So, you’ve booked your cruise and made a deposit, and you are sailing in 8 to 12 months. There are a few major things you should be doing at this point in your cruise preparations.
First, you need to book any international airfare. Generally, airlines will let you book about 11 months in advance of the flight’s departure. Of course, if you want to book a round-trip ticket, this would be 11 months before your return departure. For overseas flights, I generally find that you get the best prices and selection of flight times/routings if you book about 10 months in advance. European airlines in particular like to price their flights very high when they come out, then drop them a bit after about a month. 10 months in advance is usually the sweet spot, where you’re paying (relatively) a reasonable price, and have a good deal of selection. Keep in mind that airfares (both domestic and international) have skyrocketed in price over the past decade, and many things that used to be included in an air ticket are now extra charges. Fortunately, items such as a free first checked bag and an onboard meal (or two) are still included in economy overseas flights. However, if you are making a connection within the European Union, you will be subjected to ‘domestic’ restrictions, including smaller baggage allowances and no meals. Be sure to investigate all restrictions and add on any extra fees when pricing out your flights.
If you are only flying domestically/within North America or to the Caribbean, you are generally better off waiting until closer to 4 or 5 months before departure to book your flights, to get the lowest price. Obviously, this is more of a tradeoff if you desire specific routings/itineraries. If routing and itinerary is important to you, then you may wish to eat the additional cost and book early.
If you plan to use air miles to book your flights, you will want to book as early as possible (putting us back to the 11 month window) whether you are traveling domestically or internationally. Airlines now place significant restrictions on air mile bookings and the number of seats on each flight that can be booked with air miles, and as such, you will want to get your flights booked as early as possible.
One way to get the lowest price on your airfare is to be flexible with your dates. Often, flying mid-week is much cheaper than flying over the weekend. If you can leave home a couple of days earlier, or fly back a couple of days later, you may save yourself a significant amount of money. You can use this extra time to extend your vacation and explore your embarkation and debarkation port cities.
Another way to get cheaper flights is to book a round-trip flight in and out of the same city, even if your cruise has different embarkation and debarkation ports. If you book a cruise from home to one city, and then another flight from a different city to home, that will likely be more expensive than round-trip airfare to and from the same city. While it is not always possible to do this, if you can, it may save you some money. For example, recently we took an Adriatic cruise, which went around Italy. The departure port was Venice, and the arrival port was Rome (Civitavecchia). It turned out that flying into Venice, even only for one leg of our journey, was a complicated routing and very expensive, while flying both in and out of Rome was much simpler and cheaper. So we booked roundtrip tickets to Rome, arriving 3 days before the cruise left. With the money we saved, we were able to rent a car at the Rome airport and spend a couple of days exploring the Italian hill towns, before arriving in Venice for a brief pre-cruise stay.
After booking your flights, now is the time to also make other pre and post cruise arrangements. You can book your hotel, rental car, etc. for the land segments before and after your cruise. Yes, you can certainly book these things later on, but prices and availability tend to be better the earlier you book.
Once you have your travel plans set, you should start researching the ports/cities you are scheduled to visit during you trip. Google searches, travel books and asking friends who have previously been in the area are all good ways to learn about the places you will see. No matter what, you will not have time to see everything, so it will be important to investigate now, so that you can prioritize the sites that are of most interest to you. Once you have done this, you will then be able (later on) to make plans on how to tour these places.
In my next post, I will discuss what to do between 8 and 4 months before your cruise.