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Cruising can be an excellent way to see multiple destinations in one trip. If you're considering booking a cruise soon, you may be wondering how to get the best deal. Do cruises get cheaper closer to departure? Is it best to book a cruise last-minute?
In short, last-minute cruise bookings could offer significant savings.
While booking a cruise last-minute isn’t the best option for everyone, it can be a win for your wallet if you're flexible and spontaneous. Find out what you need to know to book last-minute cruises.
» Learn more: Best credit cards for cruises
Last-minute cruise deals could offer savings
By booking a last-minute cruise deal a few weeks or a couple of months before sailing, you may be able to enjoy a more affordable vacation. Cruise lines often discount their prices a month or two before sailing to fill vacant cabins.
However, it's worth noting that a last-minute cruise doesn't always offer the most savings to travelers. Those who plan far ahead may be able to save even more.
Many cruise lines offer significant discounts to cruisegoers who book a year or more in advance. But that doesn't mean you should ignore a last-minute cruise deal that interests you.
You should know that scoring a deal on a popular itinerary during peak travel periods will be more challenging. But if you're flexible and open to letting a great deal determine where and when you travel, you may save a significant amount of money by booking a last-minute cruise.
Below are some pointers that can help increase the chances of scoring a last-minute deal:
Cruise during the shoulder season
Traveling during peak season is more costly because of demand. Booking a cruise during the shoulder season — the time between peak season and low season — can be beneficial because demand is much lower, and cabins go unfilled.
If you have a flexible schedule, research cruises sailing during the shoulder season and monitor prices to find a last-minute deal.
Book a repositioning cruise to save more
Some itineraries don't sell as quickly, and you can benefit by booking a last-minute deal for these types of sailings. Repositioning cruises, also called one-way cruises, start and end in different ports.
These itineraries tend to be longer ocean crossings, and passengers can expect to spend a lot of time at sea.
While you may be able to save a lot of money by booking a repositioning cruise, you'll also want to consider airfare costs. Having to book two one-way flights can be costly.
That said, using airline credit card rewards to cover the cost of your flights could help reduce your expenses.
» Learn more: The best cruise lines
How to find last-minute cruise deals
Here are a few ways to find a good price on a last-minute cruise:
Look for deals on each cruise line’s website: Many cruise lines, including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Celebrity Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line, have last-minute deals outlined on their website.
Use a price comparison tool to save: You can compare last-minute cruise deals using price comparison sites like Expedia, Priceline and TripAdvisor.
Cruise-specific booking websites: You can also check for last-minute deals on cruise-specific booking websites like CruiseDirect, Cruises.com and Cruise Critic.
Sign up for email alerts: You can sign up for your favorite cruise line's email list to be notified when money-saving deals are available.
» Learn more: Seven tips for getting the best deal on your next cruise
How much can you save by booking a last-minute cruise?
You're probably wondering how much money you can save by booking a last-minute cruise. The total savings potential depends on how and when you book your cruise, and what deals you find.
That said, it's possible to save 50% or more. We examined several last-minute deals for cruises departing within 30 days and found that some of the best deals offered savings from 60% to 70%. However, savings can vary.
» Learn more: The best ways to book a cruise
Considerations to make before booking a cheap cruise
If you plan to book a cruise deal, ensure you know what to expect first. Here are a few considerations you should make before confirming your trip:
Review booking terms
A last-minute cruise could save you money, but be sure to review the booking terms to avoid surprises. Your last-minute booking may be nonrefundable.
If you have to cancel your cruise, you may lose some or all of your money, depending on when you cancel.
Calculate all travel costs
While a cheap cruise may sound like a great deal, it's important to remember your other travel expenses.
If you live near a port, a last-minute cruise could be a bargain, but if you need to book airfare, your vacation could get expensive quickly. Airfare prices can be higher at the last minute, so research thoroughly before booking.
Cabin options may be limited
Many of the cheapest cabins book out well in advance, and many of the desirable cabins sell out early. That means you may have fewer cabin choices when booking at the last minute.
In some cases, the cruise line may choose a cabin for you. If you prefer a specific type of cabin, a last-minute cruise may not be the right fit for you.
» Learn more: 7 ways a cheap cruise gets pricey fast — and how to deal
Extras may be limited
Add-ons like drink packages and land excursions could be limited or more expensive when you book last-minute.
If you have your heart set on a particular experience, you may want to book your cruise well in advance to ensure you don’t miss out.
Last-minute cruises may not be for you if …
While many travelers can likely benefit from booking last-minute cruises, not all will. Booking at the last moment may not be a good option if any of the following are true:
You like to plan ahead.
You are picky about the type of cabin you get.
You have specific preferences for certain excursions or add-ons.
You don't have a flexible schedule.
» Learn more: Are cruises all-inclusive?
Last-minute cruise deals recapped
Are last minute cruises cheaper? Not always — but they can offer significant savings.
If you’re flexible, you may be able to save money by booking a cruise a few weeks or a couple of months before sailing. Just be sure you consider all of your travel costs and review booking terms first — and ensure you have a valid passport in hand if you need one.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card