How to Get a Cruise Cabin Upgrade for Free

By Holly Johnson on 8 March 2018 0 comments

Cruising has long been known as an affordable vacation option for couples and families — specifically if you choose a budget cruise line instead of a luxury brand. For one low all-inclusive price, you can cruise the friendly seas and make several stops, with all your food, lodging, and entertainment included.

Of course, the price you'll pay depends on more than the cruise brand you select and your itinerary; it also depends on the cabin you select. While an interior cruise room with no windows will let you save the most, a balcony room or suite will cost significantly more.

But how much more? Let's say you want to cruise with Carnival Cruise Line from Fort Lauderdale to the Caribbean. You select a seven-night Eastern Caribbean trip with stops in St. Maarten, St. Kitts, San Juan, and Grand Turk with a starting price of $519.

The thing is, the $519 per adult rate is only for an interior cabin. If you want a balcony stateroom, you'll pay more like $979 per adult. And if you want a suite, rates start at $1,574 each. (See also: 10 Little-Known Secrets to Saving Money on Your Next Cruise)

Since not everyone likes the idea of an interior cabin without windows or access to the outdoors, it's smart to look for ways to get a cabin upgrade without any added expense. Here are five possible ways to score this kind of deal.

1. Earn status with a cruise line

One of the best ways to start getting free cabin upgrades is to score loyalty status with a cruise line. If you're a frequent cruiser, this typically requires you to cruise with the same cruise line most of the time.

That's because cruise loyalty programs work like hotel rewards programs and frequent flyer programs. The more you stay loyal to one brand and the more travel you book, the higher you climb through the ranks of their status program.

Once your status is high enough, you typically qualify for an upgrade from the level of cabin you book. With the VIFP Club from Carnival Cruise Lines, for example, you qualify for a free cabin upgrade when you rack up 200 points and reach Diamond status. With Royal Caribbean's Crown and Anchor Society, on the other hand, you qualify for discounts on balcony rooms and suites with lowly Platinum status (their second tier) and a free seven-night balcony cabin cruise once you reach their top tier Pinnacle Club status.

Keep in mind, however, it takes a lot of cruising to reach these top status tiers. With Royal Caribbean, you earn top tier Pinnacle Club status once you rack up 700 cruise points. Since you earn one point for each night you cruise with the line outside of a suite (which doles out two points per night), that means you would need to spend 700 nights at sea to get there. (See Also: Are Cruise Line Rewards Programs Worth It?)

2. Get your status matched

Of course, some cruise lines offer a fast track to status through status matching. Usually though, you need to have status with another cruise line to get your status matched elsewhere.

MSC Cruises is one notable exception. Not only do they promise to match your status from other cruise lines, but they match hotel status, too.

Now, here's the bad news. When I first heard about this, curiosity got the best of me. I have never cruised with MSC Cruises before, but I was curious what type of status they would give me if I matched with one of my hotel brands. Since I have Platinum Elite Status with IHG Rewards, I took the steps on the website and emailed them my status information to see what would happen.

Unfortunately, MSC Cruises only matched me to their third tier Silver membership within their MSC Voyager's Club. That's not enough to get anyone a free balcony upgrade, but it will give you a bowl of fresh fruit in your room and few other small perks.

Even worse, the MSC Voyager's Club doesn't offer an automatic free balcony upgrade for any status level. When I spoke to a representative on the phone, however, they said they occasionally afford their top tier members upgrades, but there are no guarantees.

So this isn't a foolproof plan, but it could work for some. If you book a guaranteed cabin in a certain category and MSC Cruises somehow oversells that category, for example, those with the highest status would be the most likely to move up, noted the representative.

3. Look for special promotions

Occasionally, cruise lines will offer special promotions that come with an upgraded cabin. You never know when or where, but it's always worth looking if this is a perk you don't want to pay for.

While you can't predict when these promotions will roll around, most offer to upgrade up one category for your room. If you book an interior room, you'll get an ocean view room for the same price, for example. And if you pay an ocean view price, you'll get a balcony.

You might also find deals where the balcony upcharge is compensated in some other way. For example, on a seven-day Norwegian Cruise Lines Western Caribbean Cruise departing from Miami, a balcony stateroom costs around $400 more than an interior room. But balcony cabins come with $500 in onboard credits that could make up for it.

Sometimes, you may even find that all room types are listed at the same price for a limited time. This is one reason it pays to shop around and compare cruise lines and deals for at least a few weeks before you book. You never know what kind of promotions you'll find or how long they'll last.

4. Use credit card rewards to cover the difference

If you don't like all the "what ifs" these other strategies entail, it might be time to take your balcony upgrade quest into your own hands. With the right travel credit card, for example, you could earn enough points to cover the costs of a cruise cabin upgrade and then some.

A flexible rewards card that lets you earn points that can be redeemed for any type of travel would be perfect for this. A good sign-up bonus might even be enough to pay for a balcony upgrade on a cruise. (See also: Best Credit Cards for Cruises)

5. Work with a travel agent

Travel agents still book travel for people who need help, and many are able to offer added perks in addition to the best prices. When it comes to cruising, it's possible you'll find a travel agent who can offer you a stellar deal plus added benefits like a cabin upgrade or other onboard benefits.

The bottom line: If your travel agent is tight with a cruise line, he or she may have the pull to make your balcony upgrade dreams come true.

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How to Get a Cruise Cabin Upgrade for Free

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