Most travellers are loyal to a travel agent or have a particular website they like to use when booking a cruise ship holiday. But there are ways to save money regardless of how you like to book. Here, we look at some of them. Words: Alarna Haigh.

1. Book early

Major cruise lines generally know their itineraries a good two years in advance and offer earlybird discounts to kick off sales. These excellent rates are sometimes available only on selected ships and itineraries but are often available on all sailings for the season – you just have to know where to look. Sign up for deal alerts, such as Cruise Passenger’s free weekly e-newsletter (to the top right of this screen), and stay in touch with your cruise specialist travel agent who will know what all the lines are offering.

With the GFC done and dusted, cruise lines are more inclined to push fares up as sailing dates loom so don’t get in to the habit of thinking deals will pop up later on. Besides, if a lower fare is advertised after you’ve booked and paid many cruise lines will amend your payments or upgrade you to a better cabin.

The best thing about booking early?

You get to book your preferred ship, sailing, destination, cabin grade and location because there is still a lot of availability. Plus, there’s a tendency to offer added incentives like onboard credit, free upgrades and cheap airfares.

2. Last-minute bookings

Now, don’t think this means that if you book early you’re guaranteed the best price. Last-minute deals can and will pop up but it will be very rare for you to get the sailing date, ship, cabin, good location, dinner seating etc.

Last-minute bookings work because a cruise line will get a lot of bookings early on and then, as final payment date nears (about 60 to 90 days before departure) many people will cancel their plans. This means that all of a sudden the cruise line has lots of free cabins and may offer a quick sale to fill them.

Keep in mind:

Be flexible about your sailing date and cabin location and you’ll get lucky. You’re not going to see last-minute deals on rare and exotic locations/sailings – the cruise line knows there is demand for these cruises and is confident they can sell them at a premium price.

3. Surf the web

Before you go to your local cruise specialist travel agency, surf the web and see what’s out there in terms of sales, availability and so forth. Acting as your own travel agent is the best way to shop around and gather tips so that you’re armed with information when you take the step to lock a cruise holiday in.

The best time to start browsing the web is as soon as you’ve decided you want to take a cruise. Your only way of knowing when good deals and promotions come up is by getting involved – and you’ve got to act quick when you find something you like because, often, the offers are limited.

4. Sail out of peak periods

Like airfares, if you book in peak periods you’re going to be paying a higher price than if you book in the off season. School holidays are always going to be busy so cruises (and possibly flights to embarkation and debarkation points) are going to be expensive. Even adjusting your plans a week or two out of this time could save you hundreds of dollars.

Cruise seasons in Australia vary – if the destination is the South Pacific then you’re looking at year-round availability and, therefore, more stable pricing, whereas Kimberley cruises only operate in the winter months (April to October) and Tasmania cruises operate in the summer (November to March). Generally speaking, the biggest savings will be found towards the end of the season.

The Mediterranean has so many ships based there year-round that pricing won’t fluctuate too much but, on the up side, you can find massive bargains if supply outweighs demand and cruise lines are scrambling for passengers.

Alaska’s best periods are May and September, Europe is March to April and September to November, and the Caribbean is late August to November.

There’s always a catch

There’s a reason some cruises are discounted – the Caribbean’s bargain season is also its hurricane season – and you could find the weather impinges on your experience. No one wants to trudge through a holiday in the rain or, worse, miss ports because of rough seas.

5. Luxury comes with more

Have faith in the value of luxury cruising – although you pay more, comparatively, you also get way more in the way of value add-ons and a more stress-free environment.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises passengers have free shore excursions and hotel stays; Crystal Cruises, Oceania Cruises and Silversea are always giving away thousands in onboard credits as booking incentives; many, like SeaDream Yacht Club, are all-inclusive so you enjoy an open bar, alternative venues with no extra booking fee and various other luxuries throughout the cruise.

Look at the total cost of your cruise holiday (flights, pre/post cruise accommodation, dining, beverages, entertainment, shore excursions) and then research the luxury lines to see what deals you can get all rolled in to one neat little package.

Definitely book early

Luxury lines hike fares closer to saiing date, plus all the good deals get snapped up very quickly so your best bet is to book as early as possible. Look at the value of luxury – a super cheap deal may not be worth it if you’re going heavy on the extras, or you may get a terrible cabin!

6. Book through a cruise-specialist travel agent

For a cheaper fare, book through a cruise specialist travel agency rather than booking by yourself. The reason is that these agencies book a block of cabins from the cruise line for a wholesale price and can sell these on to you at cheaper rates.

This is why its also cheaper to book through these agents rather than direct with the cruise line and why the agents will sometimes have availability when the cruise line says an itinerary is sold out.

What’s your hot tip for bagging a great cruise deal? We’re sure your fellow cruise passengers are dying to find out!