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Cheap Cruises in 2024: Fewer Discounts Than Usual, but Here Are 9 Strategies for Deals

The cruise industry is reporting record-breaking bookings this year, with many ships sailing at full capacity. Executives at cruise line after cruise line, including the multiple brands of Carnival Corporation, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean Group, have been popping the champagne as they report new daily sales records all season.

When cruise lines no longer need to work hard to fill cabins, rates rise. Prices for cruise vacations have jumped in response to the decreased availability.

In most years, we’d currently be at the tail end of what the cruise industry calls “wave season,” when some of the best cruise discounts and booking incentives are ripe for the picking. But in 2024, the easy availability of deep discounts has all but vanished. The big names in cruising simply don’t need to bother.

Now that the cruise lines don’t feel a strong need to seduce customers with deals, “all-inclusive” is becoming less inclusive, and former perks are vanishing.

On some lines, for example, drink prices are increasing, or set-price drinks packages that used to include all tips have now been quietly rewritten to exclude gratuities, a subtle tactic that increases the money that vacationers will have to spend for the same beverages. 

Heidi Allison, president of, a long-running site where experienced cruise travel agents bid for vacationers’ business, says that in 2024, prices for cruises have seen an “increase of approximately 15 to 20 percent” over last year.

But despite the weakening of the cruise vacation as a price value, there are still tactics vacationers can use to try to root out the cruise deals that do exist.

Allison says that as cruise lines carefully monitor the pace of sales and continually adjust prices, several factors go into their calculations, including the popularity of the ships, sail date, cabin category, and the destinations they visit.

With so many ships sailing full, availability of true last-minute deep discounts has more or less evaporated in 2024. Instead, the optimal time to find the best available prices has shifted forward.

“Should cabins or cabin types remain unsold within 90 days or final payment [deadline] of the cruise, pricing tends to exhibit greater volatility,” Allison says.

In addition to the new 90-day golden period, we suggest a few more strategies for homing in on the few bargains that are available.

Consider older ships. While newly launched vessels like Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas hit headlines and new sales benchmarks alike, perfectly good ships that are well past their own marketing pushes are likely to have cheaper rates. At Royal Caribbean, Allison says, those potential deals can be found aboard stalwarts like Rhapsody of the Seas (pictured above), Voyager of the Seas, and Explorer of the Seas, all of which captured their own media buzz when they were introduced in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Consider new cruise lines. They “frequently offer special rates to attract passengers,” says Allison. Some examples of those lesser-known lines include Swan Hellenic, Explora, Celestyal, and Atlas Ocean Voyages. “My grapevine tells me there is space on most of these lines, and they offer fairly good promotions,” says Allison.

Cruise when kids are in school. Some things never change: Holiday periods are always busier and more expensive in the world of travel.

Check the lines’ promotions pages. Yes, fewer deals direct from cruise lines exist right now, but the ones that do exist are often touted on the cruise lines’ official websites, such as this deal for half off a second guest on some Swan Hellenic sailings.  The discounts may not be as enticing this year, but they may still be worth considering.

Obtain several quotes. At Allison’s free site, CruiseCompete, you enter the kind of cruise you want, and then multiple travel agents vie for your booking with individual quotes for the best deal. Because some travel agents have better relationships with certain cruise lines than others, those agents might be able to offer better inducements to win your business, including free specialty restaurant bookings, onboard credits, airfare benefits, or even slightly lower prices. You don’t have to book the trip through the agent who made the offer, but if you use this tool you may be able to find a secret deal you couldn’t have found elsewhere.

Track rates. If you have already booked a cruise and you want to see if you can do better on the price, websites like CruiseWatch or will keep an eye on the rates as the cruise lines change them, and the sites will tell you if it’s possible to rebook at a lower price. This tactic hasn’t been as fruitful in 2024 because of the higher demand in cruising, but it’s still worth trying.

Try shorter. Allison says that longer cruises, meaning 7 days or beyond, are likely to be more expensive. Shorter cruises create faster turnover, which creates in turn more cabin availabillity. 

Try ships that go to mass-market ports.  People like using cruises to visit places they might not see otherwise, so if a ship’s itinerary includes a rare port of call, the cruise is more likely to be booked.

“Off-the-beaten-path destinations are typically more expensive,” says Allison. There tends to be much more availability for heavily visited ports that can handle the largest ships, such as Cozumel, Mexico; Nassau, Bahamas; and Barcelona, Spain.