Why now might be the cheapest time to plan a cruise

Jan 13, 2020

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Wave season is back, folks!
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 this winter, but even next year.
Every fall, I make a point to research the cruise itineraries my family may 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. Just last week, Celebrity’s wave season promotion captured our attention, and we just locked in a springtime cruise aboard its forthcoming Celebrity Apex.
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 deal you can snag.

Related: How to book a cruise using miles and points
Read on to find out what sorts of deals you should be on the lookout for, and how to get the best possible deal.

In This Post

What is wave season?

Wave season, an annual timeframe 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, however, over the past five or so years, we’ve seen the big cruise sales starting even earlier, too. These days, you may see special deals announced as early as the fall. But, they really ramp up through the holidays and then stay strong through March.

Disney Fantasy waterslide
Disney Fantasy’s waterslide. (Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line)

What cruise deals are offered?

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 that make it tough to pass up booking a cruise (or three).
Here are the type 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
  • Precruise overnight hotel stay
  • Cabin upgrades
  • Onboard credit you can use to pay for specialty dining, shore excursions, spa treatments and more
  • Beverage packages
  • Prepaid specialty dining fees
  • Prepaid gratuities
  • Free internet access
  • Complimentary shore excursions
  • Spa treatments

The best wave season promotions of 2020

Now, let’s look at some of the current wave season deals we’re most excited about. There are many different types of promotions cruise lines offer during sales. You may easily rule out some that don’t matter to you. For example, unless you’re tight on cash or you’re booking a far-off sailing date and don’t want to tie up your money, is a reduced deposit really that valuable to you? On the other hand, if you always buy a beverage package, getting one for free may be much more appealing. And benefits like prepaid gratuities or onboard credit are almost like getting cash — assuming, of course, you were going to spend that money anyway.

Azamara Cruises

Save Up to 40% on Voyages
Booking dates: Book by Feb. 29, 2020
Travel dates: Select sailings from April 12, 2020 to Nov. 21, 2021
Promotion includes: Up to 40% off cruise fares for the first two guest in a stateroom.

Celebrity Cruises

Sail Beyond Event
Booking dates: Book by Jan. 15, 2020
Travel dates: Offer applies to sailings lasting four nights or longer, departing between Feb. 8, 2020 and May 3, 2022
Promotion includes: Save up to $400 ($1,000 in a suite) and get four bonuses when you book a cruise to the Caribbean, Alaska, Europe and beyond. Bonuses are a Classic Beverage Package; unlimited Wi-Fi; prepaid tips; and $150 onboard credit. (Suite passengers get an upgraded premium beverage package as well as the other bonuses.)

Costa Cruises

Spring Into Summer Savings
Booking dates: Book by Jan. 31, 2020
Travel dates: Valid on select sailings from April to November 2020
Promotion includes: Get up to $300 off cruise fares. And, when you book a Classic or Premium Ocean View or Balcony cabin, get up to $400 in onboard credit and the Brindiamo beverage package.

Crystal Cruises

30th Anniversary Collection
Booking dates: Book by March 4, 2020
Travel dates: Select 2020 voyages
Promotion includes: Two-for-one fares plus up to $5,000 off per suite; double Crystal Society Savings of 5%; new-to-Crystal anniversary savings of 2%; and commemorative gifts including a cookbook, luggage tags, wine stopper and pin.


World of Adventure Sale
Booking dates: Book by Feb. 18, 2020 (Use promo code N6B)
Travel dates: Select voyages
Promotion includes: Save up to 30% off; Grill Suite guests receive free drinks and free gratuities.

Disney Cruise Line

Set Sail With a Limited-Time Offer
Booking dates: Book by Feb. 14, 2020
Travel dates: June 20, 2020 to May 31, 2021
Promotion includes: Get 50% off your deposit on select voyages lasting four nights or longer.

Holland America Line

View & Verandah
Booking dates: Book by Feb. 28, 2020
Travel dates: Select 2020 and 2021 sailings
Promotion includes: Get a free cabin upgrade, onboard spending money and discounted excursions.

MSC Cruises

All In Plus
Booking dates: Limited-time offer
Travel dates: Select sailings through 2021
Promotion includes: Freebies like the Easy Drink package and Wi-Fi, plus up to $100 in shipboard credit and reduced deposits ($99 per adult).

Princess Cruises

Best Sale Ever
Booking dates: Book by Feb. 29, 2020
Travel dates: Select cruises starting March 26, 2020
Promotion includes: Get a Premier beverage package, unlimited Wi-Fi and gratuities. Book with a $100 refundable deposit.

Virgin Voyages

Get Up to $400 in Onboard Credit
Booking dates: Limited time
Travel dates: April 1, 2020 and beyond
Promotion includes: A $400 onboard credit

Sometimes, a cruise line will offer a collection of limited-time benefits to entice you to book one of its cruises. For example, Celebrity Cruises is currently promoting its “Sail Beyond Event” where you can save up to $400 ($1,000 for a suite) and get four perks when sailing to the Caribbean, Alaska, Europe and other destinations. The per-person perks are a classic beverage package, unlimited Wi-Fi, prepaid gratuities and a $150 onboard credit. (Suite passengers get a premium beverage package upgrade as well as the other perks.)
But Celebrity adds something even better for families and groups of friends: Up tot 50% off the cruise fares for the third and fourth passengers in the same stateroom. (Note that if you have a third and fourth person in the cabin, those passengers have to pay for the perks out of pocket.)

The limited-time deal is valid for certain sailings in Alaska, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe and other itineraries. Book the deal by Jan.15, 2020, for sailings from Feb. 8, 2020 to May 3, 2022.
We were quite happy with the deal on our Celebrity cruise, which I purchased through Costco Travel using my Chase Sapphire Reserve to get 3x points per dollar, plus the card’s built-in travel protections (though we also nearly always purchase third-party travel insurance for big trips).
We also received a total of $400 in onboard credit ($100 from Costco and $300 from Celebrity), a premium beverage package for two, prepaid gratuities for two, unlimited internet and a $690 Costco Shop Card.

Royal Caribbean also has a strong promotion right now: New Year – New Thrills. The deal is 60% off the second guest, up to $350 in instant savings and kids sail free.
On select cruises, the third and additional guests (ages 12 or younger) in the same stateroom sail for free. The catch here is there are a lot of blackout dates — usually during holidays and school vacations. But, this deal may work for you if you have younger children who are not tied to a school schedule or you have an alternative school schedule that lets you take advantage of this deal.

If your family wants to visit Royal Caribbean’s private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay, this promotion can help get you there for less.
CocoCay Bahamas Private Island Royal Caribbean
CocoCay, Bahamas. (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

How to prepare for Wave Season

So, how can you make the most of wave season and any other good cruise sale? 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 may 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.

Delegate the work

While you may 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 of 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 source. Here’s how:

  • Pick the cruise line offering the promotional perks that are most valuable to you.
  • Use a travel agent who will also offer additional bonuses such as onboard credit, prepaid gratuities, in-room gifts or cash back after the voyage.
  • Pay for the cruise with The Platinum Card® from American Express to get an additional $100 to $300 of onboard credit and a second amenity that’s unique to each participating cruise line. (For example, receive an in-room delivery of chocolate-covered strawberries aboard Holland America; a free dinner for two at Le Bistro Restaurant on Norwegian Cruise Line ships; or a $200 per stateroom credit toward a shore excursion.)

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

Related: How to leverage Amex’s cruise benefits
How you access a third set of perks from American Express may surprise you. Many cardholders mistakenly assume you have to book your cruise through American Express Travel to unlock those Platinum benefits. Your travel agent, however, can unlock the Amex Cruise Privileges Program benefits for you, on top of other offers. Here’s everything you need to know about Amex Platinum cruise perks.

Bottom line

If this all sounds a little insane and overwhelming, that’s OK. Booking first-class award flights probably sounded crazy the first time you did that, too. But, knowing when to book a cruise can be the key to enjoying discounted prices or value-added perks. Have you taken advantage of any fall and wave season deals? What’s your favorite cruise line perk?
Looking for more cruise advice? Check out these articles:

Featured image by Shutterstock

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