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Planning a cruise is an art and a science. Is it better to book early or late? Should you claim your cabin two years in advance, or wait until two months before departure? When’s the best time to go on your cruise?

There aren’t really any wrong answers… but we’ll take a look at the pros and cons to help you get the best deal on your cruise.

When is the best time to book a cruise to save money?

Cruise travel experts will tell you there’s one best time to book your cruise: the beginning of the year. January, February and early March are wave season: the time of year when cruise lines offer the best deals because they want to fill their ships. These deals can include:

  • Discounts on the fare itself, or on the fares for additional guests
  • Discounted or free amenity packages, such as upgraded drinks or specialty dining
  • Free or discounted excursions
  • Free or discounted airfare

Don’t drag your feet! “Those who hesitate can quickly discover they are paying more, either due to higher cruise fares or the need to purchase perks and amenities like Wi-Fi, beverage packages and gratuities that are often included as part of wave season pricing,” travel advisor Sharon Strelzer told the American Society of Travel Advisors.1 Remember: You typically don’t need to pay the full amount of your cruise fare right away. Just pay the deposit, and then you have a little time to save up the rest.

What if wave season rolls around and you’re not yet ready to book your cruise? That’s OK. Sign up for cruise lines’ email or text lists, and then keep an eye out for sales and promotions.

How early do I need to book a cruise?

Some cruise lines have extremely long booking windows. For instance, Holland America allows you to book certain cruises two years before departure. Norwegian Cruise Line advertises some cruises a full 30 months in advance.

The main advantages of booking a cruise early is choice. You have a much better chance of getting your preferred cabin type and location. Generally, the most expensive and the least expensive cabins are the first to sell out. So if you have your heart set on a big suite or a budget-priced interior cabin, book soon. You may also be eligible for early-bird discounts and perks.

Another less tangible, but still real benefit of booking a cruise early is anticipation. Studies have shown that travelers experience higher levels of happiness from planning and looking forward to a trip; once they return from vacation, their happiness levels quickly subside to normal levels.2, 3

The drawback to booking a cruise far in advance: A lot can change between now and your sailing date. Pregnancy, layoffs, military deployment, the loss of a loved one, or any of a hundred other things may dramatically change your life—and your travel plans. That’s why travel insurance is essential!

When is the best time to buy travel insurance for a cruise?

The best time to buy travel insurance, for a cruise or any other vacation, is immediately after making your first trip deposit. Why? Because the sooner you insure your trip, the sooner you’re covered.

Travel insurance only protects you from unforeseeable things that happen after you buy your plan. Let’s say you fracture a few bones in your foot and require surgery. If you bought travel insurance before your injury, then you could cancel your cruise and get reimbursed for nonrefundable prepaid costs. If you haven’t yet bought insurance, then it’s too late to be covered.

Cruise travel insurance is a must because most cruise lines have strict no-refund policies. If you cancel your cruise after a certain date, you may get back only a fraction of your fare, a credit toward a future cruise, or nothing at all. Travel insurance with trip cancellation benefits can reimburse up to 100 percent of your prepaid, non-refundable trip costs if you must cancel your cruise due to a covered reason.

The Cancel Anytime upgrade, which is available with our OneTrip Prime and OneTrip Premier plans, can reimburse 80% of your lost non-refundable trip costs if you cancel your trip for almost any unforeseeable reason your plan does not already cover.

Another reason to buy travel insurance for your cruise: It protects you in case of a serious medical emergency. The cruise line will not pay for a medical evacuation or medical care if you get seriously ill or injured at sea. That’s why you need a travel insurance plan with emergency medical and dental benefits and emergency transportation benefits.

Read more: What Does Travel Insurance Cover for a Cruise?

When is the best time to book a last-minute cruise?

Last-minute cruise deals aren’t hard to come by. Cruise lines lose money on empty cabins, so they’d rather sell discounted fares than accept a less-than-full ship. And you don’t really have to wait until the last minute! Fares begin to drop 60 to 90 days before departure. “This is the last call (for most, but not all, cruise lines and itineraries) for travelers to cancel existing reservations without penalty,” Cruise Critic explains.4 So from that point on, the cruise line knows exactly how many cabins it still needs to fill.

Keep in mind that if you’re booking a last-minute cruise, your choice of cabin will be limited. Some last-minute cruise deals include a cabin guarantee, which means you select your cabin type but you don’t get to pick the exact room. You could get lucky and be upgraded to a better room than you paid for… or you may get stuck with a less desirable stateroom, such as one with an obstructed view or near a noisy nightclub.

What is the cheapest month to go on a cruise?

The best rule of thumb is to cruise when others can’t. Families with kids generally book their cruises for the winter holidays, over spring break, or during the summer. If you’re not constrained by school or work schedules, then you can find a better deal on cruises at less popular times, such as early December or January.

Beyond that, the cheapest time to cruise depends on location:

  • In the Caribbean, the best cruise deals can be found during September and October, when school’s in session and hurricane season is still in effect. You’ll also get cheaper rates in early December, January, and early February.
  • Cruises to Bermuda are a special case. Because this island is far north of the Caribbean—due east of North Carolina—its cruise season lasts from April to November. The best Bermuda cruise deals are in April and May, when the weather is still fairly cool, and in the fall.5
  • Mediterranean cruises are typically cheapest in the shoulder season: March, April and November. You may have to wear a jacket, but that’s better than the oppressive summer heat!
  • For European river cruises, the cheapest fares may be found in March and April. Airfare should be more affordable, too. As a bonus, river water levels are reliably higher in spring, making it less likely that your boat will be rerouted.6
  • Alaskan cruise deals can be found at the beginning and end of the season. May is the driest month, and is also a great chance to see migrating whales. September and October will likely bring rain and choppy seas, but you’ll be rewarded with fall color and maybe a glimpse of the Northern Lights.7

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