If you’re the sort of cruiser that loves to save money on buying your cruise, then you’re in good company. Whether it be waiting for sales, checking dozens of websites for the best price, or even using credit card points to buy your cruise, some passengers will go to great lengths to save some cash.
One of the oldest tricks that people have used is waiting until the last minute to book their cruise. The reason is simple. When a cruise ship sets sails, any empty rooms stay empty. Not only do cruise lines not get a fare for filling the room, but any chance of onboard revenue — casino gambling, alcoholic drinks, etc. — is lost as well.
It made sense that as the sail date got closer and the cruise ship still had empty room, they would slash prices to encourage more people to book. After all, selling a passenger a discounted fare is much better than sailing with the cabin empty.
There’s just one problem. If a cruise line constantly offers deals on last-minute sailings, then they train passengers to wait until the last minute to book.
The result is terrifying if you run a multi-billion company that has to know exactly how many people are going to be on the ship in order to have enough food and staff on hand to keep everyone happy. Instead of knowing how many people to expect, much of the cruise ship would be empty, rapidly filling up as the sail date approached.
That’s why most cruise lines putting an end to the policy of offering cheap, last-minute deals on cruises. Not only does it help them plan, but it also helps to increase their profits and keep passengers happy who booked earlier.
For example, Royal Caribbean announced in 2016 that it would stop offering discount deals 30 days prior to a ship’s sailing.
This rule applies to cruises longer than four nights. Shorter cruises will still see occasional discounts to fill up the ship.
So that means if you are on a shorter cruise, you should wait until the last minute to book, right? We’re not so sure. For years we’ve watched cruise fares closely. We rarely see dramatic last-minute discounts that justify waiting until just a few days or weeks before a ship sails to book your ticket.
In fact, the data backs this up.
We recently looked at the prices of a 3-day Carnival cruise from Miami. We selected this cruise because it runs weekly for the next 21 months, giving us a chance to compare the price of the trip over a long period of time and see the trend in the fare.
We’ve charted the prices for this cruise below…
With this chart, it’s easy to see the peaks of prices during the summer and Spring Break. Also, you can see the highest prices for trips around Christmas.
But what’s most interesting is the prices of the cruises about to set sail versus the same trip a year later.
Take a look at the same chart below, this time with a couple of labels. You can see how the interior cabins sailing in just a few weeks are priced the same as the same trip a year later. Balcony cabins actually see a slight discount for booking earlier, not later.
It goes to show that if you think you’re going to score an amazing deal on a last-minute cruise, then you’re likely to be disappointed. If anything there is a benefit to booking earlier.
In fact, where you will really get burned is with your cabin selection. You can see from the chart that there are no balcony rooms available on the soon-departing cruise. If you were waiting until the last minute for this trip and wanted a balcony cabin, you’d be out of luck.
Is this to say there will never be another last-minute discount on a cruise? Absolutely not. It doesn’t hurt to keep your eyes peeled if you are able to travel at a moment’s notice. But for the vast majority of people, if you want to set sail on a trip and want the best price, it’s time to look for other ways to get a deal than waiting until the last minute.
For more on getting the best deal on your cruise, read our 10 rules for getting the best deal on a cruise.