“Wave season” in the cruise industry is defined as January through March. Some have described it as “Black Friday” but a “three month long Black Friday”. However awesome that sounds, it is not really true in terms of prices for the consumer. Your local Best Buy may have 10 laptops selling at half the retail price on Black Friday but there are no such deals in the cruise industry’s “Wave season”. This is coming from a true insider who has worked in the industry for 12 plus years and has always been on the sales and marketing side of the industry.
I even read a line from a respected publication once that said, “Wave season is hands down, the best time to book a cruise”. It is all a marketing to help stress even more urgency in a time where there is already lots of natural demand. Nothing wrong with stressing urgency from a cruise line perspective, because cruise prices do increase as a specific ship and sail date sell. How could it be the very best time to book a cruise when if you follow or subscribe to any cruise line or agency email list, The “Biggest sale ever!” Arrives in your inbox weekly.
The pricing on the particular ship and sail date you want are dictated by the demand, simple as that. If that ship is selling well (well is defined by how many cabins remain based on the amount of time before the cruise). The price will be higher on February 16th, (during wave) than it would have been had you booked back in September.
For some cruise lines every other week there will be a promotion. One may have $50 onboard credit (OBC) across all the ships. The particular cabin on the ship and sail date you want to travel on in late August might be $549 per person along with your $50 OBC. Next promotion, a new greatest ever promotion comes out with “Free Upgrades” the same cabin on the same ship and deck you were watching are now $499 per person plus tax. No OBC this week.
Next promotion, a new greatest ever promotion comes out with “Free Upgrades” (moving you up to a higher deck in the same room type) the same cabin on the same ship and deck you were watching is now $499 per person plus tax. No OBC this week.
Then the next…, new sale comes out “Free upgrades + Onboard Credit”, let us say closer to the end of the month. The same ship, cabin and sail date you’ve been watching is now $499 per person plus $25 OBC. Overall a little better if you are following the math, sorry this is suppose to a fun place.
When the ship has sold enough, meaning sales are ahead of pace based on time left before the cruise. The same or similarly structured promotion the last month of the wave could be $20 higher per person, $50 higher. The new ship that is selling well, see Carnival’s new ship the Vista or Royal Caribbean’s Harmony Of The Seas for example. Those increases could be $40, then $80. Etc etc. Revenue management keeps pushing the ceiling to maximize revenue/ yields as they will call it.
If that price is pushed too high and the demand slows (based on time left before departure) the price may have to be reduced. The most recent trend in many cases is.. the pick your cabin price will stall and the different promotions will continue to run around it. OBC one week, Free Excursion credit another week, Reduced deposits another week. If all of this does not return the sailing to expected pace..then sales of the TBA variety will be introduced closer in (2-5 months out). These are truly discounted rates, however, you are unable to select your own cabin. The cruise lines pick this for you. So this option would not work for many families with kids who want their rooms to be close. This strategy maintains pricing integrity for the cruise line. They didn’t have to reduce the price of the assigned cabin categories they’ve already sold. Of course, if you are putting in your vacation time for the year, this is hardly anyway to plan. You want to book and know your where you will be located. Booking in advance also allows you to make your payments over time, up until final payment.
“Wave” exists for a few reasons because for a decent majority they book about 6 months out, you can book for the summer and just pay a deposit then have a little time to pay off the cruise. For others, they only get to submit vacation time at the start of the year. Cruises are a big expense and you’d rather handle that after the busy holiday gift buying season. Another big reason for a big uptick in bookings is the fact that many working Americans get an influx of cash after filing their income taxes. Many times while working directly for the cruise lines, a common reason guests would have for waiting to book a cruise would be..”waiting for my tax returns”.
So, being the clever marketers they are, cruise lines create a buzz about wave. Many others are booking and even if you didn’t have to wait to book for any of the reasons mentioned above you may get sucked in and book your cruise because of “wave season”.
TO SUM IT UP
From a Cruise Lines perspective:
Especially the Carnival’s, NCL’s and Royal’s of the world. It is the most important 3 months of the year. “A great wave sets you up for a strong sales year, a bad one is hard to recover from” (from a manager at one leading cruise line) Because the cruise lines have an annual sales forecast it makes it difficult to catch up if they fall behind when wave season is by far the business 3 months/Quarter most sales are done.
From a Consumers perspective:
Coming into a new year is when most guests book their vacations for that year. Booking in the first quarter allows you to have reasonable availability for the cruise you want in that upcoming summer. Allows you time to book and still make payments. (Final payments are usually due 60-90 days before the sail date). Pricing wise, the “wave season” doesn’t really save the consumer any money. Not sure any cruise line would like to hear us say that. Bottom line, book as early as you can, don’t procrastinate as most do.
From an employee working directly at one of the bigger nonluxury lines: Carnival, Royal, NCL.
On the sales floor, you work three months straight, 12-16 hour days, 6-7 days per week, for a handsome reward of course but it is a grind, time off is not allowed in that period. Imagine it is similar to working in the retail industry from Thanksgiving to Christmas.
Most of the “wave season” hype surrounds the bigger cruise lines and not the smaller luxury market. Sales for the luxury segment is steady year round. Quote from a friend at a Luxury line: “Wave…, on the luxury side any wave we might expect is influenced by the ups and downs in the stock market…”
Hope you enjoyed the “Wave” insight. See you onboard!