If you have done some research on getting unsold cruise cabins a week or two before a cruise, it’s probably because you are hoping to score a ridiculous deal on your cruise stateroom.
So how do cruise ships fill unsold cabins? Cruise lines don’t want to waste extra space on the ship if they can sell that room even at a discount. After all, more passengers don’t just mean extra rooms sold, it means more people to spend money on the ship.
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.
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 line does with the unsold cruise 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 cruise 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.
Related: Check out our post on the cheapest times of year to take a cruise.
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.