Cruise TipsBuying Unsold Cruise Cabins and What Happens to Them

Buying Unsold Cruise Cabins and What Happens to Them

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.

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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.
What happens to unsold cruise cabinsBut 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.

Related:  How to avoid spending an extra penny on board a cruise ship

So what happens to all those unsold cruise cabins?

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.

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J. Souza
J. Souza
Jon is the co-founder of Cruise Fever and has been on 50+ cruises since his first in 2009. As an editor, 15-year writer on the cruise industry, and avid cruise enthusiast he has sailed with at least 10 cruise lines and is always looking for a great cruise deal. Jon lives in North Carolina and can be reached at [email protected].
Cruise TipsBuying Unsold Cruise Cabins and What Happens to Them


  1. Check the really cheap boat tours that offer a very low price but require a few hours of sales pitches for timeshares. Just don’t get sucked into a timeshare. They have high maintenance fees and cost a lot to get out. The boat is not luxurious, but you get free meals, a hotel stay and a chance to tour the destination–often in the Bahamas. If you don’t know how to find such a tour, then ask friends, because many receive phone or mail offers.

  2. Hey was curious if you could elaborate how you were able to redeem the new deals if you had aleady booked? Just hoping you could explain a little more so I could get a good deal on my first cruise. Thank you

    • If you already made the final payment then it’s more than likely too late to score a better deal, with some exceptions. Some cruise lines, like Carnival, will offer price drop protection up to 2 weeks of the final sailing date. If you book through a cruise travel agent they can take care of this for you. Otherwise you can contact the cruise line and request an adjustment. Hope this helps.

  3. I did the same in 2012 my Mediterranean cruise whent from $2500 to $1250, paid my air fare.

  4. There is no “3” day requirement. Federal law requires the submission of the manifest one hour prior to sailing. That is why you must be checked in one hour prior to sailaway. Unlike the airlines, the cruiselines are not able to add someone to the manifest once it is submitted.

    I have booked the day before the cruise. You have to go through the cruiseline directly to purchase it. Once at the pier, they may have to call in to Miami to verify the booking.

  5. I guess my the biggest mystery is this…. if they have 15 cabins open for max 2 capacity, why do they shut it off for families of 3? Why not sell one and remove one if it’s really close?

  6. The article emphasizes checking prices daily…sometimes more than once per day…because fares change that fast. It’s absolutely true. I booked a Bermuda cruise and kept watching the price. When I checked the fare in the morning it dropped $90 per person, so I took advantage of the price drop. Then I checked again after lunch and it had dropped again, this time by $40 per person. Not a huge price drop, but eighty bucks is eighty bucks. Then, about a week later, it dropped again AND a free booze package was offered fleetwide. So, just by watching often I scored price drops that brought my fare down over $250 and free booze. Watch prices and book early.

  7. Make sure your profile with each cruise line you travel, says that you are willing to take upgrades when they are available. I was surprised when I checked my profile with one of the cruise lines we travel quite extensively, that it showed I wasn’t interested in free upgrades.

    • Sometimes getting an upgrade can backfire on you. I was “upgraded” from a cabin mid-ship to a higher category, 4 cabins from the front of the ship. It was very rough up in the bow of the ship. Since then, I have declined “upgrades” so that I know I am getting a cabin in a location I will be happy with.

  8. This is a great article!! I waited until the very last minute and booked my last cruise. I got a really great price; but my cabin was on the first deck right by the engines! The price I paid was so good; that I had to go. My cabin-steward bought me some ear-plugs and problem solved. I only paid $400 for a 5 night Thanksgiving cruise!!!!!!!

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