Escalating costs of hotels, rental cars and restaurants are encouraging travelers to take to the seas. Around 36 million passengers are expected to set sail in 2024. That means smart strategies are required to find cruise deals today…

Book early. Historically the best way to land attractive cruise fares was to wait until ships were about to sail and snap up last-minute deals. But many cruises now are fully booked, so last-minute deals are uncommon. Today passengers who book long in advance tend to get the lowest fares—at least six to nine months in advance for Caribbean cruises…at least 12 months for Alaska and Europe.

Skip the new mega-ships. The latest ships are full of impressive diversions—Royal Caribbean’s new Icon of the Seas features a half-dozen water slides, for example. You’re likely to do better booking on a liner built in the 1990s. In the case of Royal Caribbean, 1990s’ ships include Voyager of the Seas…Vision of the Seas…Enchantment of the Seas…Rhapsody of the Seas…and Grandeur of the Seas. This is a particularly sound strategy for older cruise passengers, since many of the new mega-ships’ features are aimed at younger travelers.

Choose a cruise that sails before or after school vacations. Demand for cabins tends to fall when school is in session, pulling prices down. Ships also tend to be less crowded. US school years tend to begin in early September and end in mid-June, but the school year near the departure port is what matters.

Cruise with MSC. Your odds of landing a low fare on a Caribbean cruise is better with the Swiss-based cruise line MSC than with Disney Cruise Line or any of the “big three”—Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and Carnival. MSC hasn’t yet built up a large US following. Alternative: Cruise in style with upscale cruise lines Celebrity or ­Holland America. Sometimes you can find fares below what you would pay for comparable itineraries on less upscale ships.

Book through a travel agent. He/she may be able to score a fare reduction if rates fall before your departure date…and steer you to money-saving packages and away from unappealing cabins. Choose an agent who regularly books trips with the cruise line you have in mind. Agents typically receive commissions from the cruise lines.

Book a cruise while you’re cruising.
While you are on a cruise, there’s a good chance that you’ll be offered an opportunity to book your next cruise at a savings of 5% to 10%. Also: If you own at least 100 shares of stock in one of the big three cruise lines, you’ll qualify for credits and savings that could be worth hundreds of dollars per cruise on that line. Don’t buy shares just for these perks…but if a cruise line’s stock makes sense for your portfolio, it’s a nice bonus.

Related Articles