Taking a cruise still carries with it a certain glamour of luxury and wealth, but these days you don’t need deep pockets to be able to enjoy a cruising vacation. The options for booking cruises have expanded through abundant online resources, and just a bit of research will provide you access to special dates, deals and promotions that were once only available to travel agents. Here are three shortcuts to booking affordable spots on that cruise you’ve always dreamed of.

Look for last-minute deals

In the world of cruising, “last-minute” can mean 60 to 90 days prior to departure. This period encompasses the standard deadlines by which existing ticket-holders are permitted to cancel their reservations without penalty. Once that cancellation deadline has passed, the cruise operator will know how many cabins are now vacant, and they usually offer heavy discounts in order to make sure every place is full before the sailing date. Some cruise lines offer special sales once or twice a month, with bargain prices for departures two to six weeks in the future.

Travel during off-peak seasons

The vast majority of tourists all want to travel at the same time, and they pay a premium for being part of the mainstream crowd. If your travel schedule permits some flexibility, check out your options for slow or “shoulder” season sailings. For Alaska sailings, May and September dates offer the chance to glimpse outstanding snow-covered mountain scenery. Bermuda is beautiful in April and October, with less humidity and milder temperatures. Late fall cruising in the Caribbean offers low fares because of the possibility of hurricanes; long-range forecasting technology means you won’t actually be caught in the storm itself, but you may end up with some last-minute substitute destinations.

Research “repositioning” cruises

As cruising seasons shift (from the Caribbean in winter to Alaska in summer, for example), cruise lines have to bring their ships into the new region. Often these repositioning cruises offer more days at sea for your money, along with an unusual mix of ports. These cruises are most often offered during spring and fall, and they depart from every port worldwide. It’s important to factor air fare into your costs with repositioning cruises, however, because you’ll be arriving far from where you embarked.

Planning and envisioning a vacation in the months beforehand is half the fun, and in the world of affordable cruising, your time spent researching will pay off well. Once you have your tickets reserved, extend your savings by making thrifty on-board plans. If you decline such expensive perks as professional photos and specialty dining options, you’ll have more left in your wallet for those exotic ports of call. If you are unsure where to even begin your planning, check out CruiseDirect, they offer direct booking (no fees) to all of the most popular cruise lines.