How to Find Last-Minute Cruise Deals

How to Find Last-Minute Cruise Deals

By sergio_pulp via Freepik

Have a few extra days with nothing to do? Why not hop on board a cruise? While you can’t show up with a suitcase in hand and expect to embark, with a little sleuthing, you can find last-minute cruise deals that will have you leaving in just a few short weeks.

The cruise industry defines a last-minute cruise as one booked a few days to three months before the embarkation date. They offer you incredible deals on rooms that might otherwise go unfilled. If you’re ready to find a last-minute cruise deal, keep in mind that there are pros and cons to booking right before embarkation. Here’s what to remember as you find the perfect vacation at a bargain price.

Look for Deals at the Right Time

While finding last-minute flights and hotels at a bargain might be easy, cruises take a little more time to coordinate. That’s because ships have to file departure paperwork with the Coast Guard and finalize plans for meals and activities. The sweet spot for most cruises is between two to three months out. That’s usually the last chance guests have to cancel their trip without penalties. That can open up staterooms that cruise lines would rather fill than leave empty.

Keep Your Dates Flexible

Flexibility makes finding last-minute cruise deals even easier. Instead of fully defining your location or timeframe, search with an open mind within one or two months. You might be surprised at what you’ll find in the process, and you might discover a new travel opportunity you’ve never considered.

The best bargains are often found outside of “peak” travel dates. It’s hard to find deals on Christmas or New Year’s cruises, for example. Think about shoulder seasons instead, which include:

  • Peak hurricane season – September through early November
  • Pre-holiday season – the first two weeks of December
  • Post-holiday season – the first two weeks of January

Consider Travel Arrangements

What might start as a good deal can quickly become costly if you need expensive airline and hotel accommodations to get there. Consider your entire trip before you finalize any plans.

This can work to your advantage if you live near an embarkation point. Many cruise search aggregators will allow you to search based on embarkation points, giving you a chance to ensure your travel costs remain as low as possible. Try GoToSea, CruiseCritic, or Expedia.

Consider Repositioning Cruises

Repositioning cruises often have a lot of opportunities for last-minute deals. When ships change regions for the season, they take unusual routes to their new homeports. These voyages are often longer— two weeks instead of seven days—and may offer ports you’ll never find on typical itineraries. You will have to consider that you’ll need airfare into one port for the beginning of your journey and a one-way ticket home out of a different port. Take this into consideration before booking your vacation.

Join Loyalty Programs

Have a preference for a specific cruise line? Consider joining its loyalty and membership programs. Carnival Cruise Line’s VIFP Club offers up to 40 percent off fares, up to $50 in onboard credits, and access to exclusive deals and other perks. Princess Cruise Line’s Captain’s Circle offers you bonuses based on how many cruises you take. They can include priority check-in, spa treatments, excursion discounts, and access to the Platinum and Elite lounges.

You can find other loyalty programs, such as the Expedia Rewards membership, which is free and offers you discounts on travel depending on your status level. Because you can earn with all your travel plans, you may see your points add up faster. It can be a great way to get even better deals on future trips.

Shop Around

Sometimes it makes sense to go directly to the source. Other times you might find better deals by searching with other agencies. Cruise lines are notorious for tight restrictions on travel agency discounting, but that doesn’t mean working with professionals will not grant you a great deal. Search websites for last-minute bargains. Don’t be afraid to call travel agents for help. Many have great deals they hold back for people who book through them.

Read the Fine Print

Some bargains are good deals for a reason. Read each offer carefully to ensure you know exactly what you’re purchasing. Are you okay with inside cabins or an outside cabin with an obstructed view? When you buy a last-minute bargain, it’s usually “you get what you pay for.” You won’t be able to adjust your cabin location after you board. You should also look at service fees, government taxes, port charges, and other fees not included in the sales price. Most last-minute bookings won’t be refundable.

Be Ready

If you’re looking for last-minute deals, be ready to go. Is your passport up to date? Many countries require you to have at least six months left before your passport expires. With current regulations, it might take more time to renew your passport.