The Great Debate: Booking A Cruise Early or Late?
Travelers have debated for years about the best time to book cruise vacations. Cruising is more popular than ever and many ships fill up fast. On the other hand, some of the best cruise deals have historically been found just before ships are scheduled to sail.
The fact is, however, there are benefits to both booking a cruise well in advance and waiting until the last minute, according to Bob Levinstein, CEO of CruiseCompete.com. “The best time to book really depends on a person’s travel plans and personal preferences,” Levinstein says. “Some cruise travelers know exactly where they want to go, when and on what ship. They typically book their trips six to 24 months in advance so they can travel on the exact cruise they want. “Others are much more flexible and willing to see what cruises may be available and on-sale at any given time. They usually book spur of the moment.”
Book early if:
You can only travel on specific dates, including pre-planned vacations, holiday vacations, school breaks, weddings, family reunions, corporate meetings and other similar get togethers.
You want to secure the best price possible on air travel to the port of departure, or when you are using frequent flyer miles to buy an airline ticket.
You want a specific cabin type. This may include a certain suite or location, adjoining cabins or one that accommodates a third or fourth guests. Persons requiring a handicapped cabin should also book early to assure one is available.
You wait to sail on a ship’s inaugural cruise or want to travel to a particular destination with limited availability, such as Antarctica, the Galapagos Islands or a world cruise – these cruises tend to sell out quickly.
You like to eat dinner at a certain time and there are multiple seating times.
You want to put your cruise on vacation lay-away and make manageable monthly payments.
You want to travel with a group. In these situations, it makes sense to book early to assure all guests will be accommodated. Plus, one can hold some cabins without names, allowing time to gather enough people.
You want to take advantage of special early booking savings.
Levinstein says cruise travelers that book early can still cancel or change their plans within a certain timeframe and receive a full refund, minus a change or cancellation fee charged by most agents. He likes to remind people that refunds on deposits may take a while to receive.
While many people like to plan a cruise vacation carefully, he added, they should be prepared with their wants and needs to take advantage of special sales that are offered throughout the year.
Book last-minute if:
Your job or circumstances dictate last-minute travel decisions.
You are traveling with just one or two couples and everyone is very flexible.
You are very flexible about your cabin type and formal dining times.
You can pay for a cruise in its entirety, rather than in installments.
You want to leave from your own port city or can easily drive to the port of departure.
Your goal is to find a lower price than others may pay, typically offered by cruise lines to fill up a ship just before it sails.
“There are many cruisers who relish the idea of being spontaneous and finding the very best travel deals out there,” Levinstein said. “But if one absolutely wants to travel on a certain date, ship or to a specific destination, I strongly recommend booking the vacation as early as possible.”
Heidi Allison-Shane is the Editor-At-Large of AllThingsCruise.