There are two seasons that are great for finding cruise bargains. One is the “wave season”, from January to March, when the cruise lines try to pre-sell their cruises for the summer and fall. The second is September and October, when they try to fill the empty cabins for their fall and winter cruises, and pre-sell next year’s offerings.
September is a time to watch for price drops on upcoming cruises, especially ones setting sail in the next couple of months. This is the “shoulder season”, when people go back to work and kids go back to school. That means it’s harder to fill the ships, especially when the weather gets cooler in places like Europe. And as I wrote here, that’s good news for us boomers who aren’t tied to a work schedule any more.
You have to pick your spots, though. According to Cruise Critic, the best cruise deals right now are likely to be in places like northern Europe. The Mediterranean stays warm a bit longer, so the best deals there tend to be for November and December sailings. And it’s still worth going at that time of year: I sailed from Rome to Istanbul in December last year, and the weather was comfortable (though storms can blow up).
You can also get cruise deals this time of year for the Caribbean, and for Hawaii. However, it’s hurricane season in those regions, so the low prices come with a bit of risk attached. There’s still the odd bargain on the Alaskan routes, too, if you don’t mind some cool temperatures.
This is a good time to look for bargains even if you already have a cruise booked for the coming season. Most cruise lines allow you to cancel your booking up to the date of your final payment (usually 75 to 90 days before sailing) without incurring a penalty. That allows you to rebook and take advantage of sell-off sales that may have popped up.
If you’re booked on a cruise leaving in November, December or January, this could be your last opportunity to find a better price. But make sure any cancellation fees or lost benefits don’t outweigh the savings you get.
Finally, when you’re looking for bargains, remember that the cruise fare is not the only place you can find value. Cruise lines and travel agencies will offer things like on-board credits, free gratuities or free drinks packages to get you to sign with them. These perks can represent a couple of hundred dollars off the final price of your trip, so look at several offers before you book. Better yet, use an experienced cruise travel agent who can help you get the best deal available.