Creating the best experience on a cruise isn’t just about picking the perfect destination and excursions. There is value to be found in how you approach planning your cruise, too. Here is how to plan a cruise to get the most value and best experience:

1. Take advantage of your AAA Member benefits

AAA has negotiated special offers and savings for AAA Members with most major cruise lines. Ask your travel advisor about deals that could include discounted fares, onboard spending credits, stateroom upgrades and more. Your advisor can also customize your AAA vacation to be sure you’re getting the best value.

2. Book early … way early

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Sure, you may be able to get a great price on a last-minute booking. But will you get the cruise you’ve always dreamed of? There may be only a few cabins left—and they may not include the balcony suite you’ve had your heart set on.

Here’s how to plan a cruise to ensure you get your choice of room and other amenities: Book as early as possible—ideally, as soon as an itinerary is announced, about 18 to 24 months ahead of the cruise. In addition to getting your pick of staterooms, you may also be rewarded with early booking incentives, like free or discounted airfare, onboard credits and prepaid gratuities.

3. Bring your squad

Get as many people as you can to go on the cruise with you and you could reap the benefits of group travel. Like buying in bulk, traveling with your crew can often score special pricing and extra amenities for your party. If your group is large enough, you could even earn a free cabin.

4. Sail off-season

A destination’s peak season is the time everyone wants to go, usually when the weather is nicest and kids are out of school. But high demand can mean big crowds and heftier prices. Instead, consider off-peak months. That could mean May or September in Alaska (the beginning and end of the state’s cruising season), when temperatures are cooler but crowds are smaller.

In the Caribbean, late summer and fall bring lower prices. If you’re concerned about storms, look for cruises that include southern Caribbean islands or Bermuda, which are typically less affected by hurricanes, and buy travel insurance.

5. Be geographically flexible

Thinking about how to plan a cruise with a tropical touch? The Caribbean and Mexico may be more affordable than the South Pacific. Unless there’s something specific you’re looking for in a destination, keep an open mind to possible alternatives.

6. Consider your priorities

Getting the best value isn’t always about saving money—it’s also about getting a good return on your investment. To be sure your cruise delivers on what’s important to you, inform your travel advisor of your needs. For example, if you’re bringing little ones, your advisor can help you find a cruise line with a robust offering of kids’ programs. (Families with children who have disabilities will find more cruise lines are creating programs designed for them—like Royal Caribbean’s autism-friendly amenities.) If tech is your thing, Ocean Medallion wearable technology found on Princess Cruises can make for an even smoother journey. And, if you yearn to get off the beaten path, an expedition cruise will fulfill your need for adventure.

7. Book onboard

If your current cruise has you smitten, book another one before the sailing ends. Putting a deposit down on a trip while you’re away can earn you rewards from the cruise line, such as onboard credit or a reduced deposit amount. And don’t worry—when you book another cruise while you’re enjoying one, the information will still be forwarded to your travel advisor so you can finalize the details together.

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