Cruising last-minute isn’t as cheap as it once was. But it’s still the best value-for-cost option if you’re planning a trip in the next few weeks — as long as you live within driving distance of a port, according to Brian Ek, a travel analyst for Priceline.com.
Most cruisers book their vacations around 90 days before departure, according to Ek. In the past, cruise lines have cut their costs dramatically as sailing dates approached, in order to ensure that ships sailed at full capacity. Ek suggests those deals may be a bit harder to find these days.
“Increasingly, cruise lines are substituting price discounts with add-ons, like dinner upgrade packages, free drinks packages and on-board credits,” he said to International Business Times.
But it’s still possible to get low rates. One option is to check directly with cruise lines, according to Jennifer de la Cruz, the vice president of public relations and spokesperson for Carnival Cruise Lines. She suggested features such as Carnival’s “Pack and Go” rates, which become available close to the sailing date on a select number of trips and can result in big savings.
But if you want to get the best deal, you’ll need two things: a little bit of luck and a lot of flexibility. “Fall, early December, early January and May are good times to potentially book a cruise on short notice,” she said in an email to IBTimes. But she did say that flexibility with cabin type and location is key. “If there’s any inventory left, it will be limited.”
Another option is to use sites that are designed specifically to offer travel deals. One such site is VacationsToGo.com, which partners with cruise lines to help fill empty cabins at reduced rates.
Their most famous feature, the “90-Day Ticker,” was designed specifically to help last-minute travelers. It lists all of the cruises in the next three months and their corresponding discounts. Current price cuts go as high as 86 percent off the brochure rate.
IBTimes spoke with VacationsToGo’s president and COO, Emerson Hankamer, to get some tips on booking at the best rates. According to Hankamer, June and July are the months when the most families travel, meaning cruises are more likely to sell out ahead of time.
Hankamer, like de la Cruz and Ek, acknowledged that availability can be tricky when you’re very close to sailing dates. He suggested very last-minute travelers try to book within a week or two of departure, when it’s possible a full ship will have a cancellation.
He also suggested considering repositioning cruises, which usually sail in spring and fall, to get the best per-day rates. While you will likely spend more days at sea, those cruises are often the best deals.
Have any great travel tips & tricks? Follow me on Twitter @ericapishdadian and share them!