There's nothing more distressing than finding out during dinner that your tablemate paid less for his cruise than you did for yours.

How did he do it?, you wonder.There are a number of strategies for saving money on a cruise. Here are a few of them:

- Book in advance. Advance booking discounts vary from cruise line to cruise line but could save you 10 percent or more. The advance notice varies, too. Six months ahead of the sailing date is an average.

- Sail during the shoulder season. "The best deals are in October, November and December," says Marianne Zaninovich, cruise division manager at Murdock Travel. "There's a lot of discounting because that's the shoulder season and bookings are soft. You can get 20 to 30 percent off the brochure rate, sometimes more. The Mexican Riviera has a lot of good deals, too," she says.

The week after New Year's is another time that's traditionally soft on bookings.

- Ask your travel agent to call you about a special discount. "A lot of specials are gone within a week," says Jay Griffin, vice president of sales and marketing at Beehive Travel. "We notify our clients about special discounts by phone or mail" because there isn't time to advertise.

- Sail on "repositioning" cruises. Cruise lines move their ships from, say, the east coast of the U.S. to Alaska, or from the Caribbean to the Mexican Riviera. They offer substantial discounts in the process. The discount can be as high as 50 percent.

- Travel in a group. "People who go as a group (usually 15 or more), can usually get a reduction in price," says Griffin.

- Book through a cruise agency that does a big volume. "Cruise lines are willing to give volume agencies bigger discounts than agencies that sell only a few cruises a year," says LaRue Jones, cruise department supervisor for Morris Travel.

- Be flexible in your sailing date. "If you're a little bit flexible you hardly ever have to pay brochure rate," says Jones. "If you wanted to go on a cruise on June 22, for instance, I might not be able to offer a discount. But if you could go a week later I probably could."

- Book with an agency that has knowledgeable cruise agents. You get better service if you're dealing with someone who is knowledgeable about the products, according to Jones.