Best Time to Book a Cruise

The best time to book a cruise depends on your travel needs.

a cruise ship on the open ocean with a blue sky and clouds in the background
Wave Season runs January through March, but there are other times throughout the year to get great cruise deals. 
Viktor Hladchenko / Shutterstock

Caribbean or Mexico? River or open sea? Land excursions or relaxing days onboard? Planning a cruise vacation is a thrill until it’s time to pull out the credit card: That’s when things get serious. What if a better price is right around the corner—or you’ve just missed it? Fortunately, if you know the best time to book a cruise and what you want from your vacation, you can feel confident you’re getting a good deal.

Wave Season, Early Bird, and Last-Minute Cruise Deals

Most cruise lines participate in what’s called "wave season” from January through March, when they offer special promotions like free drink packages, onboard credit, and fare discounts. Sound good? Use the December holiday break to finalize travel plans and get ready to reserve your cabin when that perfect deal appears.

But getting the best price on a cruise isn’t limited to wave season. “Cruisers have lots of good opportunities to lock in a great cruise at a competitive price throughout the year,” says AAA Travel Agent Elizabeth Lauricella, particularly since some cruise lines offer early bird incentives—think complimentary upgrades, onboard credit, or even free airfare. Booking early also means you’ll have more options on things such as cabin types and dining times. Not only that, Lauricella says, “if you want to sail during high demand times such as school breaks or holidays, book as soon as the sailings are released. That may be a year or two in advance.”

On the flip side, last-minute bookings have their advantages, too. For flexible travelers who don’t mind interior cabins and aren’t picky about where they go, waiting until a month or two before the cruise departs can mean steep discounts if a cruise line needs to fill a ship.

"Holding off to the last minute may result in a better deal, but keep in mind your cabin choices may be minimal," Lauricella says. "This works best for people with flexible schedules."


Tracking Cruise Prices

Tracking cruise prices can be time-consuming, and unfortunately, there isn’t a great way to keep up with dropped fares unless you’re getting emails from the cruise lines. But the rewards may be worth the extra effort if you’re able to snag a lower rate down the line, and if you work with a complimentary AAA Travel Agent, you’ll have extra help.

If you book in advance and get a good cabin, your AAA Travel Agent can watch for lower prices and adjust the booking if needed to take advantage of the best deal.

The bottom line is that while there are certain times of year when many experts agree travelers often get better deals on cruises, there are plenty of exceptions, too. And a great price may not result in a great cruise (if, for instance, the only cabin left is within earshot of the noisy dance club and you’re a light sleeper), so balancing low prices with the amenities you need is important. Do your research and stay informed—either on your own or with the help of an expert—to keep track of your specific priorities, whether that’s price, cabin style, destination, or cruise line.

As Lauricella notes, “Cruisers have lots of good opportunities to lock in a great cruise at a competitive price throughout the year." The best time to book a cruise is when you’re ready to book.

This article was first published in December 2019 and last updated in November 2023.