Visit our travel agent friends at MEI Travel

13 ways to get the best cruise deals

16 Sep 2022
Matt Hochberg

Right now going on a cruise ship is one of the best vacation values out there, and if you're looking for the best deal, there are a few tried-and-true strategies.

Symphony of the Seas in PortMiami aerial

Cruise ships are sailing at 100% capacity in the Caribbean, which means lots of people are vying to get onboard as well.

While there are lots of people enjoying a cruise, the good news is you can still get a great deal on a cruise if you're looking for a deal. The key is to know where and when to look.

To get the best cruise deal, you're going to want to employ these top tips for getting a great price. No matter the time of year, these tricks should get you a great price so you can maximize every dollar of your vacation budget.

Book a cruise during off-peak times

Every region of the world that a cruise ship sails has peak and off-peak times, so if you can take a cruise during the less popular times you will find some of the best cruise deals out the season.

Off-season cruises are when there are less people able or willing to go on a cruise. Usually this is at the very beginning or very end of when ships begin sailing in a region, such as Europe or Alaska.

In the Caribbean, where the cruise season is year-round, the off-peak cruise times are usually opposite the school calendar. When school is in session, there are less families that can cruise.

St Maarten

Just like a 6am flight, there is less demand for these departures and that means lower prices to be found.

Besides bad timing, less than perfect weather can be a factor for why there is less demand for certain sailings.

In Alaska, the very beginning and end of the season is when it is coldest. May and September typically are when Alaska cruise prices dip to their lowest.

In the Caribbean, hurricane season greatly impacts people's desire to book a cruise. This means lower prices for a Caribbean cruise in September or October. You'll also find great prices in January and early February, when school is back in session.

Work with a travel agent

Explorer of the Seas docked

In other forms of travel, the public has been conditioned to expect the best prices if you book things on your own to "skip the middle man". This strategy doesn't work as well with cruises.

The cruise industry still relies heavily on travel agents to spur sales, and there is no doubt that a good travel agent can help get you the lowest possible price for a cruise.

The potential money savings of working with a travel agent are not about simply who can do an internet search for a cruise price faster. Travel agents have access to special group rates and discounts you would never be able to find on your own.

Mariner of the Seas lime and coconut

Many travel agents are part of a consortium of agencies, who have rates you cannot otherwise book. 

Moreover, a lot of people booking on their own may simply be unaware of special discounts offered to select groups, such as residency discounts, military discounts, and more.

If there's one incredibly common mistake people make by booking on their own, it's not fully understanding the deposit rules and regretting it later when there are fees for changing or cancelling.  Travel agents can assist greatly with this before making a mistake.

A good travel agent can guide you through the different fares, help you pick out the perfect cruise ship cabin type for your family and avoid the bad cabins.

The best part about leveraging a good travel agent is they should cost you nothing extra to use, because Royal Caribbean pays them a commission for their services.

Book your cruise as early as you can

The best strategy for locking in a great price for your cruise is to book as early as you can.

Cruise ship pricing has many factors, but as more and more cabins on a particular sailing get booked up, prices tend to go up as inventory diminishes.

Cruise experts advocate booking your cruise as soon as you can. Ideally, when Royal Caribbean releases the new sailings around two years in advance of the sail date and inventory is untouched. 

Royal Suite on Liberty of the Seas

Not only will booking a cruise years in advance get you a rock bottom price, you're also going to have plenty of cabin types to choose from. The first type of cabins to sell out on a cruise are almost always suites.

Of course, booking a cruise that far in advance is difficult for many people because most people don't plan vacations years in the future. But if you have the flexibility, this is the best strategy for netting a great cruise price.

Read moreHow far in advance should I book a cruise to get the best price?

Book a cruise on an older ship

Mariner of the Seas anchored

While Royal Caribbean's Oasis and Quantum Class ships are as amazing to cruise on as they look, they do not usually have the cheapest cruise fares out there. Newer ships command higher prices.

Instead, price shop around the Voyager or Radiance Class ships to find the real bargains.

Brilliance of the Seas side docked

Similar to how a used car that is a few years old will provide a better value than a brand new vehicle, cruise ships that have been around for a few years tend to offer better deals to entice cruisers to book them.

The great thing about the Voyager and Radiance Class ships is that you are not compromising a ton on the onboard experience, but will save a lot compared to the bigger ships.

Book a repositioning cruise

Ship sailing

If you don't mind flying, you can often find the lowest prices for a cruise on a sailing that begins in one port and ends in a different port.

Known as repositioning sailings, these are when Royal Caribbean moves the ship from one region to another.

Because of the logistics of getting to and from the cruise, as well as duration of the sailing, repositioning cruises can be a tremendous value. Simply put, less people are willing to book these because it requires more vacation time or they'd have to find a different way home.

The most common type of repositioning cruises are transalantic and transpacific cruises, where the ship moves between North America and Europe or Australia.

Last-minute cruise deals

More elusive than booking early, you can sometimes book a last-minute cruise deal if you are flexible.

This won't work for everyone, but there are sometimes really good prices in the final weeks leading up to a sailing when inventory hasn't fully sold out yet.

As mentioned earlier in this article, prices tend to go up over time as more and more people book a sailing. But sometimes a sailing doesn't sell as well as Royal Caribbean wants, and you can find a price drop meant to spur sales.

If you can travel on short notice and aren't picky, there are last-minute cruise deals to be had for those that look for them.

When you book at the last minute, you'll have less cabins to choose from and last minute airfare prices may negate any savings from the cruise fare.

Read moreWhy booking a last-minute cruise isn't always a great idea

It's important to act quickly if you do spot a good cruise to book that sails soon, because inventory within the last month or two of a cruise will disappear fast.

Book a guarantee cabin

One way to turn an average cruise price into a great deal is to let Royal Caribbean pick your exact cabin.

Guarantee staterooms are when you tell Royal Caribbean the minimum cabin type you want and let the cruise line assign a cabin to you, instead of you picking a specific room.

You will receive a room of at least that category (or higher), but it may be days or weeks before you learn of the room assignment.

Grandeur of the Seas hallway

In exchange for this ambiguity of room selection, you can often save hundreds of dollars off your cruise fare.

Keep in mind that you may end up with a cabin at the very front or very back of the ship. Or even a cabin with a partially blocked view. Those that value convenient cabin location or are sensitive to motion sickness may not want to roll the dice on a guarantee cabin.

If the exact location of your cabin doesn't matter much to you, then a guarantee room could be your ticket to deep savings.

Read moreHow to find the cheapest cabins on Royal Caribbean

Book Kids Sail Free if you have kids

Kids in splashaway Bay

Royal Caribbean will periodically offer a kids sail free promotion, where the third and fourth passengers under the age of 12 in your cabin will cost you nothing extra in terms of cruise fare.

In short, kids sail free will result in a cruise fare cost of zero dollars for third guests and higher who are 12 years old or younger. You are still responsible for paying for the taxes and port fees associated with the children, along with any other charges onboard.

For families, a kids sail free promotion is one of the most lucrative offers Royal Caribbean has, especially if you book a suite since the per-person savings are highest in these luxurious cabins.

Family in a Cabana

Kids sail free will still save you money on other cabin types, but the amount is significantly less.

One drawback of kids sail free is you have to share a cabin with your kids. This means in many cabins one bathroom for three or four of you.

Families on a budget can often get a great deal, especially when combining kids sail free with the tip earlier in this article about booking as early as you can.

Going Going Gone Rates

10 things you didn't know about Perfect Day at CocoCay | Royal Caribbean Blog

A wonderful tool meant for travel agents to spot great deals has returned.

Before the pandemic the Going, Going, Gone weekly flyer was a staple at Royal Caribbean that would list especially good rates for last minute cruises to book.

The flyer usually gets updated weekly on Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning.

You'll have to act fast if you want in on these days because by week’s end, most of the deals are gone.

You can find the flyer always at this address.

Chase the best deal and not a specific date

Perfect Storm waterslides on Wonder of the Seas

The more flexible you are, the better the chances of finding a rock-bottom cruise fare.

If you have the ability to go on vacation anytime, you'll find far more super cheap cruise deals out there compared to trying to find a low price for a specific week.

Cruise experts recommend looking at cruise prices for many destinations and not limit yourself to just one week.  Instead, look at prices across two or three months and you'll likely find many better deals.

Sail from less popular ports

Instead of booking a cruise from Miami, New York, or Orlando, try to book a cruise from a different port to nab a really good price.

Royal Caribbean sails from many cruise ports around the United States, and there are definitely certain embarkation ports where prices tend to be lower for a variety of reasons.

Navigator of the Seas year-round home in Los Angeles, California

Generally speaking, you'll find lower prices if your cruise begins in one of these ports:

Don't worry, there's nothing wrong with sailing from these ports.  The reason prices tend to be less on cruises from here are the ships are not always the newest, and the market the cruise lines target for these regions require a different price than other places.

Pick a weird length for a cruise

Lime and Coconut

Instead of a 7-night cruise, try a slightly shorter or longer cruise.

For most families, a week-long cruise is the perfect length of time for a cruise because it fits in nicely with school vacations and time off work.

Often, you'll find a better price for four, five, six and eight-night cruises.

Mariner of the Seas docked in CocoCay

The reason has to do with a combination of logistics and psychology. Many four-, five-, and six-night cruises begin at the start of the week, which still require as many vacation days as a 7-night cruise. 

Usually 5- and 8-night cruises tend to begin on non-traditional embarkation days (i.e. not a weekend) and that can be a problem for many to coordinate with time off.

Book an inside room instead of a balcony

Connecting rooms

While a balcony cabin is wonderful, you can save a lot of money by booking an inside room instead.

An inside or oceanview cabin will usually get you a much better deal given how popular balcony rooms are these days.

Remember, you're going to be so busy around the ship and in port that your cabin will end up being a place to sleep, shower, and change. So why pay a lot more for a room you won't use all that much?

Read moreOceanview vs Balcony staterooms on a Royal Caribbean cruise

More cruise advice