How to upgrade your cruise - Cruise International

How to upgrade your cruise

By Julie Peasgood | 26 Mar 2019

Contributing editor Julie Peasgood tells us how to upgrade your cruiseWant to travel in style without paying over the odds? Here Contributing Editor Julie Peasgood reveals some insider tricks on how to get a cruise upgrade.

Cruises are an incredible way to see the world and experience the best it has to offer – but with a little bit of know-how there’s always a way to make them just a little bit more sparkly.

For savvy cruisers, there are plenty of bargains to be had. While there isn’t a magic formula – sometimes it’s simply a case of being in the right place at the right time – there are ways of significantly improving your chances. Here’s our guide to upgrading your cruise.

Book your cruise early

Cruise lines love early birds – and the rewards for booking early can take many forms: cabin upgrades (free or for a reduced charge) two-for-one flight offers, onboard spending money, complimentary drinks, free laundry, internet access, gratuities waived and free parking at the embarkation port. 

Accommodation-wise, the ship’s most expensive suites usually sell out first, closely followed by the least expensive cabins and any that are solo occupancy. If you’re quick off the mark and one of the first to book a cheap cabin, there’s a possibility you might be upgraded as the cruise date draws closer, if demand is high in your cabin category. 

Butler serves tea on board an upgraded cruise

Nigel Blanks, chief operating officer at Saga Cruises, says: “Those who book early always get the best price and naturally the best choice of cabins. Should there be occasions when we have a spare cabin we prefer to reward our guests who booked first, or our most loyal guests, by offering them a complimentary upgrade – our fair pricing policy.”

Peter Shanks, Silversea’s MD UK and Ireland, agrees: “Early booking is always best – securing the destination and suite of your choice at the best price.” But there’s also good news if you can’t make an early commitment. “We appreciate that some like to leave it later – so for later bookings Silversea offers both a complimentary suite upgrade as well as $1,000 onboard credit. So while the base price will be higher than when booking earlier, and the choice of destination and suite may be limited, there are still deals to be had for those who choose to book later.”

Another way of receiving an upgrade is to book a guaranteed cabin; you reserve a cabin in the category you want, but your actual cabin isn’t assigned until a couple of weeks before departure. So the cruise line guarantees a cabin in your chosen category – or a higher one. You stand a better chance of being upgraded this way than passengers booking a specific cabin. 

Talk to your cruise travel agent

It can be very productive to consult a specialist travel agent who deals solely in cruises; they will not only have expert knowledge and be able to talk about individual ships first-hand, but they will also be abreast of all the latest deals and be able to advise about packages, flights and any other incentives. 

“The best ways of keeping up with what’s on offer are to sign in for email updates on our website, and these will refer customers back to their travel agent, who will also know about the various promotions,” says Bernard Carter, SVP and MD at Oceania Cruises. “It’s always worthwhile signing up to the key cruise specialist companies, too. Oceania works with all of the major travel agency partners, who will have the information ready to hand – and will be promoting it to the wider consumer audience as soon as we give it to them.”

Always ask about any discounts and additional perks – the top cruise travel agents receive advance notice of whatever promotions are on offer and can then pass on any upgrades to their customers. They will also know from experience which cruise lines, ships and itineraries are more inclined to upgrade.

luxury sail lounge on a cruise upgrade

Upgrade for exclusive access

If you’re looking for an intimate cruising experience, the good news is that you don’t have to sail on an ultra-luxury cruise line to travel in style. Many of the larger companies offer the opportunity to upgrade your onboard experience, so you can take full advantage of exclusive facilities, dining and staterooms – for example, MSC Cruises has the Yacht Club (known for its butlers), Norwegian Cruise Line has The Haven and Celebrity Cruises has its Aqua Class.

“We would certainly suggest that one of the best ways to upgrade your holiday is to look at one of the ‘ship-within-a-ship’ concepts that have come to be very popular,” says Michael Wilson, managing director of the multi- award winning Bolsover Cruise Club. “They are perfect for anyone seeking the curated VIP treatment you would expect from smaller luxury ships, but with the extensive facilities you can only really get on large family vessels. 

“Booking suites or staterooms in these categories gives you access to exclusive areas of the ship, from restaurants and lounges to private pools and concierge services. It really is the VIP experience in more intimate surroundings,” he concludes.

Bulter service on a cruise upgrade

Book in ‘wave season’

Cruise lines have promotions all year round, but it’s in the ‘wave period’ when deals are at their most attractive, with a longer window available for booking and offers such as cabin upgrades, drinks packages, inclusive gratuities or some tantalising onboard credit to spend in the ship’s spa or shops. 

There are two main wave periods: the first starts in late December and runs until February/
March (when we start fantasising about summer holidays and sunnier climes) and the next is in September/October when we return from summer holidays (and wish we didn’t have to).

Scrutinise any offers carefully though to check expiry dates, and also that the small print applies to the category of cabin or the particular itinerary you’re considering.

Alessandra Pierleoni, Marketing Director at MSC Cruises, echoes this advice: “Always keep your eyes peeled on our website for our latest promotions. My top tip would be to book packages and shore excursions in advance as there are great savings to be made. From drinks packages to dining experiences there are lots of options.”

If you’re looking for more advice, Julie Peasgood reveals even more cruise tips in how to be a savvy cruiser.

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