Wave season, a busy promotional period in the cruise-purchasing world from January (sometimes December) to March, is not only a time to buy for price, but to book for availability. The very beginning of the year can be a great time to put down a deposit on your summer vacation, securing the space you need in the cabins you want months ahead of time.

“Wave season is still by far the best time to book a cruise and not just because of pricing and promotions; guests really should consider their onboard experience, too,” says Lea Nielsen, vice president of sales and business development for Cruise Direct/International Voyager. “It can be very disappointing to spend a lot of time researching your perfect cruise and coordinating schedules with family members, only to find out your ideal cabin is gone or connecting cabins are no longer available. Wave actually started earlier for us this year than previous years — mostly because our cruise line partners came out with some terrific pricing in December.”

Nancy Bogert, an award-winning travel agent with Cruise Planners, has seen interest double in January, as compared with other months within wave season. “It’s hard to stay on top of all the promotions, but people want perks,” says Bogert.

And that’s what the cruise lines have to offer. The emergence of added-value promotions means that cruise fares might only be slightly discounted, if at all, but travelers are receiving amenities like free drink or dining packages or onboard credit; amounts depend on which cabin category they’re booked in.

It’s value that wave season has to offer. “If we see [cruise fares] below $100 per person, per day, then our agency deems this an incredible value considering the inclusive nature of cruising,” says Greg Coiro, CEO of Direct Line Cruises. “Keep in mind that most cruising includes your accommodations, transportation costs to your destination, entertainment, meals plus so much more. All of this is typically included within the price you pay.”

So how do buyers benefit from all these promotions? “The best way to take advantage of these value-add deals is by being flexible when it comes to sail dates and travel arrangements or paying slightly more for a higher cabin category to receive additional perks,” says Scott Koepf, senior vice president of sales for Avoya Travel. “With so many great deals, itineraries are filling up fast so it’s important that travelers book further in advance to secure the cabin and travel dates of their choice.”

“Evaluating good deals versus good value can be tricky for most consumers due to the huge shift in the way cruise lines market their product by adding value-add packages to their sailings,” Koepf continues. “These are usually not readily distinguishable or easy to determine by shopping online, however working with a travel agent can help discern which cruise line is a great fit and also provide the best value overall for the customer.”