Both old cruisers and new love a bargain, so how do you get more bang for your buck? Cabin upgrades are one way. Here are a couple of hacks. 

What they offer

When booking a cruise, there is usually the option of accepting an auto upgrade. 

If your particular cruise has empty cabins, the line will often move about those passengers who have said they will accept auto-upgrades. But you have no say in what cabin they move you to. Even if the move is one or two grades above what you originally paid for.

Even if it does get you out of a windowless room down below decks, a higher-grade cabin can present its problems. You could be positioned above a noisy nightclub or below a deck with scraping chairs, or next to a noisy laundry or lift-well.

Sometimes what is presented doesn’t suit for other reasons. That’s what one cruiser recently found out when they were upgraded after forgetting to opt out. 

Norwegian Prima's new entertainment lineup - which includes a racetrack and a Vegas nightclub
Murder on the dance floor: especially if you are sleeping on top of it.

Booking… late and early

When itineraries are first launched, promotions are sure to follow so booking well in advance may get you a better deal, even if the cruise is in two years or more.

In contrast, you could book last minute, about 90 to 60 days out, when final payment is due for most cruises. If the ship is not full, one tool that cruise lines use to encourage bookings is an auto upgrade. So inquire about late bookings and ask for an upgrade.

Paying for an upgrade

RoyalUp is Royal Caribbean bid-based stateroom upgrade program. In just a few simple steps, they say you could score a fantastic upgrade. From Ocean View and Balcony staterooms to the most expansive suites at sea for just a few dollars more.

Before booking, keep track of pricing so you know what you would have paid had you booked outright. Then come up with a dollar figure for your bid that won’t break the bank once it’s automatically charged to your card, should your bid win. Confirmations are usually announced closer to the trip and take into account vacancy levels and cancellations.

Similar offers from other lines include Celebrity Cruises’ MoveUp, Norwegian’s Upgrade Advantage and Azamara Upgrade.

Azamara Upgrade offers the chance to bid on classier cabins.

Guarantee cabins

Lines also offer a “guarantee cabin” where your booking is upgraded to a better room than the one you booked. You pay a lower rate that guarantees you a room in the category you booked at a minimum, but the cruise line is then able to place you in whichever room they want in that category or even a higher one. 

For example, if you book an outside guarantee, you might board to discover you’ve been assigned a balcony cabin. But again, you are given no choice in the move.

Signing up to a loyalty program

Choosing one cruise line and sticking to it by signing up to a loyalty program may also benefit you in your upgrade hunt. Once you reach the higher levels of a loyalty program, you could receive complimentary or reduced rates on upgrades.

Members of Celebrity Cruise Line’s Captain’s Club loyalty program, for example, can request a complimentary one-category upgrade during the booking process.

Special event requests

Getting married? Celebrating a big wedding anniversary? Reaching a milestone birthday? 

Let your travel agent know it and ask them to talk with the cruise line. Good agents have good relationships with cruise lines. And although not all requests will strike gold, any chance you may have to score free champagne, a cake or maybe some other perk, will be worth it.

Princess wedding packages
Princess wedding packages

Peak season sales 

One of the best ways to find out is usually through cruise line email newsletters, so sign up to those, or even better check out the Cruise Passenger Deals page here.

And finally, during “Wave Season” or “Black Friday” sales, there is a lot of competition for bookings, often seen on TV, and in newspapers and magazines. Or speak to an agent, or even call the cruise lines and ask for an upgrade. Stranger things have happened.