Thames river cruise

Everyone loves to bag a cruise bargain. There's no denying that frisson of triumph that comes with securing savings of hundreds or even thousands of pounds on a voyage to remember. And the stream of new, and larger, ships being launched means there are more cabins to fill and more bargains to be had. It's simply a case of knowing where to look for them.

Cruise companies are becoming ever more imaginative when it comes to enticing customers to book with a plethora of tempting deals.

Yet it's not all about cutting fares, but adding value too, whether that means including drinks and shore excursions in the price or offering cabin upgrades and throwing in gratuities.

The key to digging out the best cruise deals comes with knowing where, and when, to look. Savings are there for the taking; it's a case of doing your research, exploring different options and picking the perfect time to book.

Find a Cruise

Here are some suggestions to help you take your pick of the best deals.

online booking

Book Early

If you've set your heart on a particular destination, a certain date or even a specific ship, then your best bet is to book as far in advance as possible.

Not only will this guarantee your chosen cruise, but you will be first in line to benefit from early-bird deals offered by cruise lines when they launch their new sailing programmes.

And remember that, in most cases, deposits are refundable up until the final payment deadline so if prices drop you can rebook at the lower rate or ask for an onboard credit to make up the difference. In such cases, some lines automatically refund the difference or add an onboard credit.

Cruise lines are launching programmes earlier than ever -- up to two or more years in advance -- and they are keen to entice early-bookers with special offers that can include free flights, drinks packages or free port parking. This is especially true among luxury lines such as Silversea or Regent Seven Seas Cruises which also tend to offer their best prices initially and gradually increase them as the departure date nears.

Crystal's Book Now fares, offering discounts of up to £6,369 per person, are valid for a specified period, after which time fares are increased, but Crystal passengers who pay the full amount of their cruise 180 days before departure also receive an additional 2.5 per cent discount.

Opt for a Late Deal

Flexibility is the key to last-minute deals. If you don't mind where and when you go, there are some amazing bargains to be had.

Check our last-minute cruise deals section, which offers discounts on various departures. Some may involve sailing off at short notice while others will have more of a lead-in period as last-minute cruises are generally defined as being up to three months before departure.

However, one of the best times is 60 to 90 days pre-departure as this is the final window when customers who have pre-booked can cancel without penalty, leaving cruise lines with a clear idea of how many cabins are left unsold. If the tally is high, expect discounts as the cruise lines try to fill their ships.

The internet is a vital tool here as it makes it easy to skim the sites of cruise lines and specialist cruise agencies to see what the latest offers are, but remember to check the small print.

Such deals are often offered on a cruise-only basis, so while they may seem dirt cheap, unless they are sailing from the UK, there is the flight to consider. If you're booking at the last minute, it may be difficult find air seats and those that are available may be more expensive -- wiping out any saving you make on the cruise price.

It's also worth noting that by booking late, you will have missed an early chance to secure excursions and spa treatments that other passengers may already have booked online and you may not be permitted to choose your cabin or dining preference. In some cases, late-bookers are also charged for port shuttle services.

But generally speaking, booking late carries rich rewards, especially for sailings from UK ports where there are no added costs to worry about.

Queen Victoria in port

Try a Repositioning Cruise

These sailings can be an ideal way to try a slightly offbeat itinerary that can be as much as 50 per cent cheaper than regular voyages.

Repositioning cruises happen when ships need to relocate from one region of the world to another, mostly during the spring and autumn, in preparation for the main summer or winter cruising seasons.

Such voyages usually tend to be point to point with a higher number of sea days than on regular sailings, and they may be of irregular duration such as 11 nights.

The Atlantic is one of the most popular repositioning routes as ships cross this vast ocean between the Caribbean and South America, where they spend the winter, to the Mediterranean and Northern Europe for the summer.

Another repositioning route is between Europe and Asia, where ships traverse the Suez Canal on voyages to or from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and beyond. Others include the routes between Asia and Australia; and between Alaska and the Mexican Riviera or Hawaii.

As these sailings start and end in different ports – often in different continents – you need to factor in the flights, though some cruise lines may include one or both legs.

Choose an Inside Stateroom

These are the cheapest staterooms (cabins) on the ship as they do not have a porthole or window, but are perfectly adequate in every other way and have the same facilities as standard ocean view or balcony staterooms.

When cruises are advertised by mass market lines such as P&O Cruises, Royal Caribbean International or Holland America Line, the cheap headline prices are generally based on the rate for an inside stateroom.

The price starts to increase for ocean view or balcony cabins, so you need to balance whether the extra cost is worth paying.

Book a Guaranteed Stateroom

If you don't mind where your cabin is located on the ship, opt for a guaranteed stateroom. You have to pay in full at the time of booking and cannot usually incorporate this with other offers, but the advantage is a potential upgrade to a better cabin. You certainly won't get anything lower than you've booked, but you stand a chance of getting a cabin that could be three or four grades higher, though in some instances you won't find out your cabin number until you check-in.

Rhine river cruise

Opt for the Low Season

Cruising is seasonal and there are bargains to be had during off-peak times. So avoid school holidays and public holidays such as Easter or Christmas/New Year when availability will be less and prices higher. Instead, opt for the so-called shoulder seasons of spring (May/June) and autumn (September, October, November) when business is traditionally quieter. Early December is another good time for savings on ocean cruises as people are generally less willing to cruise as they are preparing for the festive season. For Caribbean sailings, summer departures tend to be cheaper as this is hurricane season.

Study the Small Ads

Selling cruise holidays is a highly competitive business and the travel pages of regional and national newspapers are filled with adverts by cruise lines and specialist cruise travel agents offering everything from last-minute deals to off-the-peg sailings. Some agents also promote one-off departures teamed with hotels stays or special events and offered as an inclusive package.

Find a Good Cruise Specialist

There are scores of dedicated cruise travel agents to choose from. Some are walk-in agencies where you can go in and chat to staff, while others are internet-based, enabling you to book online if you feel confident enough, or call one of their call centre staff. As specialists in this market, these agents are well equipped to guide to you to the best cruise line or ship that suits your needs. Their staff will have been on cruises and will have first-hand experience of many ships and destinations. Some of the leading cruise agencies include Cruise.co.uk, The Luxury Cruise Company, The Cruise Village, Cruise 118, The Sovereign Cruise Club and Imagine Cruising. It is worth registering with several as they may have different deals. Some have closer relationships with specific cruise lines who will offer them exclusive discounted rates, which these agencies may be restricted to only promoting to customers who have signed up with them.

Get Online

Email is the most popular route for cruise offers and many cruise lines and cruise agencies, such as Iglu Cruise, use this to regularly send out email blasts of special offers to past customers or new clients who have signed up for them. Facebook and Twitter are used more for general news and information, though some companies such as The Luxury Cruise Company has its own dedicated Twitter offers handle at @LuxCruiseOffers.

Book Your Own Flights

If you've opted for a fly-cruise, you don't have to buy your flight through the cruise line. You can choose the cruise-only fare and make your own flight arrangements as these will often be cheaper with low-cost carriers. But bear in mind that if you arrange your own flights, you would generally need to arrange your own transfers between the airport and the ship too -- and if the flight is late, the ship won't wait. However, if you've bought the fly-cruise option from the cruise line, the ship may delay departure if it is waiting for several passengers. If it cannot wait, the cruise company will arrange to get you to the next port of call to meet the ship.

Cruise From the UK

Without flights to arrange and pay for, cruises from UK ports generally represent the cheapest and easiest option. There are departures from around 18 UK ports ranging from Southampton and Dover, which are the most popular, to Newcastle, Leith, Liverpool and Harwich.

British pounds

Check for Special Rates

Some lines such as Cruise & Maritime Voyages regularly offer "Buy one get one free" deals, while others including Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises offer free or discounted companion cruise or air fares.

Single travellers should also keep a lookout as lines catering for solo cruisers, such as Fred Olsen Cruise Lines and Saga Cruises, may have offers where single supplements are reduced or waived. Though be warned, these get snapped up in an instant, so you need to be quick.

There are often discounts for third and fourth adults sharing a stateroom, while cruise lines catering for families, such as Royal Caribbean International, P&O Cruises, MSC Cruises and Princess Cruises have reduced rates for youngsters who share a cabin with their parents.

Join Loyalty Clubs for Frequent Cruisers

Experienced cruisers know the ropes when it comes to getting a good deal and one of the best routes is to join the cruise line loyalty clubs. Virtually all lines -- and particularly the larger ones -- have them. And the more sailings that you do, the more you benefit as you accrue cruise days or points. The schemes are generally split into tiers, with benefits ranging from priority embarkation and dedicated check-in to free laundry, onboard credits, discounted voyages and even free cruises.

Snag Group Discounts

Several lines offer group -- wedding, work groups, family reunions and the like -- deals, though the minimum group size varies. On Holland America Line, group benefits kick in at just eight people, as long as they are booking four cabins. Benefits across the different cruise companies range from free places to private cocktail parties and free speciality dining to complimentary car parking and on-board credits.

Take Advantage of Promotions

Each year starts with wave season, which runs through January and February (though sometimes offers start in December and extend into March), when cruise lines offer a raft of deals to capture early bookings. Lines may promote various one-off special deals throughout the year too and industry body, Cruise Lines International Association, spearheads National Cruise Week every autumn when more offers are unleashed. Cruise companies participating in the various cruise shows held around the country also promote one-off deals for these events.