Top Tips for Scoring an Upgrade on Your 2024 Cruise Adventure

Complimentary drinks and balcony views are among the benefits of being upgraded on a cruise ship.

Cruise vacations have never been more popular, with record passenger numbers leading to fully booked ships and fewer opportunities for complimentary or even paid upgrades. However, with the right approach, you can still secure an upgrade on your next cruise.

Upgrades to a higher grade of stateroom sometimes come with additional perks beyond the additional space and balcony views. That’s especially true if you land a suite, which often includes complimentary drinks packages and/or specialty dining opportunities.

It’s still possible to upgrade by simply asking at check-in or, better still, on board. At this stage, the cruise line knows exactly how many empty premium rooms there are and that it will otherwise be impossible to sell them, so cheaper upgrades may be available.

However, given the number of ships sailing at full capacity these days, you may find this impossible. Nevertheless, there are still some options to get upgraded in 2024.

Many cruise lines offer an auto-upgrade option when you book your cabin. By turning this setting on, you are allowing the cruise line to move you to a higher category cabin if one becomes available.

This can happen for operational reasons, or because the cruise line thinks it has more chance of selling cheaper, lower-grade cabins at the last minute. Such upgrades can happen at any time before your departure, and you will usually be notified via email or through your online account with the cruise line.

However, there is a risk with turning this setting on. If successful, although you may be given what the cruise line considers a higher-grade cabin, it won’t necessarily be much of a difference in practice and also it may not be in the best location.

For example, you might be moved from an interior cabin to an ocean-view cabin, but it could be situated in a less desirable part of the ship, potentially at the very front or back of the ship, with a fully obstructed view, or adjacent to a noisy crew area.

The concept of bidding for premium economy or business class seats on airlines has been around for several years now, but it has only recently become popular in the cruise industry.

Several cruise lines now offer the opportunity to bid for an upgrade after you have booked your initial cabin. You place a bid on the type of cabin you want. If your bid is accepted, you get the upgrade at your bid price.

Of course, there is no guarantee your bid will be accepted, as it depends on many factors.

Working with a travel agent could increase your chances, as they may have access to information such as how much unsold inventory there is at higher accommodation grades on your specific cruise. The more unsold inventory, the lower the price you’ll need to bid to be successful.

Unfortunately for solo travelers, bidding on upgrades comes at a major disadvantage. The bidding process usually requires a minimum bid per person assuming double occupancy, which can make the upgrade quite costly for those traveling alone.

Timing can significantly impact your chances of securing an upgrade, regardless of the upgrade method.

High season, which includes school breaks and summer months, is when ships are most likely to sail at full capacity. During these times, upgrades are much harder to come by due to the lack of available staterooms.

To increase your chances of an upgrade, consider booking your cruise during the shoulder season or the off-season. These are times when fewer people are traveling, and ships are not as full. As a result, cruise lines may be more inclined to offer upgrades to fill available premium cabins.

Prices are often lower during these periods, making it a more economical vacation choice.

Typically, cruise line reward programs are not as lucrative or generous as equivalent airline or hotel programs. Free cruises are a rarity, but some perks such as free or discounted laundry, or free specialty dining, still make signing up worthwhile.

While it’s rare to find cabin upgrades as a perk in a loyalty program, they do exist, albeit at the high levels of cruise line loyalty.

Carnival’s VIFP club offers a complimentary cabin upgrade to guests reaching Diamond status, although this is a one-time benefit. Celebrity offers a free upgrade to its Aqua Class cabins as a perk in its Captain’s Club program.

Even if cabin upgrades aren’t a specified perk, signing up to a loyalty program is worth the few minutes it takes, especially if you’re a frequent cruiser with one line.

Cruise lines are likely to prioritize their most loyal customers when making more informal upgrade decisions.

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