Should You Book Your Cruise Early? When’s the Best Time to Book?
Updated: Nov 25
How far in advance should I book my cruise vacation? When can I get the best prices? Should I wait until close to the sailing date? These are common questions I get asked.
For a long time, some of the best prices were for last-minute bookings. It worked out especially well for those who had open schedules, weren’t heart-set on a specific cruise and could book whatever sailings and cabins were available, and lived close enough to the port to not have to worry about higher airfare and hotel costs.
But now, those opportunities are more rare. Passenger manifests must be turned in to Homeland Security in advance of the sailing. Cruise lines’ revenue departments have more sophisticated programs that monitor historical numbers and current activity. These programs, while not infallible, are consistently getting better at knowing how to price sailings based on the percentage of the ships filling at any given time.
Less experienced travelers are still often mistakenly thinking that cruises and tours aren’t filling up. Experienced travelers know that the pent-up demand exceeded any concern about travel and that most forms of travel are filling up earlier than they did pre-pandemic.
My reason for writing this article is to help people know the realities of the cruise industry and make the best choices for you. As always, I feel that educated consumers make for the best consumers. So let’s dig in on eight reasons to consider booking as early as possible.
Eight Reasons to Book Your Cruise Early
Grab those vacation days
Set up your vacation days at work early enough to get the time off you want. It can be frustrating when you decide on a vacation only to find that you can’t get off from work. Or to later find that your dog watcher is no longer available or that family events have been set up. Get your vacation on your calendar. Get the days off and let the rest of your family mark their calendars that you will be away.
Cabin and suite location
By booking early, you have the most chance of getting among the best and most popular spots on the ship. Mid-ship goes quickly. Areas away from public spots, those with the best views, and areas convenient to some ship features and activities are popular.
Whereas, there are areas such as louder public areas above or below, too far forward or aft (the exception being my favorite which are the coveted aft-facing cabins off the back of the ship), on decks that are broken up, or by cabin steward closets are the ones that will remain available the longest.
Unfortunately, there are too few of these on most ships, and their popularity makes them get booked up quickly. Making it more frustrating is that cruise lines are all too willing to sell one of the two connecting pairs. Though I don’t know why anyone would choose to grab one of two connecting cabins when given a choice, too often I’ve been hunting for connecting pairs only to find one of a pair still available. If you’re looking for connecting cabins for your family or party, book early to have options.
Suites usually sell out the fastest. Next are the inside cabins. Yes, it’s the most expensive and least expensive which go the quickest. Next are the lower priced balcony cabin categories.
Have plenty of time before the payment
Depending on the line and timing, you’ll have up to seven days to pay your deposit. Final payment, with few exceptions, is due 90-120 days prior to sailing. By booking early, you’ll have more time to save up for your final payment.
For some people, it’s more comfortable to make periodic payments. With booking and your initial deposit having been done and final payment not being due for a while since you booked early, you can make periodic payments toward your balance to help ease the budget commitment.
Best pricing option
If the sailing is filling as predicted by that pesty revenue department programming, the prices will rise as the sailing gets closer. But if there is a later special promotion that temporarily lowers the cost, most lines will allow the price to be renegotiated for your booking. This gives you the best of all worlds, right?!
Whenever you are looking at a repositioning cruise (a ship doing a sailing between the port of a past itinerary to the port where she is going to start sailing from) or an itinerary that the ship doesn't regularly sail, book early. There's a greater chance of the sailing filling up and you being disappointed since you can't easily opt for another sailing date. Again, you can usually have the rate renegotiated if the sailing doesn't end up filling and the cruise line offers enticing promotions later.
How far in advance do our clients book?
I’ll break that down into two categories.
Our individual clients- singles, couples, friends who are booking just one or a few cabins tend to book about 6-18 months in advance. Those who regularly cruise 1+ times per year lean more toward the 12-18 months in advance. Newer-to-cruising and those who don’t cruise as often more often lean toward 6-12 months.
We’ve always had clients who booked even further in advance, but that occurs even more often since the pandemic. By the end of this past summer 2023, we had quite a few clients already booked and under deposit for 2025 or who are waiting for later 2025 “deployments” (schedules) to be announced.
Our groups are defined as 5 to 100+ cabins.
Our group leaders and in-house groups tend to start working on sailings 12-18 months in advance with bookings into the group beginning at 12-16 months. This gives people time to plan their schedules and make their deposits.
The exception to this is when there is one family member paying for everyone. For instance, when the family patriarch or matriarch is paying for two or three generations. Or when one person who is financially comfortable is paying for a sibling’s cruise.
As you can see, my suggestion is to book as early as you can since you have little to lose and a whole lot to gain.
Are you ready to start planning your cruise now? Let’s talk!