For cheapest cruise prices, book early or late? Report reveals the sweet spot looked at 2018 cabin price drops to project when you may want to book your next cruise at the cheapest price.
(David Flaherty / For The Times)

What’s the best way to save money on your next cruise: book early or late? Cruise companies tell us our best bet is to make a decision early. They release itineraries 18 months in advance and urge us to take advantage of early-bird specials. That’s the best way to get the cabin and itinerary we want, they say.

There are lots of empty cabins for Caribbean itineraries once meant to sail to Cuba

But friends brag that they booked at the last minute and saved hundreds, or even thousands, depending on the trip and the line.

What’s the best strategy?

A new report by online retailer Cruisewatch ( has some surprising answers. The magic number, according to the study, is 35 days before a voyage, which yields up to 59% off the price of your ticket

Cruise booking dates by destination.

“Determining the right moment to book a cruise is the crucial factor,” said Markus Stumpe, chief executive of Cruisewatch.

You see this headline occasionally: “Missing cruise ship passenger falls backward off a railing.”

The website analyzed prices for more than 25,000 cruise sailings departing in 2018. The highest discounts for major cruise lines usually can be found within 70 days before the cruise leaves. “However, there are significant differences between the major cruise lines regarding timing and discounts,” the study says.

Cruise price discounts for the major cruise lines range from 22% up to as much as 59%, according to Cruisewatch. Here’s a rundown of what you can expect to find for last-minute discounts:

“You should always book short-term to get these kinds of discounts,” the study says, adding that you can often get hot deals in the last 10 days before departure with lines such as Holland America, Norwegian and Princess Cruises.

More vegetable entrees and fruit desserts are showing up on cruise menus in main dining rooms, buffet lines and specialty restaurants at sea.

Cruisewatch also analyzed the discounts offered for each type of cabin. Interior cabins had the largest discounts, followed by ocean view and balcony cabins. Suites receive the lowest discounts of all cabin types.

“It pays to be a little flexible, especially regarding cabin type or cruise ship, unless you are looking for a specific cruise itinerary,” said Stumpe.

Cruisewatch offers consumers a free price drop monitoring system which notifies you automatically when prices are reduced or when good deals are available. The website also offers free forecasts on when to book a cruise for the best price.