Today, Princess released its 2011 Europe season for booking.  Tomorrow, Cunard will release its 2011-2012 voyages, including transatlantics, for booking by its World Club members (general booking for those who haven’t sailed with the line will come later). 

In fact, in the past two weeks, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line have also released many 2011 itineraries for booking.  Princess takes it one step further, by offering past passengers of the line a reduced 10% deposit for cruises booked before September 30, 2010, as well as up to $200 in onboard credits.

So why book so far ahead?  Isn’t it better to book closer to sail date to get those last minute deals? 

In the past, yes.  While last-minute deals can still be found, for hot destinations like Europe they tend to be few and far between, and last-minute air travel can be prohibitively expensive.  Unless you live within driving distance of an embarkation port, last minute cruises are, well, worthless.

Cruise lines understand that.  They also understand that it’s advantageous for them to fill their ships as quickly as possible in order to increase cashflow. 

Passengers themselves are also beginning to appreciate the advantages of booking far in advance, sometimes up to one or two years before sailing.  Why would you book a cruise over one year in advance?  There’s many good reasons to do so:

– Better Stateroom and Voyage choice.
The most popular itineraries, including world cruise segments or so-called ‘one-off’ voyages that are unique are always the first to sell out; waiting for the price to drop may see you miss out on the voyage of a lifetime.  Even for basic Caribbean and Alaska voyages, if you have a particular cabin or suite that you absolutely must have, booking early ensures you get maximum cabin choice.  If you like suites, cabins that are directly amidships, or unique staterooms like Holland America’s new Lanai staterooms, booking early guarantees you can get in on the newest, latest thing.

-Better Price
In many cases, the first price offered is the best price.  Booking early guarantees that price.  Should the price drop before final payment is due, most lines will credit you the difference, either in the form of a reduction on your final payment, or as a credit on your shipboard account.  As a personal example, we booked a summer cruise to the Med on Celebrity Century about a month ago. In that time, the price of our cabin has increased by almost $400 per person.   Because we booked in advance, we’re guaranteed that initial, lower price.

-Discounts and Perks
Many lines will try to woo new cruisers and past passengers alike with incentives to book early.  Some, like Oceania Cruises, offer 2-for-1 fares, free or discounted airfare, included transfers, and more – if you book your voyage before a certain date.  Most ultra-luxury lines, like Crystal, Regent and Silversea offer similar perks, and in many cases, the higher cost of the cruise itself is mitigated by the fact the line is including your airfare – meaning for the same price you might pay on a mainstream line with flights you’d purchase yourself, you could move up to an ultra-luxury line with included airfare.  Not a bad trade-off.

– Newer ships and Maiden Voyages
If you want to secure yourself a place on the maiden voyage of the Queen Elizabeth or Oceania Marina, you’re out of luck: both voyages sold out fast, and your only chance to get onboard is a waitlist that runs the length of the ships themselves.  Booking early for maiden voyages, or the first handful of revenue cruises on a brand-new ship, ensures that you’ll be onboard and not stuck at the pier, wishing.

What deals are out there right now?  Well, head on over to your favorite cruise line’s website and see what they have on offer for next year and beyond.  The results might pleasantly surprise you.

 

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