Are Last Minute Cruise Bookings Really The Best Deal?

You frequently hear or read that last minute cruise bookings–buying this week and sailing next week–are the best deals. And it makes complete sense that, if a cruise line has unsold cabins on a cruise that departs in the next few weeks, they will offer unbeatable deals to fill those cabins. But is that really true? Are the best cruise deals on cruises that leave within a couple of weeks of booking?

The answer is “somewhat”…

Generally speaking, last minute deals can be had and they can be great. But the reality is that few ships ever leave with lots of empty cabins, and cruise lines aren’t always so eager to give away state rooms at dirt cheap fares. State rooms have established minimal costs and offering them below that cost implies losing money unless made up elsewhere–doing so gets to the philosophy of the cruise line (who wants to take a cruise where you’re constantly bombarded with up-charges and additional services, especially if you paid normal, full fare?) Most cruise lines assign a certain value to their brand and would rather leave state rooms empty to preserve that brand value and their reputation (again, why alienate passengers who paid regular, full fares by flooding the market with last-minute 80%-off deals?) And cruise lines don’t always mind having some spare rooms available anyway.

Still, in our research the last few years, we generally see last minute fares 15% to 20% better than same-ship, similar itineraries a month or more in the future. The kickers are IF they haven’t sold out already and that this policy varies considerably from cruise line to cruise line. In some cases, we’ve actually seen last minute cruises at significant premiums over same-ship, similar itineraries leaving in a month or more. And last minute or not, your likelihood of getting a great deal over a US holiday (Memorial Day, July 4th, or Labor Day, and increasingly Christmas and New Year’s) is practically nil.

Perhaps a little more consistently great deals than last-minute fares are beginning and end-of-season fares. The European cruising season, for example, begins in late spring (April or early May) and goes to early fall (late September or early October). Even half a year in advance, you can find “shoulder season” fares as much as 30% less than same-ship, similar itinerary sailings during season peaks.

The holy grail in cruise deals, then, might be getting last minute shoulder season sailings. For example, just a few weeks ago, had we been up for hopping a next-week flight to Barcelona to kick off the European season we could have picked up a Mediterranean cruise on the Norwegian Spirit (one of our favorite ships, by the way) to kick off the 2018 European cruise season for a whopping 70% less than their summer peak fare on the Spirit with an identical itinerary.

All of this emphasizes that it’s best to work with a cruise agent like us if you want to be assured of the best possible deal: we work for you, not for a specific cruise line! Give us a call at (877) 585-SHIP to help you find your best cruise deal!