January is not just the month that starts the year, it also kicks off what the cruise experts refer to as “wave season,” a time when prices are at an all-time low. The season only lasts for three months, but cruise lines pull out all the stops to fill out each ship.
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“It’s the cruise industry’s equivalent to Black Friday,” Cruise Critic Managing Editor Chris Gray Faust told FOX Business. “It’s a chance for travelers to easily shop and compare offerings across a wide range of cruise lines – everything from mainstream lines to river cruises and even luxury sailings.”
Whether its money-saving deals and complimentary perks to flexible travel changes or the multiple cruise ships making first sails in 2020, there are many reasons why the best time to book a trip is now. Here are the most compelling cases.
Get access to early bird sales.
More than 60 percent of cruises are booked during wave season, according to the Cruise Lines International Association. For this reason, aspiring vacationers can find several early bird deals from competing cruise lines that offer substantial savings.
FOX Business took a glance at listings from top cruise lines to see how much a five-day cruise from Florida to the Caribbean costs for a party of two. Booking a trip for November of this year appeared to be one of the most cost-efficient times.
With Royal Caribbean International, travelers can save up to $657.96 for an oceanview room. Celebrity Cruises is offering a smaller discount of $200, but the cruise line makes up for it with a selection of included perks.
Norwegian Cruise Line is offering up to $344.70 in savings per ticket for a total of $689.40. The sale also includes two perks to go along with an oceanview room.
Oceanview rooms on Princess Cruises were sold out during FOX Business’ search for this month and route, but the cruise line has balcony rooms available and is cutting the second guest ticket in half of the first for $349 versus $699.
Carnival Cruise Line is offering an early saver sale rate that costs $369 per ticket for a room with an ocean view. A $25 credit is included as well.
Gray Faust told FOX Business that river and luxury cruise lines are slashing select fares to get in on wave season action. Though, she noted that these ships are doing so because they are “more inclusive than mainstream cruises.”
She added, “The one caveat is that river and luxury ships tend to book up quicker, simply because they are smaller vessels – so if you’re looking for a lower price, you might need to flexible on your dates.”
You can snag a few cruise enhancements.
A number of cruise lines include enhancements that are known in the industry as perks. These perks are viewed as a nickel-and-diming tactic by some, but during wave season, travelers can get perks added on free of charge when they book early.
“Many lines are offering value in the form of complimentary drinks packages, Wi-Fi, gratuities, onboard credit – even cabin upgrades,” Gray Faust said. “They’re perks you’re likely to pay extra for on your cruise – on top of your base fare – and can help to save a ton on your final bill.”
Generally, cruise lines that cost a bit more bundle more complimentary perks than cruise lines that are value-focused.
For example, Celebrity Cruises has four available perks to choose from including a $150 onboard credit for two, unlimited high-speed internet for two, prepaid tips for two and a classic beverage package for two. If a couple booked their cruise with Celebrity for November during wave season, the pair could pay $2,019.36 for one perk or $2,405.36 for three perks. Getting all four perks incurs a charge that totals $2,755.36.
Norwegian Cruise Line, on the other hand, has a total of five available perks but is limiting selection to two for $2,155.32. Travelers get to choose from a free open bar, free specialty dining, free shore excursions, free Wi-Fi and a kids-sail-free option.
Secure your spot so you can renegotiate later.
Cruise aficionados recommend travelers jump on wave season sales because those tend to offer the largest discounts of the year. Putting in a deposit can secure a prime spot on the ship as well as access to the sale.
If there is a better deal that pops up after the season, travelers can generally renegotiate for the lower fare or make changes before the final payment date. However, pursuing this route may subject the modified trip to a per-person service fee.
Experts also stress reading the fine print of the selected cruise line’s booking policy and change deadlines. Gray Faust warned that any added-value perks scored through wave season are unlikely to be transferred over to a new ship or sailing date. However, depending on how good the new deal is, the savings could be worth the sacrifice.
“Be sure to calculate the total cost of your full cruise – not just the base fare – before you jump on any super low fares,” she said.
New cruise lines and fancy ships on the rise.
Richard Branson’s adult-only cruise line, Virgin Voyages, is making its debut in March – which is aiming to shake up the industry with hip and modern suites and amenities. Likewise, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is taking its hospitality to the high seas starting in June with its new Yacht Collection.
High-end cruise line Crystal Cruises is set to make a splash in August with a new expedition yacht that will sail between Japan and Russia in 18 days.
“A number of luxury lines also offer complimentary airfare, which can be especially helpful for any overseas travel,” Gray Faust said, regarding how some of these newer cruise companies are partaking in wave season.
To compete in this market, mainstream cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Carnival Cruise Line are launching new luxe ships this year that are pretty to look at and offer in-demand amenities such as rides, enhanced entertainment centers and futuristic tech like robot bartenders.
According to the Cruise Lines International Association, 32 million people are expected to get on cruise ships across the globe in 2020, and if the organization’s 2018 numbers remain steady this year, 14.2 million of those passengers will be North American.