Q – We have taken more than a dozen lines, including the ones you might rate the worst to the best. As we get older we are leaning far more to the best because, when all is said and done, what no one ever says in a brochure is “the passengers on a five-star line are better educated, more accomplished, and, therefore, more interesting. And, it seems to us that the more expensive lines discount the most. I enjoy your site(s) a great deal and they have educated us and our travel agent I would guess. But there is one big question I need to really have you-all address. When is the absolute best time to book one of the top ten lines. The internet has all kinds of conflicting advise. I’m a cruise gunslinger looking for the best value and I am confused as to when the best time to pull the trigger might be. 

A – Dear Gunslinger: There is a short answer and a longer one. We’ll give you both lest you shoot us for an inadequate  response. You should book your cruise whenever you have decided to take the trip. That’s the best advice we can offer. Here’s why: The so-called “Contemporary” or mass market mega-ships are constantly changing their deals and base pricing. They may have promotions for residents of certain states or upgrade offers. With several thousand guests they can usually find a place to put you on an upgrade offer. The idea is to get you aboard at any cost, even if they lose a bit of money, because once they get you on-board they will have you in an a-la-carte spending environment where you will likely be forced to spend more than you paid for your cabin. Most importantly, the larger, mass market ships do not feel any obligation to honor their pricing.

The top-tier cruise, such as those in the Top Ten, do not and cannot operate this way. Their ships are smaller, much smaller and word of a last-minute deal would spread quickly. On the five-star lines, guests who book earliest, say the first 30-40% of the ship tend to get the best rates and most lines will their pricing in the event of a later price decline. That is the big difference. No one on a deluxe line who is booked in a suite wants to hear that someone got a better price because they waited until the last moment. In fact, in the vast majority of cases, pricing is controlled by computer programs designed to favor those who book earliest with the highest fees paid by those who wait until the last minute. Not luxury line wants to lower prices close in and then have to go back to every booked guest and their agent to re-invoice a lower price invoice and lower their overall profit. So – if you are booking a mass market ship – always watch your price changes. If you are booking one of the top all-inclusive small ship lines, book as soon as you have made up your mind for the best stateroom selection and, more often than not, the best pricing.