Why ‘wave season’ might be the cheapest time to plan a cruise

Jan 10, 2022

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While “wave season” has been starting earlier and earlier every year, January through March is traditionally when cruise lines run very competitive sales. These promotions are designed to entice you to not only book a cruise for later this year, but even for dates as far as two years in the future.

Every fall, I make a point to research the cruise itineraries my family might want to sail in the next year or so. Then, I watch the fares as the weeks tick by, knowing discounts and value-added deals are likely to pop up in the new year.

If you’ve had your eye on a cruise vacation, now is the perfect time to price it out and see what kind of special wave season deal you can snag.

Read on to find out what sorts of deals you should be on the lookout for, and how to get the best possible deal.

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In This Post

What is wave season?

(Photo by Peter Adams/Getty Images)

Wave season, an annual time frame when all the cruise lines tout their fares and special deals in the hopes of booking up their voyages for the next 12 months, generally starts in January and ends at the end of March. Just like how Christmas decorations creep out earlier than they used to in retail stores, we’ve seen the big cruise sales starting even earlier, too, over the past several years. These days, it’s common for cruise lines to release deals for Black Friday and Cyber Monday and keep them active into the following year.

Related: How to book a cruise using miles and points

What cruise deals are offered?

(Photo by Andrew Peacock/Getty Images)

The important thing to know about wave season sales is that you aren’t just looking for reduced cruise fares, though those are a great place to begin. The real incentive is the bevy of bonuses cruise lines add to their promotions, making it tough to pass up booking a cruise (or three).

Here are the types of value-adds you should look for:

  • Discounted cruise fares.
  • Reduced deposits.
  • Two-for-one cruise fares.
  • Third and/or fourth passenger in a cabin sail free.
  • Kids sail free.
  • Free airfare from select U.S. gateways.
  • Pre-cruise overnight hotel stay.
  • Cabin upgrades.
  • Onboard credit you can use to pay for specialty dining, shore excursions and more.
  • Beverage packages.
  • Prepaid specialty dining fees.
  • Prepaid gratuities.
  • Free internet access.
  • Complimentary shore excursions.
  • Spa treatments.

How to prepare for wave season

(Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

So, how can you make the most of wave season? There are a few methods.

Research which cruises you want

Arm yourself with knowledge. Think about the places you want to cruise, and look at the specific cruise lines, itineraries and dates that you’d consider. Here’s a great overview of various cruise lines as well as a breakdown specific to cruising families. Write down the current per-passenger fare and any available perks for the cruises that interest you most. Don’t forget any special discounts you might be eligible for (think: senior, teacher, military, Florida resident).

Then, as cruise lines announce their sales and included promotional perks, you can determine if the sale actually represents a good value for you.

Related: The best credit cards for booking cruises

Join cruise line email lists

You could monitor cruise line websites and social media feeds over the next few months so you don’t miss any sales, but an even better idea is to join the email lists for the cruise lines you like. That way, they’ll tell you exactly when a sale is about to begin.

Disney Dream at Port Canaveral, Florida
Disney Dream at Port Canaveral. (Photo by Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service/Getty Images)

Delegate the work

While you might not use a travel agent for other sorts of trips, you should consider one whenever you cruise. Agents that specialize in cruise travel often get advance notice of sales. They also often have access to special rates or perks you won’t be able to find on your own, and they tend to offer their own suite of bonuses as an incentive to book through them. For example, the right travel agent could get you several hundred dollars in onboard credit, even with Disney Cruise Line — which is notoriously light on sales and discounts. If you aren’t sure where to start, CruiseCompete.com is a solid place to begin your search.

Also, note that cruise line deals have all sorts of terms and conditions. A knowledgeable travel agent will know which itineraries offer the best version of the current deals and can guide you appropriately.

Triple stack your deals

If you’re a fan of stacking deals, you can enjoy cruise discounts, cash back and perks from three sources.

Related: How to leverage Amex’s cruise benefits

Bottom line

If this all sounds a little overwhelming, that’s OK. It will come with time, but knowing when to book a cruise can be the key to enjoying discounted prices or value-added perks.

For more cruise coverage, check out our 2022 Cruise Extravaganza.

Looking for more cruise advice? Check out these articles:

Featured photo by Shutterstock.

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