Our poor mailman, I'm sure, is tired of stuffing all those cruise brochures into our mailbox but even though we do all our looking--or most of it--online, the brochures continue to come. The thing about those brochure prices is that they aren't the lowest fares no matter how they slash through the "original price" to make the brochure price look good. So the first rule for saving money on booking your cruise is to not settle for the brochure price. Instead go online or to your Travel Agent and see what deals you can get.
Deals come and go like the seasons and if you can adjust your travel to the cusp of the seasons, you will find great prices. Often the best deals are on ships that are re-positioning, say from Europe to the Caribbean for example. You may have to spend a few more days at sea, but would you really complain about good food, fun times, and lots of great entertainment?
Booking early vs. booking at the last minute is still being debated. We lock in our cruise early but if you do that, you really need to keep a watchful eye--something your TA may not do. Prices can drop and if you see that happen, you can insist upon the lower price or an upgrade. But be wary of those upgrades. Upgrading from one category to the next is usually good but an upgrade to what the cruise line considers a better room within the same category may not be. Use those online deck plans and information you can find on the Cruise Critic boards to be sure it's a good move.
One of the best ways to get a deal and a drop on the newest offerings is to spend a little time with the cruise consultant on your current cruise. Most lines allow you to book a cruise with a minimum down payment that can be applied to a different cruise if you change your mind and in most cases is refundable if you change your mind. They usually offer good deals for booking during your cruise and your TA will still get credit for the sale if you prefer doing your bookings through an agency.
Register online for email notification of sales. Most cruise lines will offer a short window of sales time and entice you with those. We've found some great cruises that way at some wonderful prices. Our Alaska cruise last year is one example.
Now of course if you go a little crazy on your cruise, you could negate all those savings so you might want to stop over at one of my other posts about saving onboard the ship to help with that. The last thing you want to do is "sink" your wallet in either situation.