Buying Unsold Cruise Cabins and What Happens to Them

If you have done some research on getting an unsold cruise cabin a week or two before a cruise, it’s probably because you are hoping to score a ridiculous deal on your cruise stateroom. unsoldcabins But gone are the days of just walking up to a cruise port and asking if any cabins rooms are available on that morning’s cruise.  After 9/11, cruise lines have to submit their passengers manifest to homeland security 3 days before the actual cruise.  This means those last minute cruise deals need to be nabbed up before this 72 hour deadline.

I have read some reports of people being able to book a cruise 48 hours before the cruise date, but technically this is not supposed to happen and you should not expect to be able to book a cruise this close to the cruise date.

So what happens to all those unsold cruise cabins?

Cruise lines try to sell them as fast as they can.  But with cruising becoming more and more popular with vacationers there are fewer instances of cruise ships having vast amounts of cruise staterooms to unload to the public.  In fact, if you wait too long to try to get a last minute deal, hoping to grab an unsold cruise cabin, you may find yourself not being able to get a room at all.

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If some cabins are still unsold before a cruise, some passengers might get a call from the cruise line offering a discounted upgrade to a higher category cabin.  They do this to both cut their losses on the rooms and to also try to get you hooked on that higher category stateroom.   And often…. it works. But what a cruise ship does with the leftover cabins depends on a few factors.

Even if some cabins are empty a cruise line may not be able to sell them to you.

A cruise ship is considered at full capacity when there are twice as many people as cabins on the ship.  Since a portion of cabins can house more than 2 passengers, many cruise ships operate at over 100% capacity. The target goal for cruise lines is around 107% capacity.

One thing a cruise ship is not allowed to do is have more passengers than their lifeboats can hold.  So that’s why some cruise ships will have empty staterooms even if they are not offering any more cabins for sale.

Why do some cabins magically become available before a cruise?

Travel agents have the ability to hold a certain amount of cabins on a cruise ship.  If some of their customers cancel or do not put down their deposit, these cabins will become available to everyone else.  The same goes for people who book a cruise online but do not pay their deposit on time.  When that date passes without the deposit being paid, those cabins show up as available inventory.  Cabins may also appear around the date of final payment due to some canceling their cruise.

Things to consider when looking for unsold cabins

By waiting to see what cabins are unsold when booking a cruise you are also taking a risk here.  You could easily end up with the stateroom in a noisy area or a highly undesirable location.  Of course there is always a chance you could end up with a very nice cabin, but it’s a bit of a gamble.

How to find those unsold rooms on a cruise ship

There are a couple of ways you can go about this.  If you are on a cruise line’s email list you may get a message about last minute deals for particular ships.  You can also visit their websites every day and multiple times a day, because yes, the prices can change that fast.  Quite a few travel agencies also offer email newsletters with some of the best deals on these unsold cabins for last minute cruisers.

A note on price-control

Some cruise lines have implemented tight price-controls in recent years.  This means that even travel agents aren’t allowed to sell the cabins for less than what the cruise line states.  Some will offer on-ship credit to still give you a good deal, but certain price-controls have made it more difficult to find those bargain basement prices. Even in this tough economy cruise ships are leaving their ports at 100% capacity.

Cruising is only getting more popular as people find out how amazing it is to cruise the open seas and as more people get “Cruise Fever”. In general it’s good for a few cabins to be available on a cruise just in case something happens to one of the cabins and they need to move passengers to a new room.

Do you have any tips on buying or finding unsold cruise cabins?  Leave a comment below and let us know.


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  1. bill dee says

    Have been on 25 plus cruises and always book with a rep from the cruise line, advised him I could go on a moments notice to fill up unsold rooms. Have gotten calls and e mails for $99.00 5 t0 7 day cruises. Be a regular customer and advise them of your availability and go and enjoy.

  2. Gail K Verheyen says

    I booked a Princess cruise 90 days out….got an incredible price on an Obstructed Deluxe Balcony room with a Guarantee. I was put on a waiting list because they were all filled. I still don’t have a room with 4 days until the cruise and now the price is doubled for the same room. It doesn’t pay to wait too long. 90 days out is when the cruise lines start hustling to get the rooms filled, instead of waiting until last minute.

    • Chris Williams says

      You have to sign up for each cruise lines emails. Honestly, there will be quite a lot of notice! as the article says, most ships go out full. If you are deposited and final payment date arrives, usually 75 days before departure, if you check and the prices goes down you can get the lower price before you pay the final price.

  3. DelrayCruiser says

    We waited until 10 days ago to book our annual Thanksgiving cruise. I think we waited too long because room choices were not the best in my price range. Had to choose between front or back of the ship. And we were wait listed for our dining choice. I think gone are the days of last minute unless you are open minded with your choices..and we are!!!

    • Charisse Scully says

      We absolutely love forward and aft on the ships. Unless the seas are incredibly rough, there really isn’t much difference. Besides, your on a ship, what’s wrong with feeling a little rocking? Enjoy. The only bad thing aft is the sounds of the engines. Forward, maybe the bar noises…..but most likely not. Dining? You can always do anytime dining and eat when you want.

    • Dana says

      DelRayCruiser: We booked our Thanksgiving Day cruise at the very last minute!! Of course; the only drawback is that you have to pick from the leftover cabins. I had a cabin on the first deck; which was very noisy. So my cabin steward bought me a pair of earplugs. Problem solved. I was on the first deck; right by the elevators. I paid $400 for a 5 night cruise in an inside cabin by myself on a Thankgiving cruise. It was too good of a deal to pass up!!

      • Josette says

        Which cruise line was that? I always travel solo, HATE the high prices , but LOVE TO TRAVEL😍 I go out of ports in Fl. Don’t do planes anymore. Thanks! Happy travel🙋

      • Kenny says

        I did the same thing last December. Booked an OV on C. Paradise, 5 nights, waived single supplement. Taxes, tips, fees, insurance, three weeks prior to cruise. $400 all included. Ended up getting room in back of the ship, bottom floor, butt up against engine room. Read reviews about noise. Pffft.
        There was a steady low hum, creating a white noise. I slept like a baby for 5 nights! Plus, that close to the water? One of the best views over ever had. No foot traffic. I loved that room.
        My September cruise on Glory was booked in advance to ensure the balcony I wanted. But in January, I’m putting in for time off, booking last minute with best deal I can get and take what I get. Maybe I’ll get lucky again. If not, I’m still on a ship!!

  4. Paula says

    We have been on over 40 Cruises. We book a 7 or 8 day cruise through the cruise company every year. Then we will book a last minute cruise knowing it will not be our usual balcony suite. And yes it isn’t a great room, but we cruise so much who cares. So we have one criuise booked ahead with the balcony suite we want and 1 or 2 that are last minute. We live in central Florida so we just drive to the ports. For us it works.

  5. Linda Feiges says

    Help in finding a low price cruise on a high price cruise ship. anyone know how to get a good price on a river cruise ????? What about a good price for airfare ? Even if we see a decent price for a cruise, the airfare is so high, we just cannot afford it.

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