There’s no doubt that everyone wants to find the best deal on a cruise. And the cruise lines are happy to help you get a deal. Head to any website that sells cruises and the first thing you’ll see are all sorts of sales — two-for-one specials, onboard cash, 60% off a second passenger, and many more.
It can make it seem like the most important factor as to what you’ll pay is whether or not you get one of these sales when you book.
But if you are worried about missing out on a deal, then you can stop being nervous. In our experience, the sales actually don’t have that large an impact on your cruise fare. Instead, they seem to offer different ways to get to the same fare.
So one week it might be 50% off all fares and the next week it might be buy one, get one free. The end result is a fare that’s the same, just with a different way to get there.
So what if you want to get a lower cruise fare? If cruise line sales don’t do much to change the price, how can you find a cheaper trip?
We’ve covered how to get the best deal on a cruise in detail before and recommend anyone wanting a deal to read that research.
But if you want the biggest factors that determine what you’ll pay for a cruise, there are two major things to consider…
The Time of Year You Sail Can Save Hundreds (Or Thousands)
By far the biggest factor in what you’ll pay for a cruise is the time of year that you sail. In fact, you can get the same exact cruise for hundreds — or even thousands of dollars — less simply by setting sail at a different time of year.
Take a look. Below we’ve compared the base prices for two cruises. They are the exact same trip departing on the exact same ship. This 7-night cruise departs Galveston, Texas aboard Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas. It sails to Cozumel, Grand Cayman, and Falmouth, Jamaica before returning home.
Set sail in late October, and the price for an interior cabin starts at just $528 during our search. But the same trip in the middle of July costs at least $929 per person — nearly twice as much. Meanwhile those aren’t even the cheapest or most expensive rates you can find. Trips during some months can get below $500 per person, while peak rates go to over $1,000.
This isn’t meant to single out Royal Caribbean. You’ll find the same thing happening across all cruise lines.
Why such a big difference? It has to do with supply and demand.
When families can set sail, that means there is larger demand for cruises. Thus, you’ll see much higher prices when school is out and families can travel without taking off school. As you’ve seen above, prices can soar compared to just a few months, or even weeks, later. Therefore, if you can only sail during the summer, Spring Break, or over the Christmas holidays, expect to spend a lot more on your cruise.
You’ll Find More Expensive Cruises on Newer Ships
The second big factor in what you’ll pay for a cruise is the ship that you sail. Over the past decade, cruise lines have been in an arms race when it comes to new ships. The vessels continue to get larger, with more unique things to do onboard. And with each new ship comes more demand to experience the latest and greatest that the cruise lines have to offer.
Those new ships can cost you hundreds more per person.
For example, take two sailings we found in July 2020. The first is aboard the Carnival Magic, launched in 2010. The second is aboard the Carnival Horizon, launched in 2018. Both cruises depart Miami on six-day trips. And while the ports they visit are different, the departure port, time of year, and cruise line are the exact same.
For the trip departing July 26, 2020 aboard the older Carnival Magic, you’ll pay $629 per person for the cheapest interior cabin.
But for the trip departing July 19, 2020 aboard the newer Carnival Horizon, you’ll pay $739 per person.
That’s $110 more — or $220 more for a couple traveling together — for essentially the same cruise.
If you do want to travel aboard newer ships, you can try looking for cruises that depart when school is in session. At these times, you’ll still likely pay a premium to sail on a newer ship, but the fare is likely to be lower due to lower overall demand.
The bottom line is that your flexibility and the ship you sail are going to have the biggest impact on what you pay for your trip. If you’re looking for a deal, search for trips aboard older ships that set sail when school is in session.
For more tips on getting the best deal on a cruise, read our 10 rules here.