1. Home
  2. Planning
  3. Cruise Tips and Advice
  4. Last Minute Cruising: 9 Tips for Getting a Deal
Last Minute Cruising: 9 Tips for Getting a Deal (Photo: Princess Cruises)

Last Minute Cruising: 9 Tips for Getting a Deal

Updated September 21, 2017

It's no longer possible to show up at the dock, suitcase in hand, hoping to negotiate your way onboard for the ultimate last minute cruise deal. (These days, cruise lines are required by law to submit passenger manifests within 24 to 48 hours of departure.) But nabbing a serious bargain is easier than ever.

Last minute cruises -- defined roughly in industry terms as sailings that depart between several days and three months in the future -- offer savings to those of us who either procrastinate for a living or enjoy the luxury of cruising on a whim. And even better: The internet is a terrific resource for deals, and travel agencies regularly receive offers from cruise lines trying to fill ships on close-in voyages.

But, like any deal that comes with a "too good to be true" price tag, buying a last minute cruise has its pros and cons. Read these tips and tricks for cruising on the cheap, and avoiding potential savings pitfalls:


1. Strike while the iron's hot

One of the best times to find last minute rates on a particular sailing is 60 to 90 days before departure. The reason? This is the last call (for most cruise lines and itineraries -- for some it's up to 120 days) for travellers to cancel existing reservations without penalty. At that point, the cruise line will know exactly how many cabins are left -- and if there is more space available than the cruise line would like, it will quickly (and often heavily) reduce the fare so that it can sell out the ship.

2. Don't expect "peak" travel

There's a reason why a cruise is being unloaded with little time to spare -- and it's not because it's a hot seller. Calendar-wise, you probably won't find a last minute bargain on Christmas or New Year's sailings, Easter week or over the August bank holiday. You might -- but don't hold out if you have your heart set on travelling during those times. On the flip side, you're very likely to find plenty of variety in the Mediterranean during low season (October through April) or during the pre-holiday (first week or two of December) and the post-holiday (first two weeks of January) travel lulls. But never rule anything out. Some years, holiday cruises or peak summer sailings don't sell out like they usually do, and there are surprise bargains on normally popular itineraries.

3. Embrace repositioning cruises

Odd-duck itineraries don't always sell well, leading to last minute deals. Among them are repositioning cruises, when vessels change "regions" for the season and sail unusual routes to get to their new homeports, often across an ocean or sea. These voyages are usually longer -- maybe two weeks or so instead of seven days -- and include lots of sea days, as well as a mishmash of ports, all at a reasonable price. There is a catch: Because these voyages begin in one port and end in another, passengers are responsible for picking up generally expensive one-way or open-jaw airfares. Still, crunch the numbers; if you can find a good deal on airfare, you'll save big on eleventh-hour repositionings. (Check rates here.)

Find a Cruise

4. Shop around

Though cruise lines have tight restrictions on travel agency discounting, cruise sellers have authorised ways of accessing lower prices or offering different booking bonuses than their competitors. Shop around to look for the best deals. Many agencies have web pages focusing on last minute deals or weekly bargains emails. And if you don't see anything you like, call. Often agencies have low prices that they can only tell customers about over the phone. (And -- shameless plug -- don't forget to check out Cruise Critic's last minute deals page.)

5. Defining value is key

How much of a bargain is a cheap cruise that requires you to spend twice as much on airfare? For instance, you'll typically see more Anchorage-to-Vancouver voyages on last minute lists than the more affordable round trip Seattle itineraries. Why? Air is typically cheaper on the latter, which sails into and out of the same city. The former has you flying in and out of different airports, including one in Alaska where fares are often high. Account for that cost before committing.

6. Read the fine print

Read each offer very, very carefully because it will specify exactly what your purchase entitles you to. An inside cabin is no bargain if you suffer from claustrophobia. Outside cabins on sale may have obstructed views. Some last minute deals are for guarantee cabins, for which you cannot request a cabin number or location. Look carefully for information on service fees, government taxes and port charges, which often aren't included in the sale price. And check whether special offers mandate that you pay in full at time of booking or if deposits are non-refundable.

7. Be flexible

Booking late means you'll get what's left after all the early planners have made their arrangements. You are less likely to get an in-demand suite or balcony cabin, a prime dinner table or seating, or a choice cabin location. If you don't have your heart set on specific details, you'll be more likely to enjoy your discounted cruise.

8. Take the car

It's easier to say yes to an eleventh-hour offer if you don't have to worry about buying airfare. If you live within driving distance of a homeport, say Southampton, Glasgow or Newcastle, focus your deal search on those departures. Find a deal, and you can quickly plan a pre-cruise road trip to get there. Some hotels near major embarkation ports offer park-sleep-cruise packages.

9. Keep your passport up to date

You don't want to book a last minute sailing only to find that a passport is necessary and yours has expired. If you want to plan a getaway at a moment's notice, we recommend making sure there are at least six months left before your passport expires -- and renewing it in advance if not.

Find a Cruise

Popular on Cruise Critic

How To Choose a Cruise Ship Cabin: What You Need to Know
Your room on a cruise ship is called a cabin (or stateroom) and is akin to a hotel room, but typically much smaller. Choosing a cruise ship cabin can be fun and challenging at the same time, and not just a little bit frustrating on occasion. Cabins fall into different types or "categories," and some cruise lines will present as many as 20 or more categories per ship. Before you get overwhelmed, it's helpful to remember that there are essentially only four types of cabins on any cruise vessel: Inside: the smallest-sized room, with no window to the outside Outside: a room with a window or porthole (a round window) with a view to the outside, often similarly sized to an inside cabin or a bit larger; also known as oceanview Balcony: a room featuring a verandah that allows you to step outside without going up to a public deck Suite: a larger cabin, often with separate living and sleeping areas, and a wide variety of extra amenities and perks
11 Best Luxury Cruise Ships
The moment you step aboard a luxury cruise ship, a hostess is at your arm proffering a glass of bubbly while a capable room steward offers to heft your carry-on as he escorts you to what will be your home-away-from-home for the next few days. You stow your things (likely in a walk-in closet) and then emerge from your suite to get the lay of the ship. As you walk the decks, friendly crew members greet you ... by name. How can that be? You just set foot onboard! First-class, personalised service is just one of the hallmarks of luxury cruise lines. You can also expect exotic itineraries, varying degrees of inclusivity in pricing, fine wines and gourmet cuisine as well as universally high crew-to-passenger ratios. That being the case, you might think any old luxury cruise ship will do, but that's not quite true. Like people, cruise ships have their own unique personalities -- and some will be more suited to your holiday style than others. Lines like SeaDream might not offer the most spacious suites, but their intimate yachts can stealthily visit ports that large ships can't manage. Regent Seven Seas and Oceania Cruises are owned by the same parent company but Regent offers a completely inclusive holiday experience, while Oceania draws travellers with a more independent streak. Take a look at Cruise Critic's list of best luxury cruise lines and ships to see which one resonates with you.
Best Time to Cruise
It's one of the most common cruising questions: When is the best time to cruise Alaska, Australia, the Caribbean, Canada/New England, Hawaii, Europe or the South Pacific? The answer depends on many variables. Autumn -- or "Fall" in North America" -- foliage enthusiasts, for instance, will find September and October the best time to take that Canada/New England cruise, whereas water sports-lovers (and families) much prefer to sail the region in the summer when school is out and temperatures are warmer for swimming. The best time to cruise to Alaska will vary depending on your preferences for viewing wildlife, fishing, bargain-shopping, sunshine, warm weather and catching the northern lights. For most cruise regions, there are periods of peak demand (high season), moderate demand (shoulder season) and low demand (low season), which is usually the cheapest time to cruise. High season is typically a mix of when the weather is best and popular travel periods (such as summer and school holidays). However, the best time to cruise weather-wise is usually not the cheapest time to cruise. The cheapest time to cruise is when most travellers don't want to go because of chillier temperatures or inopportune timing (too close to holidays, the start of school, etc.). But the lure of cheap fares and uncrowded ports might make you change your mind about what you consider the best time to cruise. As you plan your next cruise, you'll want to take into consideration the best and cheapest times to cruise and see what jibes with your holiday schedule. Here's a when-to-cruise guide for popular destinations.