Keep an Eye on Boutique and Daily Deal Sites. If you love creative couponing, add cruises to the list of things you can find discounts for at boutique and daily deal sites. Jetsetter - a TripAdvisor company, like Cruise Critic - often features exotic cruises to the Galapagos, Antarctica, the Nile or Europe in its flash sales, offering up to 50 percent off; look for expedition and luxury lines. Rue La La, an invitation-only site that offers luxury "boutiques" - with a set number of upscale items for sale on a first-come, first-served basis - might also be worth a look. While the site mostly focuses on shoes and jewelry, cruises are occasionally on offer. Sites like Groupon and LivingSocial also have travel sections for deals on bargain inventory, and this includes the occasional bargain-basement-priced cruises. Travelzoo includes plenty of cruises in its top deals roundups, too.
4. Bundle It Up. A number of cruise lines offer package deals that include airfare, hotel and even tours in addition to cruise fares. Search for packages from MSC, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and other major lines. Bundling multiple vacation elements together can help you save on individual costs. Upscale and river lines sometimes offer promotions that will include airfare or a hotel stay in the price of your luxury cruise.
5. Book Ahead for High-Season Cruising. For certain dates and destinations, last-minute cruise deals are a tough find, especially if you want your pick of cabins. Summer travel and school holiday periods book up early, particularly for cabins that sleep three or more and are in demand by families traveling together. Fancy a Christmas markets river cruise? For some lines and sailings, you can forget it unless you book months - nearly a year - in advance. If you want what everyone else wants, or at least have a very specific cruise scenario in mind, we recommend booking early. The choicest digs on popular new ships will sell quickly, pushing fares higher the longer you wait. Look for early-bird sales offering added value like onboard credit or free upgrades. And rest assured knowing that most deposits are refundable prior to final payment, so if the price does drop, you can either rebook at the lower rate or request the difference in onboard credit.
Luxury cruises also put forth their best prices early. Oceania and Regent Seven Seas usually bump up rates every three months. Crystal's Book Now fares offer early-booking discounts of thousands per couple for a limited time; when the deadline passes, the line dutifully increases the prices. These upscale lines make it clear: The lowest rates will disappear if you wait.
It's also best to book river cruises early. Not only are choice itineraries likely to sell out as the sail date draws closer, but the price is also likely to jump, not drop.
6. Monitor Price Drops. Be your own best-price advocate. Before you've booked a sailing, do some research on typical rates for the cruise you have in mind, and check back frequently (we mean daily, at least) to see if the fare has dropped. Don't have the time to obsessively watch cruise pricing like stockbrokers watch the Wall Street ticker? Sign up for Cruise Critic's Price Drop alerts, which will let you know when fares are dramatically reduced so you can get the best price for your sailing.