Cruises: Early Booking vs. Last Minute Offers
Should travelers book early or wait for last-minute travel offers?
Carol and I booked nearly 500 ocean and river cruises last year and one of the oft-asked questions is whether to book early or wait for a last-minute offer.
As with most things in life, the answer to that question isn’t all that cut and dry.
And, to make it even more complicated, the answer can vary depending on the popularity of the itinerary, the time of the year, the general health of the travel industry, and any number of ancillary forces plying on the current situation.
At the moment, if you want a Mediterranean cruise that sails from Athens to Venice, you had better book it immediately. And, at the moment, if you are looking for a cruise out of Miami to the Caribbean, they are a dime a dozen with last-minute offers galore for you.
Plus, the pricing behavior between a cruise line that has 5,000 staterooms to sell on one of those floating cities versus a small-ship cruise line that only holds 700 passengers is going to be radically different.
So, how do we even begin to answer this question? Well, I guess as I said at the beginning, it depends. However, let’s take a stab at a few general rules that will apply to all ocean and river cruises. Also, as we’re not fans of the mega-ships, our answer is going to apply most to those cruise lines with 1,000 or fewer passengers.
- Generally speaking, when an ocean or river cruise line announces a new itinerary, they are very motivated to get the ship booked immediately as each day they have to market a particular cruise costs them money and drives down their profitability. Therefore, the cruise industry is awash with early booking offers.
- The other advantage of booking early is that you will have first dibs on exciting new itineraries and enjoy a great selection of stateroom categories.
- But, the skeptic muses, what if they later lower the price? Well, again, it’s not always a cut and dry answer, but most cruise lines are willing to work with you if they substantially lower a price. However, keep in mind that all cruise line offers will say “this offer is good for new bookings only” in their fine print.
- And lastly, keep in mind that price is not everything. If it were, we’d all drive used Yugos. Right? Seasoned ocean and river cruisers are always the first ones to book new itineraries. Why? They want first access to new itineraries and they have strong opinions about the type of stateroom or suites they desire. They are not willing to leave their desired travel itineraries to chance in hopes of a lower price. It’s really no different than some people finding value in a Mercedes Benz where some people are quite content to drive a Chevrolet. Different strokes for different folks.
Last-Minute Travel Offers
- If you’re one who can take advantage of last-minute offers, then there can be significant savings to be had with last-minute travel offers. Here, the cruise lines are in a “blow ’em out” mentality and cruise prices are often slashed to get the last of their staterooms filled.
- The only problem with this strategy is that you also need to be very flexible on travel dates and the type of staterooms available. It is very common for these flash sales to be offered on the last-to-get-booked staterooms that are often in the belly of the whale. Generally speaking, the most desirable staterooms are not going to be found in these last-minute travel offers unless you happen across a last-minute cancelation.
- As our clients are predominantly baby boomers and older, we find that our clients are very interested in these last-minute offers and they are often featured in our Saturday morning newsletter as they come available.
Summing It All Up
For me, travel is all about experiences. Therefore, while I like a fabulous travel offer (who doesn’t), you’re going to find me standing in the early booking line. When I go to the symphony, I’m paying for front and center seating as I find the experience far better when there is a bit of intimacy with the performers. I’m willing to pay the extra dollar to experience the world’s greatest chefs, and when I travel, I’m willing to pay a little bit more to assure that I get the experience that I am looking for.
So, perhaps the answer lies in understanding what kind of traveler you are. Are you looking for the best experience? Book early. Are you looking for the best deal? Wait for last-minute travel offers.
I told you that this wasn’t going to be an easy answer, but it’s the best I’ve got. 🙂
If you enjoyed this article, sign up for our travel newsletter to keep abreast of our best travel tips, on-location reviews, exclusive travel offers, group travel events, and much more.
Roaming Boomers Travel Services is an Independent Affiliate of Cadence, a Virtuoso® member. CST#201120-40