If you want to get a free cabin upgrade on your next cruise you might be disappointed. Although, there are times when a cruise line will offer to upgrade your room for free, this is usually not the case unless they have done something to mess up your vacation.
But this doesn’t mean you can’t get an upgrade for cheap. If you are willing to pay an extra $100-300 or so to stay in a higher tier room than the one you booked, then these tips will help you. Just remember, these upgrades are never guaranteed and anyone that tells you they can get you an upgrade with certainty is lying to you.
Choose the slow season for better chances of an upgrade
If your ship is sailing at 100% capacity you can’t get an upgrade. It’s as simple as that, every cabin is booked. That’s why there are really no guarantees you will get one in the first place, unless the captain of the ship happens to be your cousin or something.
So the best times to get an upgrade are during the slow months and not during summer or near holidays. That being said, there are still cancellations and no-shows during the busy months.
Book through a travel agent
Go through a travel agent and keep contacting him/her about 2 weeks before you take sail to inquire about upgrades. Often cruise lines will work with travel agents and give them special deals so it’s worth their while for travel agents to have special connections to be able to get better travel deals for their clients.
Again, never trust a travel agent that tells you that you are guaranteed an upgrade, but find one you can trust and you have better chances of seeing through a balcony window rather than watching the TV to see the view.
Get a more expensive cabin in the first place
You have a better chance of getting upgraded when you purchase a more expensive cabin to begin with. These are the priority for filling vacant rooms that are on the higher end. Cruise lines will not skip a level to offer you a room, so if you buy that bottom-of-the-line interior room with no view that’s right next to the anchor, don’t expect a knock at your door from the upgrade fairy.
Sometimes rooms that were once booked become vacant and these are offered to the people with one tier less first. If no one is willing to pay extra for the upgrade they may skip a level and work their way down, but people rarely turn down an opportunity like this.
Bid on an upgrade
A few cruise lines will let you bid on an upgrade prior to your cruise. The highest bids win and it is always cheaper than booking the better cabin to begin with. Sometimes you can get lucky with a cheaper bid during the off season months. However, you don’t know what others have bid so you’re really just best off with entering the maximum amount you’d pay for an upgrade.
Mention your special occasion for cruising
Always mention if it is your birthday, anniversary, or any other celebration on the cruise ship. It’s no guarantee, but it does help. My parents were upgraded to a very nice suite with huge balcony and a butler all because it was their anniversary. Was it worth the extra $100? After having fresh strawberries dipped in chocolate brought into the room by the butler I’m going to say a resounding, YES!
Ask when arriving at the port
I once received an upgrade to a two room suite when I arrived at the port. I asked if they had any upgrades available when I was checking in and they offered me a suite for an extra $299. It was well worth it and one of the largest cabins I’ve ever stayed in on a cruise.
Wait until the 2nd day of the cruise
Sometimes you can get upgrades the 2nd day of the cruise. After confirmed no-shows you can go to the front desk to kindly ask for an upgrade. Being belligerent will not help your cause. Offer to pay a few extra bucks and talk to the hotel manager if you can. They can’t always give you an answer right away so be patient. If there is a sign at the customer service desk saying that the cruise is 100% booked, then they will not be able to give you an upgrade.
Hope for the chain-reaction upgrade
Often these upgrades are simply a chain-reaction. Say the deluxe suite is vacant, so someone else is upgraded to the deluxe suite, which leaves their room empty. You may then be offered their old room and so you take it, and then your room is made available which may be an upgrade for someone else. For the cruise ships to make the most money, the only empty rooms on the ship have to be the cheapo interior rooms that fewer want in the first place.
Choose your ship wisely
A lot about your upgrade depends on the ship. Some ships have mostly lower end rooms and not many suites so your chances of getting an upgrade are not as good. A lot of newer ships like the Wonder of the Seas are so huge that they are loaded with deluxe rooms and it’s hard to find a bad room.
Go cruising more often
If you are a frequent cruiser you will have a better chance of getting an upgrade. Certain cruise lines have clubs you can join and they like to prefer these loyal cruisers for upgrades.
Go for the TBA upgrade
There is a TBA upgrade that you can get if the cruise line is not able to sell all of their higher end rooms. TBA stands for To Be Assigned. Basically it works like this: When you book your room you are guaranteed at least a room at the level you booked or higher. But as these upgraded rooms are sold your chances of getting in on the upgrade go down.
If you buy a TBA room don’t expect to have an automatic upgrade, but again, if you are going on a cruise during the slow season it will help your chances. Twice I have been given an upgrade (once from an oceanview to a balcony, and another time from on inside stateroom to an oceanview) by booking a guaranteed stateroom.
This article was last updated on December 16, 2023.