Nothing makes cruise lines happier than convincing passengers that booking their cruise early is their best chance to land a great discount cruise deal.
Selling as many cabins as early as possible helps the cruise lines in their planning and means they don’t have to worry about whether or not a particular ship will fill up.
So to encourage passengers to book cruises as far in advance as possible, cruise lines will often offer plenty of incentives, such as “two-for-one” deals with “free” airfare for early bookers.
Besides taking advantage of such special offers, it makes sense to book early if you don’t have much flexibility in your travel plans.
For instance, if you:
**need to take your cruise during summer vacation when your kids are out of school,
**know you’re going to need several nearby cabins to accommodate a group of friends traveling together,
**or want to travel to a popular destination such as Alaska in the summer,
then you might be out of luck if you wait too long to choose your ship dates.
Also, the most desirable cabins (not necessarily the most expensive) on the most popular routes and on the most popular ships tend to sell out early.
If you do book early, don’t settle for token discounts or offers such as a “free bottle of wine!” or “free souvenir photo!” that don’t amount to much at all.
Comb the Internet for the most attractive offers or insist that your travel agent nail down the best discount cruise deal you can get.
Fifty percent off printed brochure rates is a good target price, especially for the big mainstream cruise lines, which routinely offer huge discounts late in the game if a cruise isn’t selling fast enough.
Luxury lines or smaller expedition-style cruise ships may not offer as good a discount cruise deal for early booking, but many do sweeten the pot by offering cabin upgrades or other perks.
On some voyages, kids go for free as the third or fourth passengers in their parents’ cabins. But like most early booking offers, it could be withdrawn at any time.
The bottom line is that if you know you want to take a particular cruise at a particular time to a particular place — in short, if you don’t have much flexibility in your travel plans — then it generally pays to book your cruise as early as possible.
And in most cases, the cruise lines will offer a discount cruise deal that makes it worth your while to do just that.
Clark Norton is the publisher of SmarterCruising.com. You can read more of his tips on booking the best deal on your cruise by visiting Smarter Cruising.