The appeal to get a last-minute cruise deal is mouth-watering. Who doesn’t want to get a relaxing vacation for just pennies on the dollar?
And it makes sense that you’d be able to find a deal on a cruise that’s scheduled to depart soon. After all, if the room sails empty, then the cruise line makes no money off of that cabin. That means no cruise fare, and no onboard spending like gambling, drinks, excursions, or restaurants.
Doesn’t that mean you should be able to find great deals on ships that are about to leave?
The truth is last-minute cruise deals are actually pretty rare. As you’ll see below, prices for cruises are fairly consistent no matter how soon it is to booking. And if anything, you’ll save by booking farther in advance.
Last-Minute Fares Compared
To see how the price of a last-minute cruise compares, we looked at several trips sailing from different ports and different cruise lines.
Before we get too far, you should know that there are major factors that can impact the price of a cruise, including the time of year it sails, the ship, and the cruise line. For instance, cruises departing during March for Spring Break are generally more expensive than the same trip departing even a few weeks later in April. Meanwhile, newer ships tend to have higher prices than older ships, and some cruise lines are more expensive than others.
So to compare last-minute fares, we looked at cruises departing soon and compared the prices with the same trip aboard same ship departing one year later. This ensures we are comparing apples to apples.
Cruise #1: 7-Day Carnival Cruise from Galveston
Searching for this trip aboard the Carnival Freedom, we found prices starting at $649 per person for an interior cabin if you book the upcoming March 30, 2019 sailing. Balcony cabins were available for $899.
However, extending the search into March 2020, the same trip runs $539 per person for an interior cabin and $889 for a balcony room.
That means by waiting until the last minute, you’re actually paying $110 more per person if you choose an interior cabin. As well, you’ll have fewer option across all cabins since many have already been booked.
Cruise #2: 5-Day Carnival Cruise from Miami
Another trip you can take is a 5-day Eastern Caribbean cruise aboard the Carnival Sensation. This cruise leaves regularly, and if you book the trip on April 27, 2019, then you can get an interior cabin for $424. That’s certainly not a bad price and comes in less than $100 per day. Balcony cabins are available starting at $869.
But a similar 5-day trip leaving next April (2020) costs just $369 per person for an interior cabin or $719 for a balcony. By booking this cruise ahead of time, you’re saving between $55 and $150 per person, depending on your cabin choice.
Cruise #3: 4-Day Royal Caribbean Cruise from Miami
This trip offers several examples of how waiting until the last minute can cost you money. The Navigator of the Seas runs regular 4-day trips from Miami to the Bahamas and CocoCay.
Last-minute prices in May 2019 run as follows for an interior cabin:
- May 6, 2019: $417
- May 13, 2019: $390
- May 20, 2019: $487
- May 27, 2019: $450
But the exact same trip in May 2020 costs just this much for the same room:
- May 4, 2020: $385
- May 11, 2020: $385
- May 18, 2020: $385
- May 25, 2020: $465
So if you book about a year in advance, then you can save up to $100 per person depending on your specific dates. As well, advance bookings will give you more cabin options.
Why Last-Minute Deals Aren’t as Common as You Think
The idea that you could pay only a fraction of what other people paid for the same cabin is enticing. And you’d think that you’d be able to find deals regularly. With thousands of cabins on a cruise ship — and ships sailing constantly — then there have to be some rooms that go unfilled.
There may be some trips that depart with empty rooms, but the cruise lines are very good at filling up their ships. In fact, in financial reports that the cruise lines file quarterly and yearly, they offer up figures on how full ships are on average.
It’s not unusual for cruise lines to report capacity of 105% or more. In fact, sailing anything below 100% would be cause for concern. (A capacity of more than 100% occurs when more than two people share a cabin.)
In other words, ships sail full. Meanwhile, cruise lines have also purposely avoided offering last-minute discounts to discourage passengers from waiting to book. After all, if passengers knew they would get a better deal by waiting then there would be no reason to book early.
Bottom line: There’s always the possibility that you could find a last-minute deal on a specific cruise. However, the truth is that getting a steal of deal isn’t that common. You’ll often save more by booking well in advance.