Catch the best cruise deals during ‘wave season’

Catch the best cruise deals during ‘wave season’

Never heard of wave season? The “calendar phenomenon,” is that sweet spot when cruise lines announce their best and broadest offers. Free air. Cabin upgrades. Discounted cruise fares. And heads up, cruisers, because it’s happening right now.

Wave season is sort of like the Black Friday or Cyber Monday of the cruise industry — only it lasts three months, and there are some very aggressive packages with some very attractive incentives out there.

It may not be the cheapest fare, but it offers the best in value. It’s peak booking season. Sure, there are some really inexpensive deals when a ship doesn’t fill up, but for the average consumer planning the perfect seven-day cruise in Europe, you’re not going to be buying those one-offs. Plus, most people aren’t going to Europe on a few weeks’ notice.

Traditionally, wave season lasts from January through March, depending on the cruise line. This year, offers began to surface as early as mid-December. What does this mean for the consumer? Book your cruise during wave season, and you’ll get the best offers on 2017 and early 2018 departures. While there will be last-minute flash sales year-round, none will match the scope of the wave season offers.

Wave season a “calendar phenomenon” that got its start decades ago when winter-weary Americans began to think about vacation planning. Wave is probably the biggest event cruise lines have — it’s very important for all of them. They are able to judge their year a lot based on what happens in wave.

At the moment, the hottest bookings are Alaska, Europe and that get-out-of-the cold perennial, the Caribbean.

Wave season perks range from free premium beverage packages to kids sail free to buy one cruise fare get one free. There are oceans of offers.

Cruise Lines International Association estimates that more than 25 million people will take a cruise this year, a 60 percent increase from a decade ago. What many of them will find out — if they haven’t already — is that cruise fares can be complex and difficult to decipher. Here’s what the pros advise:

  • It sounds retro, but consider using a travel agent. “In the internet age, there’s a lot of product out there, and it can be overwhelming,” says Lee Boughan, owner of Cruise Planners Apopka. “When you book directly with a cruise line, you’re talking to an order taker. Unless you ask for that perk, they’re not going to offer it. A travel agent knows what to ask for.”
  • Flexibility matters. Most cruise lines will offer sales on cabins no one else wanted 45 days in advance of a departure. If you’re not tied down, this is a sweet spot. They still want to fill the ships. Just as with air fares, the very same cruise fare may differ from week to week or month to month. If you can be flexible, it could mean a big difference per person, fares are cheapest during the school year. If you don’t have kids, go when the kids are in school. Cruise when other people can’t.
  • Use a travel agent that uses tracking software. If you find a price you’re willing to pay, book it! If the price goes down, the agent will know and take action for you.

 

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