A password will be e-mailed to you.

’Tis the season … for earlybird Europe river cruise deals. If you book this month for 2019 itineraries, you can apparently save thousands of dollars, travel solo without paying the single supplement, get free airfares, cheap upgrades to business-class airfares, and companion fly free deals for a second traveller.

For example, Viking, APT and Scenic are offering free flights to Europe when 2019 cruises are booked by April 30, 2018; Uniworld’s free flight offer is valid until June 30. However, the picture soon becomes confusing, even just looking at one company – is it better value to take APT’s Fly Free to Europe, Companion Fly Free to Europe or go for the Fly Business Class for $1,995 per person – which is valid for certain ships, itineraries and category of accommodation?

Are the flights “free” or built in to the price of the package? Can you save more money by booking a cruise and flights separately? It seems to be a grey area. As one agent says, “You might have the option of removing the fly-free special and the company passes on a discount of, for example, $500 to $1,000 – but we all know flights to Europe are well over $1,000.”

One of Avalon Waterways’ current offers is a saving of up to $2500 per couple on “select departures”; the agent says that you can save $100 to $200 per person on the previous year’s fares, so it’s not a “ridiculously large amount”.

Carole Smethurst, managing director of Bicton Travel, advises, “It pays to read the fine print as free flights are not available on all departures or on all cabin categories. More often that not it’s the early and late departures that have free flights in all categories. Some free flight offers are only for higher cabin grades.

“From a consumer’s point of view it’s a minefield and it pays to have a good travel agent to sort through the mire!” Carole, we couldn’t agree more.