By Sally Macmillan
WHEN THE EARLYBIRD CHEAPS If you can book and pay more or less on the spot there are some incredibly cheap deals available – some fares add up to less than $60 per person per day. MSC Cruises offers a "cruise of the week" that is only available for booking between Tuesday and Thursday every week. MSC Cruises operates in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Cuba, Northern Europe, South America, South Africa and the Middle East. See msccruises.com.au.
DAY IN. DAY OUT Some cruise lines, including P&O Cruises, offer daily deals online. Check the website daily for deals on cruises around Australia, to the Pacific Islands, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and more. See pocruises.com.au.
IT'S CARNIVAL TIME Carnival Cruise Line's 72-hour sales are offered at various times of the year; it's also worth checking the website daily for Top Deals of the Week, Pack 'n' Go and Cruise Deals that are only available for last-minute bookings and travel. See carnival.com.au.
LINES ONLINE Check out specialist cruise agencies such as ecruising.travel for deals that include cruises, flights and accommodation in hard-to-beat packages. For example, prices for a 30-night package on P&O Cruises World Cruising's Aurora from San Francisco to Sydney, departing January 25 and including two nights in San Francisco and a Hawaii stopover and flights to San Francisco, start at $3819, which is about $127 per person, per day. See ecruising.travel.
GROUP THERAPY On most major cruise lines, when you book for a group of 16 or more passengers, the fare for one passenger is free of charge. Other benefits of group bookings can include personalised shore excursions, on-board drinks receptions and a booking agent to organise individual payments.
ROYAL TREATMENT Princess Cruises' current Landmark deals are valid for booking until December 17; one example is the six-night cruise to Tasmania on board Diamond Princess, round-trip from Sydney departing March 16 and visiting Melbourne, Wineglass and Oyster Bays, Hobart and Port Arthur. Fares start at $1049 and up to $1000 on-board credit per stateroom is also on offer. Princess Cruises also offers last-minute deals and occasional 72-hour specials online. See princess.com.
TAKING A REPOSITION One-way, seasonal repositioning cruises can be excellent value but you have to budget for travel to and from the embarkation and disembarkation ports. They are often marketed as "Transpacific" voyages. Flight Centre has a 14-night repositioning cruise on-board the new Royal Caribbean ship Ovation of the Seas, from Sydney to Singapore, departing January 23, 2017, for $1399 (about $99 per person, per night). See flightcentre.com.au.
SECOND BEST Royal Caribbean has launched one of the biggest sales of the year with three great offers available for new bookings made by December 5. All new worldwide bookings (excluding China) will receive up to 50 per cent off the cruise fare of the second passenger; bookings for ocean-view staterooms on Australia, New Zealand, South Pacific, Transpacific & Asia repositioning voyages between January 1 and April 23 will be upgraded to a balcony stateroom; and on-board credits of up to $US300 will be offered on bookings of international cruises of five nights and longer departing from December 10, 2015. See royalcaribbean.com.au.
WARM SHOULDER Meg Hill, a director at Cruise Express, advises booking cruises in shoulder seasons. "Australians can save hundreds of dollars each by joining Alaska cruises in shoulder periods like April and May at the start of the season and September at the end of the season. Shoulder savings are also available in the Mediterranean in April and again from September to October. In the Caribbean, October and November are good months to cruise when most people are focused on getting all their work done before going on holidays in December." See cruiseexpress.com.au.
AGENTS OF INFLUENCE Get to know your local CLIA Australasia cruise-accredited travel agent – they have all the information at their fingertips and can save you time (trawling the internet) and money (finding you a bargain cruise that will actually suit your needs rather than one that simply has a low lead-in price). See cruising.org.au and click on the "agent search" button.
All prices per person for inside cabins, twin-share; examples valid at time of writing.
By Brian Johnston
HEDGE YOUR BETS Book an all-inclusive cruise now if you reckon the Aussie dollar's slide will continue. Viking River Cruises is already taking bookings on 2017 cruises, with price guarantees once the deposit is paid. For example, an eight-day Rhine Getaway cruise is $2995 per person including cruise, guided tours, meals, beverages and Wi-Fi. See vikingcruises.com.au.
PLAN A YEAR AHEAD Exchange rates and discounting can be unpredictable, but one thing is certain: the surest way to get the best price for a cruise these days is to book well in advance. River-cruise companies often offer significantly better rates – up to between 25 and 50 per cent off, plus sometimes complimentary flights – if you book at least a year in advance.
WHEN TWO GOES INTO ONE Insider Journeys is offering two-for-one pricing on its seven-night, new-ship Ganges Discovery Voyage in India, departing February 17, 2016. It was $5798 per person twin share but is now a bargain $2899, and includes accommodation, daily meals, guided sightseeing and entrance fees, gratuities, and arrival and departure transfers. Conditions, of course, apply. See insiderjourneys.com.au.
GOING IT ALONE River cruises often offer deals for solo travellers, so keep an eye out. Tauck is currently waiving its single supplement in category 1 cabins on its 12-day Blue Danube itinerary departing April 7, 2016. That represents a saving of up to 50 per cent for solo travellers on their float through Germany, Austria and Hungary, with side trips into the Czech Republic. See tauck.com.au.
SINGLE FILE On 21 departures on European river cruises in March, April, October, November and December 2016, solo travellers can benefit from another waiving of the single supplement, in any Scenic cabin category. That includes cruises such as the 15-day Jewels of Europe between Amsterdam and Budapest and 11-day South of France on the Rhone. See scenic.com.au.
IT'S ALL IN THE TIMING While you should avoid school holidays and peak times of the year to get a bargain on any type of holiday, European river cruising is a little different. July-August isn't necessarily the most expensive time to river cruise: the most in-demand months are actually May, June and September. Float your boat in March-April or October-November for the lowest rates.
PASSAGES TO INDIA There's no saying where discounts may pop up. For example, you can get 10 per cent off the per person, twin-share price of any Assam Bengal Navigation cruise for 2016 or 2017, though you'll have to book through Active Travel before December 23, 2015. The boutique cruise company has interesting itineraries on the Ganges, Hugli and Brahmaputra rivers. See activetravel.com.au
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS Book an APT Royal Collection river cruise in Europe and jet off business class for just $1995 return. The deal applies to any European cruise holiday of 15 days or longer, such as APT's Magnificent Europe cruise in March-April or October-December 2016, which would see a saving of $13,200 for two on the business-class flights. Leap to it, though, as you'll have to book by December 19, if the deal isn't already sold out in the meantime. See aptouring.com.au.
EXPRESS YOURSELF Talking of leaping to it, you have until the end of December to snaffle savings if you're a solo traveller, with Cruise Express waiving the single supplement on many of its Uniworld cruises for 2016. For example, its seven-night "Paris & Normandy" offering on River Baroness, which departs March 13 (and other dates), is now priced at $4689 for solo travellers, saving a supplement of $2379. See cruiseexpress.com.au.
THE TWO OF US Avalon Waterways is offering savings of $3380 per couple ($1690 per person) on certain 15-day Magnificent Europe itineraries between Amsterdam and Budapest next year, and you have until January 5 to lock it in. For example, the March 22, 2016, departure is priced from $4456 per person twin share (including discount), or a tad under $300 per day. See avalonwaterways.com.au.