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It’s that time of year again, as the cruise lines begin to roll out their new brochures for the next season. And with new brochures comes early bird deals.
But do these deals really save you money, or should you wait until the last minute in the hope that the lines will discount?

Early bird deals available right now can save you up to $6,790 per couple.

Many travellers fear that by locking in their booking early they could miss out on a price drop further down the track. Jarrad Pask, general manager of Cruiseabout, says river cruisers should jump on early bird deals. “Depending on the cruise line you favour and the itinerary that appeals most to you, you could make big savings on your cruise, fly free to Europe or receive credit towards your flight. Early bird offers are generally the best you will see, so it is worth locking in your holiday plans now to get the best deal,” he said. Many early bird offers also expire by July 31 for the 2016 season.

Kathy Pavlidis, also from Cruiseabout, advises passengers to get in quick when early bird river cruise offers go on sale. Because there are a limited number of cabins available on river ships the voyages tend to sell out, so often there is no opportunity for last minute reductions. Savvy river cruisers know which route, ship and cabin they want, and will book as soon as the fares go on sale. “The day the sales open, everyone goes crazy,” Kathy says.

Ocean cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean, Azamara and Celebrity Cruises, have yet to release their early bird offers for the 2016/17 season. But, with thousands of cabins to fill at any time, passengers have more opportunities to make savings. The lines run promotions throughout the season to fill cabins (such as buy one get one 50 per cent off) and are likely to run discounted last minute rates if you want to try your luck.

Early bird advice from Kathy Pavlidis
*These deals generally only apply to the lead in cabins on the ship, so don’t expect such generous savings on balcony rooms or suites.
*Not all deals are the same – compare between different cruise lines for the best pricing and inclusions.
*Unlike ocean cruises, most river cruise lines won’t refund your deposit, even if you book a long way out. If you’re taking advantage of an early bird deal make sure you are very certain that you want to travel.
*If you would rather book your own flight using points instead of taking a free one most lines will offer you a different discount off the cruise fare, so you’re still saving.
*If you would rather wait for a last minute deal, Christmas cruises are the best bet. They rarely sell out (because Australian’s don’t like to leave when the weather is warm) so you can find some good deals close to departure.

Top Eight Early Bird Cruise Picks

1.  APT, Magnificent Europe Budapest to Amsterdam, 14 nights, departs June 4 2016. Fly free with air taxes (up to $1,100) and save up to $5,030 per couple. Lead in cabins from $8,995 per person or upgrade to a French Balcony cabin from $10,990 per person. Book by 31 July, 2015.

2. Upgrade to business class flights on APT Magnificent Europe departing June 4 and save up to $6,790 per couple. Available on twin balcony cabins and above with prices starting from $12,290 per person and flights from $4,595 per person including taxes. Book by 31 July, 2015.

3. Solo travellers that book select APT Europe river cruises departing in March, April, October, November and December 2016 pay no solo supplement on the cruise, while on select departures in April to September 2016 receive 50% off the solo supplement. Book by 31 July, 2015.

4.  Viking River Cruises, Budapest to Amsterdam, 15 days, departing 6 June, 2016. Fly to Europe return for $995 per person including your choice of airlines (Qantas, Emirates, Singapore, Qatar, Etihad, Thai, Cathay Pacific) and arrival/departure city (conditions apply). Lead in cabin priced from $7,990 per person or upgrade to French Balcony from $8,195 per person including airfare.

5.  Save up to 15% on Avalon Waterways 2016 cruises when booked through Cruiseabout and the first 500 passengers can fly to Europe from just $799* per person.  Book by 30 June, 2015.

6.  Fly free on select European river cruise itineraries from Travelmarvel and save up to $400 per person if booked through Cruiseabout before 31 May, 2015.

7.  Uniworld, Castles on the Rhine Basel to Amsterdam, eight days, departs 9th November 2016. Lead in category from $2,899 per person, upgrade to a Category 1 French Balcony from $4,344. Get a double early booking discount that includes a pay in full and save promotion for passengers to save from $800 to $2,000 per person, or put down a deposit and save from $400 to $1,000 per person. Offer expires today (May 15).

8. Scenic, Rhine Highlights Zurich to Amsterdam, eight days, departing 12 October, 2016. Flights from $995 per person including taxes up to $1,000 with Singapore Airlines. Lead in cabin from $3,845 per person. If you don’t take the flights the cabin reduces to $3,245. Upgrade to a lead in Balcony from $4,870 per person. If you don’t take the flights the cabin reduces to $4,270 per person.