When it comes to planning a holiday, booking a river cruise is an entirely different process than booking a hotel or even a traditional oceangoing cruise. Here are three tips to help you know when to book your river cruise for the best values — and least chance of disappointment.
1. You can book a river cruise last-minute. Despite what many river cruise lines would have you believe, they’re not entirely sold out – but they are pretty darn close to it, and waiting won’t necessarily net you the kind of discounts that more traditional ocean cruises might.
As of today’s post, Viking River Cruises still has space on its September 5 Romantic Danube sailing from Nuremberg to Budapest aboard Viking Rinda in a Category BB Veranda Stateroom. That will set you back $4,256 per person, but arranging airfare to Europe at this late stage is a tad more complicated (not to mention more costly) than those last-minute flights to Miami for a cheap Caribbean cruise.
The same run shows more availability for October and early November, but December – at the height of Europe’s famous Christmas Markets – is almost completely sold out.
When it comes to river cruising, booking earlier won’t necessarily get you a better price (though it could), but it will give you more choice.
2. Plan seven to eight months in advance. Doing so allows you to pick the sailing you want, in the stateroom category you want. River cruises are a unique beast in that the cheapest and most expensive accommodation choices tend to go first. Looking to travel economically? Snap up one of the few river-view staterooms before they’re gone, as most vessels only have half a dozen of these economically priced rooms onboard.
The same holds true if you’re in the market for a taste of the good life: Viking’s massive Explorer Suites are some of the first to go, and its Veranda Suites aren’t far behind in terms of selling out.
Booking your river cruise early also allows you to get better pricing on flights. In most cases, international flights only get more expensive as the plane fills, and the best connection choices can often double in price the closer you get to departure. Waiting until the last minute to book a river cruise doesn’t really work because of the international airfare involved; even if the cruise was a deal, the increased air cost would likely wipe those savings out.
3. Look for incentives. Some lines offer incentives to book early. Uniworld Boutique Cruise Collection, for example, is already offering savings on 2015 sailings for guests who pay in full at the time of booking, as well as to those who put down a deposit on a 2015 sailing at the time of booking.
Above all else, booking early can eliminate stress. Travel is an expensive undertaking, and not something that should be rushed into. Booking early allows you to pick the itinerary you want, in the stateroom you want, and still have adequate time to source good flights and hotels, not to mention any other activities you want to do while abroad.
Read more about river cruising on our sister site, River Cruise Advisor.