8 Considerations When Determining the Best Time to Book a Cruise

Booking early gives you the best selection, but keep an eye out for deals throughout the year.
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Written by Ramsey Qubein
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Looking to sail the high seas, but don’t want to feel like you paid more than you should have? The best time to book a cruise can vary heavily based on market demand, and there is no easy answer to determine the best time. But there are some important considerations to boost your chances of scoring a deal.

Summer is a popular time to visit the Mediterranean, and the winter cold keeps Caribbean-bound ships filled. However, cruise fares are dynamic and can vary by the sailing — with holiday periods being the most expensive.

Other times of the year can be a relative steal when it comes to getting the best bargain for your cruise. But when is the best time to book a cruise? Knowing when and where to book is the key.

1. Wave season

The best time to book cruise deals can be during "wave season," from January to March, when cruise lines release the best deals for the coming year.

This is when several cruise lines open up bookings for their upcoming sailings and you can score bonuses such as cabin upgrades, prepaid gratuities, welcome amenities and onboard credits.

Wave season is a popular time to reserve a sailing, but it makes sense to monitor cruise rates throughout the year as cruise lines update their pricing depending on how the sailing is selling.

2. Timing: What is the best day of the week or month to book a cruise?

Other than during wave season, there is no one particular day that is better than others. The best advice is to keep an eye on the sailings you want. You may see prices fluctuate as the sailing fills up or if a significant number of people cancel. This type of informal price tracking is the best strategy when it comes to finding the price that is right for you.

There is one exception, and that is during holiday promotions, especially around Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Cruise lines unleash a slew of impressive deals, representing major savings and significant perks on sailings for the coming year and beyond.

The best deals are likely to be when a cruise opens for sale. The sooner cruise lines can get your payment, the better. It’s all about cash flow, even if it is just a down payment — and this is why there is an extra incentive to book early.

A solid word of advice is to book a cruise 6-12 months before the departure date, but really, the sooner, the better.

3. Can you track cruise fares?

The best way to track cruise fares is by downloading the Shipmate app to keep an eye on rates for the exact sailing date and cabin type you are interested in to ensure that the price has not dropped.

Many cruise lines offer price protection guarantees if you book directly with them or through a qualified travel agent. This means if the price drops for the same cabin and fare type, you can score the lower rate as long as you have not already paid in full or passed the guarantee window.

But as expected, there is fine print, so make sure you read the details before settling on a price, and ask as many questions as you can when making the booking so there are no surprises.

You may have to cancel the booking and start over to secure the lower rate. Some cruise lines will only give the refund as as onboard credit. Other restrictions may only protect the price within 48 hours of making the booking rather than up to the departure date.

Royal Caribbean allows you to add sailings to your watchlist directly from their website, but you'll need to select the specific date you'd like to track and add each cabin type you'd consider booking to get alerts.

Tracking cruise fares is really the only way to know if you’re getting a good deal on a sailing. If you don’t want to do the extra research, travel advisors can help. Some can also offer extra perks that would not be available by booking a cruise yourself.

4. Last-minute deals

When do cruises go on sale? The key takeaway is that some sailings may never go on sale since they are already in high demand, so cruise lines find no need to lower the price. As the sailing date approaches, trips that have not sold may go on sale, but it is never a guarantee.

On sailings with availability close to departure, it is possible to find last-minute deals. This can also be a good time to get last-minute bonuses like cabin upgrades or onboard credits when cruise lines are desperate to fill any empty cabins. After all, once a cruise ship leaves, the cabins are lost revenue.

Keep in mind, however, when passengers book a cruise after the final payment window (early bookings can make payments in installments), the cruise must be paid in full. If you aren’t prepared to make a big payment all at once, this could mean that last-minute deals could prove to be a hassle for your finances.

If you’re looking for a particular cabin type, especially suites, these can be among the first to go as they are more limited in number. It is best not to wait until the last minute for premium cabins as they can sell out as early as a year in advance.

5. General demand

If the sailing you want to book is in demand, like over the holidays or to a rare destination with few sailings, you will want to book early.

Supply and demand regulate the pricing, so these cruises are unlikely to be discounted given their heavy demand. You'll want to book the cruise as soon as reservations are available for sale (18-24 months before the departure date) for the best deal and availability.

On the other hand, sailings with greater frequency (like your standard Caribbean or Mediterranean cruise) will offer deals well into the booking cycle since there is more to choose from of those itineraries.

As long as you are not committed to just one particular date or cabin type, waiting longer can reveal more potential deals.

6. Schedule flexibility

Multi-generational families or friends traveling together may have a harder time deciding on when to sail since work and school commitments can limit the departure date to just one or two sailings, since cruises have set departure and disembarkation dates.

The type of cruise you book is also key. Expedition ships, like those going to Antarctica or the Arctic, are often much smaller and their cabins can fill up quickly.

7. Earning or redeeming miles on a cruise

Cruise lines often partner with travel agencies and airlines to offer incentives in the form of miles and points to people who book through them. Other websites also allow travelers to earn or redeem miles and points for a cruise.

This includes airline-affiliated cruise websites like American Airlines Cruises, Delta SkyMiles Cruises and United Cruises. Still, the best time to buy a cruise with miles and points is no different than when booking a sailing with cash, as the redemption rates can vary.

8. Credit card deals

Many cruise lines have credit cards that provide discounts for cardmembers or special perks during their sailings.

Another consideration is cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express and Chase Sapphire Reserve®, as they offer travel credits when using the card to book travel. This includes cruise trips, and you can take advantage of those rebates when paying for a cruise with that card.

How the cards compare
The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Apply now

on American Express' website

Rates & Fees
Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Apply now

on Chase's website

Annual fee



Travel credit

$200 annual statement credit for travel purchases. Terms Apply.

$300 annual statement credit for travel purchases.

Still not sure?

The best time to book a cruise recapped

There are many considerations when searching for the best time to book a cruise. The bottom line is that booking early ensures getting the itinerary, cabin and date that you want. And when you book directly, you can sometimes request a credit if the cost drops on the exact same type of fare if you have not already paid in full.

It can be hard to settle on the exact trip you want to take so far in advance, but if you keep your eyes open, great deals can be had.

To view rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, see this page.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are some of the best travel credit cards of 2024:

Cards for Cruises from our Partners
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases.


Intro offer


Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card

on Bank of America's website

Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


Earn unlimited 2 points for every $1 spent on travel and dining purchases and unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 spent on all other purchases.


Intro offer


Receive 60,000 online bonus points - a $600 value - after you make at least $4,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.

See more cards for cruises
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