Searching for Cruising’s Best Bargains

Smartertravel.comby Erica Silverstein, Cruise Critic – December 9, 2008

Predicting where—and when—the savvy cruise shopper is most likely to find that dirt-cheap seven-day Caribbean cruise, the usually elusive five-category upgrade or a truly generous onboard credit perk requires a crystal ball. And while travel agents can’t see into the future of cruise deals, they do have a few tricks up their sleeves about where and when to look for the best prices. We pumped a couple of knowledgeable cruise sellers for their best tips on finding low cruise fares. So put down your tarot cards, step away from the Ouija board, and listen to some real-world advice on searching out cruising’s best bargains.

If You Have the Means, Book Now
“Right now, we are seeing the cheapest deals we’ve seen since 9/11,” says Anthony Hamawy, president of Cruise.com. As the economy has scared many travelers into cutting back their vacation plans, cruise lines are scrambling to fill empty cabins on late 2008 and early 2009 sailings, as well as hedging bets for spring and summer 2009 sailings.

The deals appearing now are incredible—seven-night cruises for $199, anyone?—but travel agents don’t think they’ll last. “Right now, there are good deals for summer and winter 2009,” says Hamawy. “Will the inventory remain? I’d be very surprised if there was space left 30 days out.” So if you’ve got your eye on a 2009 cruise, put a deposit down now to lock in the sale fares. You won’t be taking too much of a risk, especially if you can take advantage of the reduced deposits or extended no-penalty cancelation periods currently on offer.

If You Can Be Totally Flexible Don’t Plan Too Far Ahead
The concept of last-minute booking continues to evolve, but travel agents basically consider last-minute to be any date beyond a cruise’s final payment deadline (60 to 90 days before departure). Because some people put down a deposit to hold space on a cruise and then cancel their sailing before ponying up the rest of the money, the cruise lines don’t have an accurate picture of how many cabins have truly sold on a cruise until after final payment is due. At that time, the cruise lines can see how much space is left on a given sailing and how hard they need to work to sell it.

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