Unfortunately, however, gone are the days when you could just turn up on the quayside with your luggage and negotiate a deal. By law, cruise lines must submit their passenger manifests within 24 to 48 hours of departure. Nonetheless, there are some great offers to be found.
‘Last minute’ is normally used in the industry to refer to a cruise due to sail anytime between several days and three months in the future. So keep your eyes peeled for travel agencies trying to fill ships for cruise lines as departure dates draw near.
But as with any bargain, there are likely to be pros and cons, so bear the following points in mind:
Get your timing right
The best time to find a bargain is about 60 to 90 days before the ship sails as this is the point by which travellers must have cancelled if they are not to incur a penalty. For some cruise lines, it can even be 120 days. Once the cruise line knows how many empty cabins are left, they will start to discount heavily.
Travel out of season
Not surprisingly, it won’t be the bestselling cruises that have last minute availability so be prepared to compromise on your dates. The most popular times for cruises are Christmas and New Year, Easter week or the August Bank Holiday so you’re unlikely to find any bargains on these dates but this still leaves several months throughout the year where you could be lucky. There’s usually lots of potential in the Mediterranen between October through to April.
Investigate ‘repositioning’ cruises
Unusual routes that don’t sell out also provide an opportunity for a good deal. Look out for ‘repositioning cruises’. These are when a vessel is changing region and needs to get back to its original port so it may take a different route than usual. Voyages can take 2 weeks or so rather than the usual 7 days and will include more sea days than normal with a variety of ports. Repositioning cruises can offer you an interesting itinerary at a reasonable price but be aware that because they will start in one port and end in another you could end up paying an expensive one-way air fare. The significant savings on the cruise though can still make it worthwhile.
Look around for the best deals. The cruise lines are bound by tight restrictions on travel agency discounting but agencies can have access to good deals depending on their booking bonuses. Check the agencies’ web pages on a regular basis and sometimes it’s worth phoning up too as some admit they have low prices they can only tell customers about over the phone.
Take careful note of what’s included – service fees, government taxes and port charges may not be part of the quoted price. Booking late inevitably means you’re getting what’s left over so you’re unlikely to get a balcony cabin or a prime dinner table but if you go with a flexible attitude, you could end up having the trip of a lifetime. Happy Sailing!