Value comes in all shapes and sizes when you book a cruise during wave season, the competitive end-of-year promotional period when cruise lines push inventory for winter sailings and beyond. Sometimes not paying for something -- or not having to worry about paying for it -- is as satisfying as getting a discount on a cruise fare. Many cruise lines also reduce the deposits required to book a cruise, which can help your family make that first move. We've identified five different ways to save during wave season, for a handful of different cruising styles. In addition to compelling cruise fares, keep your eyes out for these money-saving promotions.
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Updated January 8, 2020
1. Prepaid Gratuities
A cruise can be a super-inclusive experience when you crunch the numbers, but there are still lots of line items that can add up -- especially for the uninitiated. Service fees, or onboard gratuities, are essentially the tips for all housekeeping, restaurant and supplemental crew on your ship that help make your sailing as smooth as possible. While these gratuities can be adjusted onboard, whether to complement or complain, the base amount is set by your cruise line and automatically added to each person's account each day. A wave season deal that includes prepaid gratuities means that this amount is already taken care of -- no need to worry about doing the math to figure out how much you might owe in tips at the end of your cruise vacation. A daily gratuity amount is typically about $14 per person, per day (suites, particularly with butler service, demand a higher amount). A couple sailing on a weeklong cruise can save nearly $200 by selecting prepaid gratuities.
This perk is ideal for travelers who like to know the total cost of their cruise up front and not be surprised by the end-of-cruise onboard bill.
2. Onboard Credit
It's one thing to budget for your cruise and pay it off, but it's another to factor in the cash that you'll want to spend once you're actually on the trip. Some people are satisfied enjoying the included meals and amenities on a cruise ship, but there are those of us -- and we know who we are -- that can't say no to added-fee options like an Italian wine tasting, a hot stone massage or a little browsing (read: buying) in the onboard jewelry store. If you know that you like to throw money around when you're on holiday, then a wave season deal that offers onboard credit can be of tremendous value. This offer is dedicated spending money for most items onboard that would cost you extra -- a spa treatment, even a shore excursion -- so you don't feel guilty about pampering yourself at sea. Onboard credit often varies by cabin category or loyalty status, but can range from $25, which would cover a round of drinks, to $1,000 -- and that covers almost anything (even the aforementioned tips).
These deals are best for cruisers who want flexibility to spend their savings however they want.
3. Free Beverage Package
Who's counting drinks on vacation? (Your bank account, actually.) If you know that you enjoy a latte in the morning, a wine with lunch and a few cocktails in the evening, then buying your beverages in bulk is the way to go. By selecting a beverage package as a perk during a wave season promotion, the cruise line is including a variety of alcoholic beverages, specialty coffees and more, free of charge. Inclusions and limits vary by cruise line, but we're talking up to 15 drinks per day, and many include premium spirits. Most mainstream cruise line beverage packages range from $55 to $79 per person, per day, which could equate to more than $500 in savings for a one-week cruise. Be advised that drink packages are meant for the individual only (not to be shared) -- and most cruise lines require both adults in a cabin to have the package. Consequently, most cruise lines bestow both adults with a free drink package if it's a wave season perk on offer.
This perk is ideal for people who tend to run up high bar bills and also for those who want to sample a variety of beverages on their cruise without having to worry about cost.
4. Wi-Fi Package/Internet Minutes
We've all heard that vacation is a time to disconnect, but for a multitude of reasons (whether external or self-inflicted) many cruisers in the 21st century need a way to get online -- even in the middle of the ocean. A value-added perk that we're seeing more and more is a complimentary package of internet minutes (maybe 250 for a weeklong voyage) or even better -- unlimited Wi-Fi. Connection speeds vary by cruise line; some offer videoconferencing capabilities like Skype or streaming services, while many can't support the bandwidth. Either way, not having to pay for an internet code is definitely a bonus -- getting online can still be frustratingly expensive at sea and a package could save you hundreds.
These deals are preferred by avid social media users and news junkies, workaholics who can't unplug and anyone who wants or needs to check in on loved ones at home during their cruise.
5. Free or Reduced-Price Bookings
Many cruise lines reduce the price for third and fourth passengers in a cabin -- or waive it entirely -- as part of their wave season promotions. (Select cruise lines allow kids to sail free altogether, so don't overlook that ongoing perk during your wave season deal evaluations.) Discuss budget and see how the total amount for your family or friend group's cruise looks when you average it out per person. Also keep in mind that for many of these offers, cruise taxes and fees still apply. Even then, the chance for more people to travel together for less makes booking a cruise an easy option, and saves hundreds on the bottom line.
This perk is particularly excellent for families willing to travel in the same cabin, or groups of friends on a getaway.