Traditionally, cruise lines offer attractive “wave season” promotions in January, February and into March, so they can get every sailing as fully booked as possible at the start of the year. Think of wave season as the cruise industry’s version of Black Friday or Cyber Monday.
“With so many travel companies all offering deals and promotions at the same time and competing with each other for the traveler's attention, it is a fabulous time to lock in a vacation,” said Laurel S. Brunvoll, VTA, CTA, MCC, president/ luxury travel advisor, Unforgettable Trips.
While there are deals throughout the year, cruise lines try to offer the best deals to those who book early. Snagging a wave season promotion is especially valuable if you’re planning to travel during a peak travel period—not just for pricing, but so you can get the ship, cabin and itinerary you want.
“Cruise lines are already seeing steady demand for the winter, spring break and European summer seasons (in October),” said Andrew Jones, director, leisure partner relationships, Flight Centre Travel Group. “This means that after wave season, you can expect to see fewer deals in the marketplace. Plus, the longer you wait, the more likely you are to experience availability issues and your preferred sailing date may be sold out.”
The only better time to book than Wave Season can sometimes be in the fall of the prior year, said Patty Perry, president/owner, Cruise Vacations International. “Pricing goes up as the ships fill, so it is not a good idea to wait, especially in a year like this, when demand for travel is so high.”
When you see a good deal, it’s important to book quickly, travel advisors stressed.
Perry shared the example of two bookings she recently made, a month apart. The earlier booking cost $1,000 less per person for the same ship, departure date and cabin category.
“Those who hesitate can quickly discover they are paying more, either due to higher cruise fares or the need to purchase perks and amenities like Wi-Fi, beverage packages and gratuities that are often included as part of wave season pricing,” said Sharon Strelzer, luxury travel advisor, Travel Made Special.
Consider the Perk
Often, if a better promotion comes out later in the year, the cruise lines will let you take advantage of the lower fare, and many travel advisors track these for their clients. However, because the savings are often wrapped up in different combinations of perks, comparing deals can be complicated.
“A new lower fare may not come with the amenities you secured, so the actual value of the promotion is often less than what you already received,” noted Perry.
Get Expert Help
Since each ship, and even some specific sailings, caters to different tastes and interests, it’s important not to choose a cruise on price alone. A good travel advisor knows what each cruise line/ship has to offer and what to look for when comparing promotions and options to find the right cruise for you at the best price.
“Booking your cruise directly with the cruise line is like buying a house with no realtor or inspection,” said Perry.
A travel advisor’s real-world experience, knowledge and connections can be invaluable, both with the cruise line and in arranging every part of your trip, said Brunvoll. “This includes deciphering cabin types and all the different kinds of pricing packages and travel insurance plans.”
Another consideration is that each cruise line only sells the products they offer (flights, travel insurance, excursions and hotels). “A travel advisor can offer options for all of these and is an advocate for you, not the cruise line,” Perry said.
Lisa C. Deal, CTA, VTA, Deal Travel and Cruises, agreed. “I don’t sell the air arrangements offered by the cruise lines because you don’t have control of those flights and that can create problems.
“Plus, when you book with a travel advisor, you have one person helping you throughout the process instead of having to explain everything to a different person every time you call,” she said.
“The reality is that if you book directly with a cruise line, you are paying for a travel advisor you did not get to use,” said Deal. “You’ll get the same price or better using a travel advisor, who also can provide added value, insight, service and advice.”
By Geri Bain, travel journalist & editor